20 April 2010

Global Engagement Directorate: Islamic Extremism

Are the men in the picture above Islamic extremists? How we define them greatly impacts how we engage them, fight them, and (as we have seen with the politically-driven debates about KSM) legally bring them to justice. Of my concern here is how to engage, as Professor Dan Kuehl of the National Defense University commented on a previous post of mine, in an effective counter narrative strategy to overcome the sway of AQ/affiliate ideology.

On 26 May, 2009, President Obama in an official White House announcement entitled, "Statement by the President on the White House Organization for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism," prioritized how the White House should be organized to deal with the critical issues of homeland security and counterterrorism. The last of the five decisions created and instituted the Global Engagement Directorate, a new initiative "to drive comprehensive engagement policies that leverage diplomacy, communications, international development and assistance, and domestic engagement and outreach in pursuit of a host of national security objectives, including those related to homeland security."

Peter Feaver of Foreign Policy's Shadow Government Blog on 27 May, 2009, wrote that the GED would give the Administration an "equity stake" in comprehensive engagement. He also found himself asking what exactly this means internationally: "Will it be a major player on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan...that could benefit from a more seamless integration of communications, aid, diplomacy, and domestic outreach? Is there room for general policy formulation in this area, or is this a quintessentially "operational" matter?" Domestically, does this mean advancing an agenda based on human rights and non-discrimination in aiding community outreach and coalition building?

The Administration's choice to discontinue the use of the term, "Islamic extremism," is understood to strenghten their ability to leverage diplomacy on both the international and domestic levels because it, in theory, communicates the right message to the Muslim community worldwide that America is not at war with Islam (per his Cairo speech). The question remains: What is the benefit?

Perhaps Feaver would agree with my perspective that GED most likely determined that the discontinuation of certain religious-focused language would not enable the Administration to establish equity with Muslim partners both domestically and abroad nor promise to comprehensively engage geo-strategic governments in the Middle East. Yes, "Diplomacy works better the more informed we are about the other [government's] intentions and capabilities;" moreover, warfare is successful when one accurately defines who the enemy, in this case in relation to religious co-optation.

We should re-visit the National Security Decision Directive on U.S. International Information Policy, issued in 1984 (NSC-NSDD-130), relating to both international and domestic information strategies, which states:
"The fundamental purpose of U.S. international information programs is to affect foreign audiences in ways favorable to U.S. national interests. Such programs can only be credible and effective by respecting accuracy and objectivity. At the same time, the habits, interests, expectations and level of understanding of foreign audiences may differ significantly from those of the domestic American audience, and require different approaches and emphasis in the selection and presentation of information. While U.S. international information activities must be sensitive to the concerns of foreign governments, our information programs should be understood to be a strategic instrument of U.S. national policy, not a tactical instrument of U.S. diplomacy. We cannot accept foreign control over program content."

The Administration seems to be pragmatically calculating its rhetoric to achieve their strategic objectives, aiming to appease foreign audiences through the tactical instrument of diplomacy rather than comprehensively engage with governments according to a strong U.S. national security policy. It seems also that the discontinuation of terminology coincides (somewhat) with new rhetoric and action that seeks to advance the Cairo "groundwork" in a global campaign to promote entrepreneurship. Pradeep Ramamurthy, Senior Director for GED who will be hosting Muslim business leaders from more than 40 countries this month for an entrepreneurship summit, proposed the central question, “Do you want to think about the U.S. as the nation that fights terrorism or the nation you want to do business with?’’

In short, both; but it is important to re-iterate that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the prism of terrorism specifically.

The point is that changing the rhetoric or not using the terminology, as was done with the report on Nidal Hasan (Protecting the Force: Lessons From Fort Hood), and is expected in a forthcoming report "spelling out the country’s national security strategy plan" does not lessen the problem of Islamic extremism. In fact, discontinuing the terminology does not alter the fact that extremists seek to disrupt and dismantle U.S. economic and legal practices both internationally and domestically.

Islamic extremism exists.* The issue we should be debating is how to use right-minded religious-focused information in our narrative to adequately understand the enemy's co-optation and strategically combat AQ and affiliate's motivation and ideology. The difficult task is agreeing on the meaning of who we are collectively and what we ought to do and how so in reflection of our shared values/traditions. The projection of our values, of course, must comprehensively counter that of AQ/affiliates. In this sense, a good offense is a good defense, but the important aspect of the narrative is that we in fact go on the offense in terms of our religious/cultural, political, and socio-economic beliefs and practices.

*Persons repeatedly raise the rhetorical question of whether or not Islam is a peaceful religion. The answer is, once again, as always, a resounding yes. To continue to ask the question, though, highlights the very fact that analysts and professionals alike have not sufficiently convinced persons in both a quantifiable and qualitative manner.

But Sebastian Gorka has already said almost everything I have been trying to in this post:
"In the culture of Islam, the question of a leader's authenticity is paramount. Bin Laden and those who follow his Salafi worldview must be delegitimized. After the debacle that was strategic communications under the last administration, Washington must formulate a marginalization policy. A lead agency must be empowered by the White House, and it must coordinate a whole-of-government message that focuses primarily on the vast number of Muslim victims of terrorism, of al Qaeda's brand of terrorism. The United States should focus less on concepts such as democracy and more upon the bloody reality that is the result of al Qaeda's ideology. The United States will then soon discover that it is far easier to make al Qaeda and bin Laden look illegitimate and truly evil than it is to make everyone love America."

What I have attempted to add specifically is the value of appropriately detailing religious language as an aspect of an over-arching information strategy to overcome the "evil" of AQ's ideological pursuits. Our national security policy ought to recognize how effective such "marginalization" rhetoric can be in light of the GED's commitment to leveraging diplomacy, communications, international development, domestic engagement and outreach to secure our freedoms and maintain our security. The move would not back away from the enemy or diminish our national policy but engage Islamic extremism by defining its followers for what they rightfully are.

Once more, if I haven't made the point clear: We need more religiously-minded analysts to help in objectively tailoring a counter narrative strategy that directly engages the enemy.

1 comment:

  1. I would be less worried about changing the "Global War on Terrorism" (Which I am not crazy about the name) to "Overseas Contingency Operations, or the removal of the term "Islamic Extremism" from the Ft. Hood attack, IF this was part of a comprehensive whole government strategy to counter AQ and associated movement's ideological narrative. DP as you pointed out, this could be the right step if it nests with a Counter Narrative strategy; however, if we are just removing certain language from our vernacular and hoping it changes the way the World views America, it will undoubtedly make the counter terror/counter insurgent's jobs much harder.