Wage Semantic Warfare to Divide the Enemy
By J. Michael Waller
FrontPageMagazine.com | 8/8/2007
The surge in Iraq appears to be working, largely because U.S. forces have taken advantage of divisions among the insurgents and allied with some in order to destroy other Islamist factions.
This is a pretty tough tactic to stomach, because many of our newfound Iraqi “allies” have American blood on their hands. But it just might mark a turning point in the war. By fighting all radical factions, we inadvertently united them against us – not a good idea when some of their most mortal enemies are one another. By working with some Iraqi insurgent groups to wipe out al Qaeda, we will be better positioned to turn our guns against other enemies in due course.
A similar analogy is true in the war of ideas. We can take a blanket approach, as some are doing, by adopting the al Qaeda/Wahhabi narrative and its absolutist definition of terms. We can see enemies in all who believe in jihad, regardless of how they interpret the idea. Or we can be more judicious about which battles we pick. In so doing, we can enlist support, tactical though it may be, from certain of our adversaries.
Uniting our enemies against us is a loser strategy. During World War II, we held our noses and allied with mortal enemy Stalin to defeat Hitler. Then we signed an easy peace with the Germans and dealt with the Soviets in due course. And in resisting and repulsing the USSR, we allied with a rogue’s gallery of tyrants, socialists, Islamists, kleptocrats and assorted nut-jobs – even with other communists. Circumstances often offered us few alternatives.
So it’s natural that we seek fissures within the highly factionalized world of Islam to find tactical allies in the global terrorist battlespace.
That’s why some of us have looked across a broad spectrum of Islamic thought to find pressure points to divide those with the will to kill us from those without, and to marginalize the most extremist elements and help them self-destruct. With help from Arabic linguists and Muslim scholars of various persuasions, we set forth a glossary of Islamic terms of relevance to the war against terrorists.
Does it make sense for us to keep calling the terrorists “holy warriors,” as some do every time they call them mujahideen? Or to imply that their death squad activity is somehow praiseworthy when we call terror an act of jihad holy war? Especially when there are many interpretations of jihad within Islam?
We found terminology that properly implies that our enemies are sadistic sociopaths who must be killed – even terms in Islamic law that can morally obligate faithful Muslims to hunt them down. We found that a broad cross-section of Muslim thought, from modern and western-oriented all the way to some with at least one foot in the extremist camp, agrees on many of these important terms, and not with the terrorists’ definitions.
Yet some observers like Walid Phares attack the idea of semantic warfare. Recently Phares departed from his normally reasoned debate to imply ulterior motives. In a July column, he tried to de-legitimize the ideological warfare work of Jim Guirard. Phares hinted that Guirard was influence-peddling for hidden clients by inaccurately calling him a “lobbyist” and brushing off his essays and memos as “lobbying pieces.” Though he never did say just who was supposedly paying. Those of us who share Guirard’s approach, Phares says, are doing nothing more than pushing a “lobbyist-concocted theory.”
That’s a cheap shot, and a false one at that. Guirard, a former Fulbright scholar, is not a lobbyist. Though he used to be, six or seven years ago, as OpenSources.org reports from the public record. Even then, Guirard lobbied for a Louisiana company on issues relating to the U.S. Army – nothing, as Phares appears to imply, relating to Wahhabis or the Muslim Brotherhood. Guirard has been wordsmithing for decades. Twenty years ago he was waging semantic battles against “liberation theology.” Today he’s doing the same against Islamism.
Phares says that we proponents of using language against the enemy are “representing the views of classical Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood.” Certainly Wahhabi elements and the Muslim Brotherhood are circulating all sorts of disinformation. Lies and other forms of deception are part of the cultural DNA of the Middle East, and are demonstrably part of the ideological war against the United States. But Phares does not substantiate his allegation. He should either back up his claims or retract them.
He does have a good point, though: It is dangerous to view the Muslim Brotherhood, whose “jihadist” strategy stresses power through infiltration, co-optation and subversion more than through violence, as the “good guy” against Islamist terrorism. Ditto for the subversive ideological exports of the House of Saud.
Political, economic and cultural subversion may constitute a far greater strategic danger to the United States and the free world than the fanatical terrorism of al Qaeda. And this is where the Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood have been investing heavily, even among American conservatives. However, as with al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgents, it is important for us as citizens to understand the narrative, find pressure points within the languages and cultures, and use them to divide the enemy.
But we won’t approach that understanding if people in our own American camp snipe with sloppy reporting and phony innuendo. Let’s try fighting the war of ideas by reclaiming key concepts from the terrorists and splitting their ideological support base. After a year of serious effort, we can review the results and become smarter defenders of freedom.
J. Michael Waller is the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Professor of International Communication at The Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. His latest book is Fighting the War of Ideas like a Real War (2007).
“Stepping into the void left as Sunni insurgents have been dislodged…”
“Shi’ite militiamen blamed in attacks on U.S. troops,” by Kim Gamel for the Associated Press:
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Shi’ite militiamen with Iranian weapons and training launched nearly three-quarters of the attacks that killed or wounded U.S. forces last month in Baghdad, stepping into the void left as Sunni insurgents have been dislodged, a top U.S. commander said Sunday.
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno didn’t provide a total number of militia attacks. But he said 73% of the attacks that wounded or killed U.S. troops last month in Baghdad were launched by Shi’ite militiamen, nearly double the figure six months earlier.
Iran has denied U.S. allegations that it is fueling the violence in Iraq, and the Americans and the Iranians have agreed to set up a committee to deal with Iraqi security issues.
