Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Are We Really Just Beginning to Talk About "Soft Power" Now?
A series of talks I have had recently echoed this Walter Pincus story in the Washington Post about the sudden recognition that "soft power" must be a vital component of any successful strategy to fight terrorism.

"How do we and our allies counter the ideology that supports violent extremism?" asked Michael Leiter, the acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, in a speech Wednesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The goal, Leiter said, is "to prevent the next generation of terrorists from emerging," and one approach he suggested is "to show that it is al-Qaeda, not the West, that is truly at war with Islam."

My response is, can it really have to taken this long to come to grips with the fact we need to do this? Is it really not being done in any significant way?

For several years, going back to Don Rumsfeld's ruminations on whether more terrorists were being killed than created, there has been some recognition that military power is not going to make a huge or sustainable dent in the pool of people being radicalized by a variety of forces, and becoming convinced that their religion calls them to kill themselves for the cause.

And yet here is John A. Kringen, the CIA's deputy director for intelligence, admitting that despite military success in "disrupting and dismantling terrorist organizations . . . the supply of people wanting to join those organizations continues and in some areas continues to grow."

To counter this, he talked to the House Armed Services Committee not in terms of what has been done in the past six plus years since 9/11. Rather, he said that "over time we're going to need to build that kind of infrastructure" to engage in an ideological struggle with al Qaeda. How far in the future this might be deemed necessary was not clear.

This is not the Cold War, and working to counter a politicized version of a widely-spread religion is a far trickier matter than tracking Communists.

The Cold War was sponsored by nation-states that could, and usually did, act in a rational self-interest we could understand and predict.

The world did not blow up. One could deal with the Soviet Union and its proxies as what they were, and there were means for an ongoing dialogue.

Here we are dealing with radical elements of a religion that are non-state networks. There is no one to talk to, no negotiations to be had. Their rational self-interest encompasses blowing oneself up in order to please Allah and reach paradise. So there is no common ground.

But some of the basic structures of front groups, trade craft as practiced by front groups, mass media and propaganda, recruitment etc. do bear some resemblance to what we do know.

We also know that wherever the Salafists and radical Islam have triumphed they have lost popular support quickly and heavily. Afghanistan was glad to be rid of the Taliban. Iraqi in Anbar province were happy to get rid of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The bloom is off the rose of the Iranian revolution, etc. etc.

So, yes, building the infrastructure to fight a winnable, non-military war could be considered an essential element in the conflict. Are we really still debating that?

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