08 June 2010

A Business-like Strategy: Al-Qaeda & Al Shabaab

I cherish those good 'ole days when my colleague Josh was around and posting every other day or so. (Hey Josh, keep trucking over there!). Remember the vibrant discussions we all had on the conglomerate vs. franchise model both here and over at SWJ. Let's revisit!

As the Washington Post reported today, "Foreign fighters gain influence in Somalia's Islamist al-Shabab militia." It is not by any means new to us that AQ's ideology is being imported at an increased pace into Somalia and other regions, such as Yemen. Al Sahwa discussed this months ago when Bill Roggio at LWJ reported that Al Shabaab merged with Ras Kamboni Camp.

The question is why. To embolden ASMM to fight Hizbul Islam? To prepare for the World Cup? (Here is an AEI Critical Threat's Project report assessing the threat of AQ during the World Cup, Charlie Szrom). No, this is simply short term.

Recently, US intelligence reports have estimated Al Shabaab to have approximately 200 fighters affiliated with AQ in southern Somalia. A franchise model holds that AQ wants to expand its business; "it has a great product to sell." A conglomerate model holds that AQ enables ASMM and encourages its success; "it believes in the mission/purpose of the movement and ability to excel."

If AQ senior leadership is beginning to take more of an armchair fighter, sort of a Chairman of the Board role, then it will seek to employ a collaborative campaign while maintaining consistency. This ensures the import of an ideology through a flatter hierarchy. The flatter hierarchy, in this case, imports also foreign fighters to improve operations. Is this an indication that Al Shabaab is weak, that it needs help, that it cannot figure out how to secure regional prowess? AQ wants its affiliate to grow because it grows as a result.
*This arguement is truly based on the assumption that AQ has the direct intention to recruit and deploy fighters to foreign areas.

Of course, we must also consider once again Ronfeldt's tribal paradigm . Is Somalia a pure example of a netwar (low-level conflict)? Regardless, it will escalate if we allow AQ's operational environments to expand.

Go ahead, ask me...Ok, yes, I do think AQ will pursue advancement of its operational environment through a business prism because it seeks to survive; it believes in both its mission (without a doubt that is the driving force) and its "product" (or as I say, dream of the Islamic State). The only way it approaches survival is by clinging to what it already has, which, in this discussion, is Al Shabaab.

01 June 2010

The Start of a Counter Narrative Strategy

*A successful Counter Narrative Strategy begins with a philosophical foundation for building and employing tactical and operational methods of engagement. My perspective is one of many, as I intend to push the envelope here in order to generate dialogue so that we may arrive at an optimal solution.

I encourage you to read John Brennan's full remarks (26 May, 2010) at CSIS, entitled "Securing the Homeland by Renewing American Strength, Resilience and Values."

In the first half of his speech, he pinpointed an aspect of an effective Counter Narrative Strategy (CNS) that I have spoken of in the past: Al-Qaeda, and for that matter, all affiliates, are not Islamic. I mean this literally.

The US and its allies can not benefit (socially or economically) from considering AQ's and AQAM's thought and action as Muslim in nature. Indeed, AQ's stance rests on a dis-illusionary system of motivation and justification that is insane and self-centered. If the AQ definition and practice of Islam is now and/or were to continue to be acceptable, their philosophy would remain on the spectrum as a religious choice. A CNS must (re)affirm that violence and oppression are not adequate and/or viable avenues of fulfillment, freedom, and happiness; that AQ is not a choice.

We commonly hear (correct) arguments that Islam is a religion of peace. AQ is the direct negation of this statement: AQ is a perverted pseudo-movement that seeks to advance a selfish agenda based on an apocalyptic illusion through violent means and propagandized messages. Forming an effective CNS requires the recognition of a two-pronged approach, which Brennan elaborated on in the spirit of President Obama's vision:
1. Fight al-Qaeda and AMs, particularly in targeting safe havens, to disrupt and dismantle operations;
2. Support Muslim communities, both home and abroad (but mainly home) to promote cultural and economic prosperity.

**Andrew Lebovich of the New America Foundation summarizes the main points well in his weekly Foreign Policy Legal War on Terror (LWOT) brief, as well as how it fits into the National Security Strategy (NSS).

The plan (as it remains a plan until strategically engaging in action) requires a wedding of military "hard" power and diplomatic "soft" power. (Here is a sound perspective on the uses of both powers by Angelo Codevilla at FPRI). Above all, such a strategy begs leaders to take an assertive, secure - not sensitive - stance on US values and traditions in order to facilitate the use of inter-disciplinary skills and employ multicultural tactics.

Instead of walking on egg shells, I propose speakingly directly about religion - a tactic that is not typically favorable, perhaps not to offend any one community or party. I believe AQ has already sparked a renaissance of collective thought; we simply have not utilized our joint strengths to synergize our action into a collective authority.

To aid senior-level decision makers, a CNS ought to follow these guidelines:
1. Identify the enemy.
Yes, Islamic extremism exists, but this is simply how we have come to describe it in relation to the phenomenon of religious-centered activity. By default, we use "Islamic" because that is what AQ seems to be. AQ leaders and followers are not Muslim simply because they invoke Allah and Muhammad.

In other words, I think we describe AQ, not define them. Often, the definitions we intermix represent Islam and Muslims, and do not adequately (and rightly) describe the ideology and operations of AQ and AMs. In this sense, a good offense is a good defense: The CNS will actively characterize AQ's worldview as insane and dis-illusionary.

An effective CNS re-formulates the understanding of AQ's goal in light of their worldview, not our understanding of AQ in relation to Islam. This means employing an accurate and dynamic understanding of Islam in order to juxtapose AQ's use of Islamic terms. In fact, their co-optation of terms to promote their cause and identify their enemy is precisely why they continue to be successful: From their inception, AQ has stood for something; all-the-while a "robust" and "diverse" debate has ensued both within Islam and in the West.

***The debate is in no way a negative thing. Indeed, we need intellectual debate. My concern, and frustration, lies with our inability to arrive at a conclusion in order to take action. We cannot debate and then not agree due to the nature of the issue at stake.

An effective CNS gets to the bottom line: It identifies the enemy in black and white terms. We have a choice to join together our authority, and it begins with the "Yes" or "No" answer in response to the question; "Is AQ Muslim?" Can we not agree to define AQ as not Muslim? The violent movement does not represent, foster, and/or promote any ounce of Islam.

****I have two more guidelines senior decision makers can consider, but will share them in a future thread. It is important to know that this conversation is already under way, as Malcolm Nance of SWJ and Abu Nasr of Challenge COIN have pressed for AQ to be defined as a cult movement. The points posited above can be strengthened by enlisting comparisons of other quasi-religious, pseudo-communities.