UPDATE: This seems like very good news in building a Global COIN strategy. Congratulations Gen. Petraeus and good luck.
Almost seven years into our active fight against al Qaeda and Islamic extremism, we still have difficulty characterizing exactly who and what we are fighting. We have twisted ourselves around in verbal gymnastics to avoid using the word Islam in the description of this war and I actually agree that is a good thing. Although our enemy is comprised almost entirely of Muslims, everyone knows that and consequently calling it a battle against Islamic anything doesn't add anything.
Our enemy is a stateless, amorphous, ad hoc group of Islamic religious extremists who are conducting a global insurgency of opportunity against us and all free societies. The one area of the world where we have had major success against them is Iraq of all places, and the reason for that was a complete change of strategy from top-down nation-building to bottom-up, grass roots counter-insurgency. We aren't fighting Islamic warriors who march into battle against the Great Satan flying the flag of jihad. No, we battle cowards who brainwash children with hate and strap explosives to mentally disabled women sending them to kill other innocents. Sadly they enjoy the support of far too many other Muslims and that is where we must fight them. If we only focus on sending jihadis to their hellish paradise, we will play an endless game of whack-a-mole. While killing terrorists must be part of our game plan, we must also use the strategy and tactics required to defeat this enemy on the battlefield of ideas.
America needs a Global Counter-Insurgency (COIN) plan to expand on the gains we have made in Iraq. It is not the current generation of Iraqis who will create the final defeat of al Qaeda there. It will be the youngsters who we have been giving medical care to, and building schools for, and at the most basic level, playing soccer with. They have known the evil of Saddam and the horrors of sectarian violence and terrorism. They have also seen that our forces now have shared their sacrifices and stood back to back with them securing their own neighborhoods. Once the Iraqis believed we were on the front lines with them, their pride kicked in and they began to volunteer in droves to protect their families and friends. Now political progress is being made and the idea of victory is no longer foreign.
Those opposed to the war have often claimed that Iraq was a distraction from the greater fight and also that we have no comprehensive plan to fight Islamic extremism. It is valid to argue the efficacy of invading Iraq in 2003, it is folly to ignore the current state where al Qaeda consistently calls it the central front in their war on us. I again would agree that we have no coherent foreign and national security policy that addresses the enemy we face and that is why building a program that focuses all our resources in a Global Counter-Insurgency is vital. This effort must include our military, especially the Special Forces and Civil Affairs units trained for this mission, but also the State Department, USAID and other humanitarian organizations. Too often institutional differences have led to poor coordination and even working at cross-purposes. These same problems made it difficult for our Armed Forces to operate well together as recently as the first Gulf War in 1991. Since then virtually all missions are joint combining the best of all services in a common goal. The same integration is necessary between military and civilian agencies if a Global COIN strategy is to succeed.
This will require the abandonment of some pre-conceived notions. The left must understand that when dealing with bad actors, effective diplomacy happens best when the threat of military force backs up the words, and the right must accept that we will parley with our enemies and even make deals with them. Those efforts must be combined with humanitarian, civil and entrepreneurial assistance that shows our commitment to helping people live free, productive lives. Get all of those plates spinning and we just might win this.