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Going Back to Look Forward

Often it is astounding how accurately you can "see the future" by looking back at some of the observations made in the past, even while noting that those observations might have been controversial "back then." It was about four and a half years ago that a wave of political correctness shrouded Congress when it first tried to avoid the impression that we were engaged in a war against all of Islam. Then, for the first time, emerged the concept of the "global struggle against violent extremism" to replace the Global War on Terrorism.

In a Washington Post article, Terrorism as Virus, the War Against Islamist Militancy was actually described by drawing parallels between terrorism and a mutating virus or metastasizing cancer. Indeed, the realization that the threat of al Qaeda spawned global terrorism was not a conventional one, and was one that lacked a singular identity, structure or geographic center led to the observation of it being more like a social contagion. The authors posed that dealing with the global spread of Islamic Militancy with similar context as the World deals with the spread of the H1N1 virus or the fear of a Global Pandemic would lead to asking similar questions.

1. What is the nature of the ideology, how does it spread and what population segment(s) are most vulnerable?

2. What are the dynamics that cause it to spread?

3. What is the long-term approach to stemming its spread?

Whether you, the reader or my colleagues, find this view dissonant in any way, the fact is that the jihad against the West is spreading "like a virus."

Still another report published six years ago, the Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project spoke to a number of factors that predicted the future spread and emergence of Islamic Militancy. Among those observations was this:

The key factors that spawned international terrorism show no signs of abating over the next 15 years. Facilitated by global communications, the revival of Muslim identity will create a framework for the spread of radical Islamic ideology inside and outside the Middle East, including Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Western Europe, where religious identity has traditionally not been as strong. This revival has been accompanied by a deepening solidarity among Muslims caught up in national or regional separatist struggles, such as Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, Mindanao, and southern Thailand, and has emerged in response to government repression, corruption, and ineffectiveness. Informal networks of charitable foundations, madrassas, hawalas1, and other mechanisms will continue to proliferate and be exploited by radical elements; alienation among unemployed youths will swell the ranks of those vulnerable to terrorist recruitment.

It went on to project that in the years ahead, al Qaeda could be superseded by other, similar, extremist groups with greater decentralization.

So out of the "global struggle against violent extremism" came the DoD FY 2010 Budget Request Summary Justification clearly referred to what had been the Global War on Terrorism as the "Overseas Contingency Operation."

In August 2009, John Brennan the President's Assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and presented A New Approach to Safeguarding America Admittedly, some of the elements outlined in this speech make sense, especially those that target economic development in areas of the world that are subject to violence and extremist tendencies. But the predicate principle of the speech was this:

Today--as the President's principal advisor on counterterrorism--I want to outline the President's efforts to safeguard the American people from the transnational challenge that poses one of the greatest threats to our national security--the scourge of violent extremists who would use terrorism to slaughter Americans abroad and at home.

Mr. Brennan went on and stated the assessment of al Qaeda:

Al Qaeda and its affiliates are under tremendous pressure. After years of U.S. counterterrorism operations, and in partnership with other nations, al Qaeda has been seriously damaged and forced to replace many of its top-tier leadership with less experienced and less capable individuals. It is being forced to work harder and harder to raise money, to move its operatives around the world, and to plan attacks.

And the focus of this policy was to push the Taliban out of their lairs in Afghanistan to prevent the return of al Qaeda. He also said that casting the "conflict" as a "global war" played into the "warped narrative" of al Qaeda and that it reinforced al Qaeda's view that it was a global entity. Struck from the Presidential vernacular also was the word "jihad" and thus emerges the concept of an "Overseas Contingency Operation" to fight violent extremists.

Not calling it what it is can be a misleading and potentially damaging. Attempting to separate al Qaeda from the Taliban, or posing that the Pakistani group, Lashkar e-Taiba is an unaligned with al Qaeda as was stated by Daniel Benjamin, Coordinator of the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism in an address at the CATO Institute seems to ignore the existence of al Qaeda or al Qaeda clones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Algeria (and North Africa), infiltrations in Europe and in Southeast Asia. Again, while debated, the al-Suri approach of a decentralized model of self-sustaining and autonomous cells driven by a common ideology behind the al Qaeda jihad is difficult to deny. In fact there is some evidence and belief that al Qaeda has cells in or influences groups in as many as 60 countries. And this discounts the likely existence of "sleeper cells."

It is hard to see this global battle against Islamic extremism as anything but a Global War on Terrorism. No matter what you call it, terrorism is spreading, as they wrote in August 2005, like a virus.