It is nearly impossible not to notice the media coverage surrounding the Obama Administration's phrasing when discussing terrorism. Many are upset at the administration’s decision to stop using the term "Global War on Terror", or Janet Napolitano's use of "man-caused disasters" to describe acts of terrorism. The President followed up this change in mindset with his June 4thCairo speech emphatically stating, "America is not --and never will be--at war with Islam." This change of mindset is regularly viewed either as a soft approach to counter terrorism, or a shocking failure to grasp the situation at hand. I have not found conclusive evidence that would point to the Administration's phrasing as part of a new strategic information operation, which was what I initially thought. The Rand Corporation recently stated that a third of the homegrown terror plots since 9/11 occurred in 2009. I think many people will attempt to draw conclusions connecting the Administration's phrasing and the massive increase of homegrown terror plots. All is not lost for President Obama. In fact, Rahm Emanuel's phrase, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste", fits perfectly here.
FM 3-24, the Counterinsurgency Field Manuel, discusses the importance of the narrative in developing legitimate ideologies. Paragraph 1-76 states, "The central mechanism through which ideologies are expressed and absorbed is the narrative. A narrative is an organizational scheme expressed in story form." Al Qaeda uses a narrative that portrays Osama bin Laden as heroically fighting the encroachment of Western Imperialism. Since Al Qaeda is successful at using their narrative to recruit fighters based on their Islamic Ideology, countering their narrative becomes a vital front in our global contingency operation.
Our Nation needs to counter Al Qaeda's narrative at home and abroad. I am skeptical at how effective the United States will be at countering the radical Islamic narratives abroad. Ask any soldier conducting COIN how effective our information operations are in Islamic countries. It is impossible to convince the World's Islamic population that America is not at war with Islam when we announce a 30,000 soldier troop increase in Afghanistan, continue to use Predator drones to strike in Pakistan, and top it off with the December strikes in Yemen. There is something we can do with the current Administration's non-offensive phasing. I think we can engage the American Islamic population with some degree of success.
The President needs to task his Terrorism Czar, John Brennan, with conducting a Counter Narrative Information Operation. Like him or not, John Brennan is a fluent Arabic speaker and spent a year in Cairo conducting intensive Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. I think he needs to devote resources, countering the conditions necessary for radical Islam to flourish. The LWJ has a great, one page article with links to the news stories covering homegrown terror plots. Homegrown terrorism is clearly a rising trend that needs the attention of our national government. I think Mr. Brennan possesses a unique ability, because of his studies and current position, to find moderate Islamic voices in the "at risk" communities, such as the Somali refugee population in Minnesota. The appearance of the changed Islamic relations is not enough to stop the homegrown radicalization. We need to couple the political PR initiatives with proactive engagements from influential, moderate Muslim-Americans, from the at risk areas. The FBI is doing a great job tracking and prosecuting those who take part in homegrown terror plots. Now it’s the Administrations turn to help counter the radicalization of Muslim Americans.
I think the current Administration could take a page or two from FM 3-24 and establish State level engagement teams. The teams would act much like our civil affairs and psyops teams currently utilized overseas. The goal here is to accurately vet 3rd and 4th generation Muslim Americans who are willing lead a State level engagement team. The teams would organize and run outreach programs into our "At Risk" Islamic communities. The idea behind this is, we find moderate Muslim Americans, who have had positive experiences living in America, to create a localized counter narrative. The team would be responsible for conducting outreach as well as identifying projects needed at the community level that will help provide legitimacy to the Muslim-American Narrative. The teams could use the grant writing process for Federal money to improve education programs and provide scholarship money for college. Although, as my colleague Josh pointed out earlier, in some cases this could be counter productive. I even think we could identify some measures of effectiveness by tracking how many individuals per capita become radicalized in those Islamic communities. If the outreach programs are successful, we will slowly build a pool of applicants that maybe willing to work in a counter terrorism (CT) role for any one of the government agencies involved in CT operations
It is widely known that the military cannot conduct successful COIN and CT operations alone. I think we need to apply that logic to thwarting homegrown terror plots. It is dangerous to rely solely on our law enforcement folks to counter every home grown plot. We need to have a whole government approach focused on addressing the conditions that are necessary for the radicalization of our young Muslim men and women. This post begins to scratch the surface of the state engagement team's implementation. We would need to further analyze the size and scope of this program, its funding, duties and responsibilities, and possible best practices in implementation, but that's why John Brennan gets paid the big bucks.