George Packer is simply essential. This is a long post because there is no way to boil this down.
"After 9/11, when a lot of people were saying, ‘The problem is Islam,’ I was thinking, It’s something deeper than that. It's about human social networks and the way that they operate."
That's David Kilcullen, an Australian lieutenant colonel who may just be our last best hope in the long war.
"The Islamic bit is secondary. This is human behavior in an Islamic setting. This is not ‘Islamic behavior.’"
“People don’t get pushed into rebellion by their ideology. They get pulled in by their social networks."
In the 1 December issue of Jane's Intelligence Review, John Horgan writes (sub req'd):
People who leave terrorist groups or move away from violent roles do so for a multitude of reasons. Horgan explains why greater understanding of the motivations behind this so-called 'disengagement' will help in developing successful anti-terrorism initiatives.
The reality is that actual attacks represent only the tip of an iceberg of activity.
Here's the abstract of a recent RAND working paper:
In the battle of ideas that has come to characterize the struggle against jihadist terrorism, a sometimes neglected dimension is the personal motivations of those drawn into the movement. This paper reports the results of a workshop held in September 2005 and sponsored by RAND’s Center for Middle East Public Policy and the Initiative for Middle East Youth. Workshop participants discussed the issue of why young people enter into jihadist groups and what might be done to prevent it or to disengage members of such groups once they have joined.
Now, back to the Packer piece:
The odd inclusion of environmentalist rhetoric, he said, made clear that “this wasn’t a list of genuine grievances. This was an Al Qaeda information strategy." ... “bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the President’s reëlection.” Bin Laden shrewdly created an implicit association between Al Qaeda and the Democratic Party, for he had come to feel that Bush’s strategy in the war on terror was sustaining his own global importance.
You may recall the speculation that Bush would produce bin Laden's head just in time for the last elections. Perhaps the living bin Laden is a more valuable asset?
In July, 2005, Kilcullen, as a result of his work on the Quadrennial Defense Review, received an invitation to attend a conference on defense policy, in Vermont. There he met Henry Crumpton ...
Does that name ring a bell? Yeah, we're losing him, too.
“If I were a Muslim, I’d probably be a jihadist,” Kilcullen said as we sat in his office. “The thing that drives these guys — a sense of adventure, wanting to be part of the moment, wanting to be in the big movement of history that’s happening now — that’s the same thing that drives me, you know?”
Are you hearing the bells? They should be quite loud on this point. (Wake up!)
Last year, in an influential article in the Journal of Strategic Studies, Kilcullen redefined the war on terror as a “global counterinsurgency.” The change in terminology has large implications.
“It’s really important that we define the enemy in narrow terms,” Crumpton said. “The thing we should not do is let our fears grow and then inflate the threat. The threat is big enough without us having to exaggerate it.”
Kilcullen explains how the Taliban convinces people to grow poppies, and why. Hezbollah's tactics in Lebanon are equally sophisticated.
“In a counterinsurgency, the gratitude effect will [only] last until the sun goes down ...
“It’s now fundamentally an information fight,” he said. “The enemy gets that, and we don’t yet get that, and I think that’s why we’re losing.”
Montgomery McFate's dissertation was based on several years she spent living among supporters of the Irish Republican Army and then among British counterinsurgents. In Northern Ireland, McFate discovered something very like what Kilcullen found in West Java: insurgency runs in families and social networks, held together by persistent cultural narratives ...
The American government needs what McFate calls a “granular” knowledge of the social terrains on which it is competing.
Another marine told McFate that his unit had lost the battle to influence public opinion because it used the wrong approach to communication: “We were focussed on broadcast media and metrics. But this had no impact because Iraqis spread information through rumor. We should have been visiting their coffee shops.”
"Perception truly now is reality, and our enemies know it. We have to fight on the information battlefield.”
Since 2002 America has spent more than six billion dollars on buttressing the Pakistani military, and probably a similar amount on intelligence (the number is kept secret). Yet it has spent less than a billion dollars on aid for education and economic development, in a country where Islamist madrassas and joblessness contribute to the radicalization of young people.
"The Administration has this fixation with strategic communications — whatever that is. It’s just hokum."
The President’s speeches on the war are like the last paragraph of every Churchill speech from the Second World War: a soaring peroration about freedom, civilization, and darkness. But in Churchill’s case, nineteen pages of analysis, contextualization, and persuasion preceded that final paragraph. A Bush speech gives only the uplift —— which suggests that there is no strategy beyond it.
Bruce Hoffman: "Even though we say it’s going to be the long war, we still have this enormous sense of impatience. Are we committed to doing the fundamental spadework that’s necessary?”
America must help foreign governments and civil-society groups flood the Internet with persuasively youthful Web sites presenting anti-jihadist messages —— but not necessarily pro-American ones, and without leaving American fingerprints.
Hoffman said, “Isn’t it ironic that an Australian is spearheading this shift, together with a former covert operator?"
And now we have lost Crumpton, and all his potential, because his government couldn't figure out how to pay him enough so that his kids could go to school. Does anyone else find that outrageous?
For further reading, check out The Way to Win a Guerilla War from the Sunday Washington Post in late November.
Knowing the Enemy | George Packer in The New Yorker