Academic journal article Parameters

Global Counterinsurgency: Strategic Clarity for the Long War

Academic journal article Parameters

Global Counterinsurgency: Strategic Clarity for the Long War

Article excerpt

Though policy initiatives since the attacks of 11 September 2001 have positively influenced certain agencies and processes within the US government in their efforts to secure America, some steps have worked at cross purposes and limited the nation's effectiveness in countering the threats it faces. (1) One entrenched policy that inhibits clear analysis and understanding of the threat is the continued framing of this global struggle as a "War on Terrorism" (WOT). Words have consequences in shaping understanding and framing potential courses of action. The broad use and narrow connotations of the term WOT have cultivated a widespread, erroneous intellectual paradigm for dealing with both terrorism and insurgencies. This false strategy conflates a single tactic into the overall characteristic of a diverse number of enemy organizations, who exercise terrorism as just one tool. Continuing to frame the conflict as a war against terrorism alone serves to mischaracterize the enemy, obscures an understanding of the techniques they employ, distorts the challenges posed, and impedes the development and implementation of a strategy for countering their impact. (2)

A 2008 RAND Corporation study made a similar observation, noting that "apart from the oddity of waging war on a tactic, this expression side-steps the causes, dynamics, and shades of Islamic militancy, with unfortunate consequences for strategy, resources, and results." (3) Elsewhere, in Bounding the Global War on Terrorism, Jeffrey Record observed that the George W. Bush Administration, by fusing its challenges and enemies into a single monolithic threat, "has subordinated strategic clarity to the moral clarity it strives for in foreign policy and may have set the United States on a course of open-ended and gratuitous conflict with states and nonstate entities that pose no serious threat to the United States." (4) Record notes that "to the extent that the GWOT (Global War on Terrorism) is directed at the phenomenon of terrorism, as opposed to flesh-and-blood terrorist organizations, it sets itself up for strategic failure." (5) To use a medical analogy, under the pale of WOT, the US effort focused on defeating terrorism has translated into expending significant resources trying to cure a symptom rather than the causes of the disease. The United States needs to refocus its strategic frame of reference in its effort to effectively address remediating symptoms while simultaneously mitigating the deeper causes.

One step to effect the needed change in perspective would be to recast the enemy as "global insurgents." This redefinition is more than simply changing a label. A change in terms of reference will portray the activities of transnational terrorists such as Osama bin Laden as supporting a much broader program of activity better understood as a "global insurgency" rather than just global terrorism. Moreover, focusing the intellectual paradigm on describing the range of activities of the extremist groups gravitating to the Salafist-inspired cause provides a more exact strategic framework with which to conceptualize measures to defeat, disrupt, or neutralize their activities. An example of a term that would improve clarity is "hirabah," an Arabic word that describes the forbidden killing of innocents, noncombatants, and dissenting Muslims. (6) This term recasts the enemy as a "global hirabahist insurgency," allowing for a more precise frame of reference as to who the enemy is, what they do and why, and what should be done to neutralize their influence; as opposed to the current strategically anemic "war-against-a-tactic" paradigm.

Additionally, the continued misuse of the term "jihadist" to describe Islamic extremists engaged in terrorist activity is both inaccurate and counterproductive. It does not accurately describe the motivation or activities of the enemy, and burnishes the reputation of those engaged in such acts. This dichotomy results from the fact that jihad is not "holy war" or terrorism as it is often rendered in common discourse, but the legitimate intense devotion and struggle to do good works in accordance with Islam. …

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