Setting up a committee and having the committee actually do something are not the same thing.
Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr agreed to pull his Mahdi Army fighters off the streets as the security crackdown began Feb. 12. But some members of his group broke away.
That doesn’t even begin to exonerate al-Sadr, to say nothing of addressing the Iranian connection.
A faction within America always denigrates our country, seeing our enemies through rose colored lenses and finding only oppression at home. The Long War we face with Radical Islam is matched by the long war against this bloc.
Color me cynical, but I think that the fix is in on Iraq. In September Gen. Petraeus will report on the surge and declare a qualified victory. Then President Bush will start drawing down the troops. Slowly.
Everyone will feel betrayed. The conservative base will feel that our steadfast support for the war was all in vain.
The netroots will continue to demand immediate withdrawal. Expect the Democrats in Congress to keep offering a Resolution of the Week to support the troops and bring them home now.
It would be easy in this situation to get discouraged, but we are conservatives and we are better than that. This is a point worth making because right now the Conservatives in Britain are having a total meltdown over a couple of minor political setbacks.
But if we are not to panic like our formerly stiff-upper-lipped cousins across the Atlantic we must “do something.” I recommend we “do” some strategic thinking. As we retreat from Iraq we should think about the big picture.
The great lesson that we should learn from the first six years of the 9/11 era is this. If it weren’t for our liberal friends here in the United States and in Europe, the terrorists would be nothing more than a bunch of Saudi rich kids and Iranian regime thugs out for a rumble.
What makes these Saudi rich kids and their pals world-historical is the understanding they get from the left and the publicity they get from the media. Exhibit A is the CNN-YouTube questioner who asked the Democratic presidential candidates:
“Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?”
Earth to YouTube: The gap that divides us from the thug dictators is not a lack of negotiations; it is the question of power. For a dictator power isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.
The left always seems to be swooning over the latest gang of designer thugs. Right now university book stores are featuring dozens of earnest attempts to understand Islam. Back in the 1980s the lefty Sandalistas were flocking to Sandinista Nicaragua. In the 1970s the left was busy understanding the rage of well-born terrorists in the Weathermen, the Italian Red Brigades, and the Baader-Meinhof gang. A decade before that it was Castro and the execrable Che Guevara. All of those thugs would have got nowhere without the fawning of the luvvies on the left.
You might think that these dictator lovers are evil, and you might be right. But conservative philosopher Roger Scruton talks instead, in A Political Philosophy, of a kind of sickness: “oikophobia.” It’s a fancy Greek neologism for “educated derision at… national loyalty,” always siding with “‘them’ against ‘us,’ and the felt need to denigrate the customs, cultures, and institutions that are demonstrably ‘ours.'” In short, as Scruton writes, it is “the repudiation of inheritance and home.”
Modern conservatism was founded by Edmund Burke upon the opposite idea. It regards “our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity” without repudiation.
The great challenge for us, conservatives and libertarians, people inspired by the spirit of democratic capitalism, is the challenge of the “oikophobes.” It means that the war on terror is not finally a war with Islamic terrorism, but an episode in the long war within the west that began in 1789. It is the war between the heirs of Burke and the heirs of Rousseau and Robespierre, between ordered liberty and the “oikophobic” alliance between rational experts, progressive activists, designer revolutionaries and out-and-out thugs.
The “oikophobic” alliance presents a Janus face to the world. It claims to be the very highest and best in human evolution, committed to equality, sharing and caring. In pursuit of this ideal it advocates constantly for inclusiveness and against divisiveness. Yet it conducts its politics according to the crudest techniques of the demagogue, setting worker against boss, renter against owner, woman against man, poor against wealthy, secularist against believer, black against white, gown against town.
And its institutions–the schools, universities, foundations, arts communities, and newsrooms of the world–are the most exclusive and divisive around. Conservatives and Christians need not apply.
But for all their faults you would think that the “oikophobes” would be willing to help conservatives defeat the homophobes, the racists, and the patriarchs of the Middle East.
But they won’t. They are “oikophobes” and they believe in taking the side of “them” against “us.”
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his roadtothemiddleclass.com and usgovernmentspending.com. His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.
I’m a soldier; haven’t been in uniform in forty years but the six years of active duty I did serve and the ensuing thirty-plus years I’ve spent working with the U.S. military, instilled in me certain qualities and beliefs that have grown and persisted within me all these decades and provide me with the basis for my stance on the war on terror. I may now be only an armchair warrior, but I’m still a soldier. As such, I understand the value of a rapid counterattack when your enemy has struck and badly hurt you.
I say this as a brief, prefatory explanation of why I believe the Bush Administration has done the right thing in carrying the war on terror into the heart of terrorism itself. Yes, I know there are legions of liberals, so blinded by their certainty that the Supreme Court cheated Al Gore out of the presidency that they actually profess to believe that there were no ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq. To them I would say consider this: Syria had ties to Al Qaeda; Jordan had ties to Al Qaeda; Egypt had ties to Al Qaeda; Yemen had ties to Al Qaeda; Somalia had ties to Al Qaeda; Saudi Arabia had ties to Al Qaeda; the various Gulf monarchies had ties to Al Qaeda; Iran had ties to Al Qaeda; Pakistan had ties to Al Qaeda; Indonesia, the Philippines, North Korea and several of the former Soviet satellites under Muslim rule had ties to Al Qaeda.
BAGHDAD – The top U.S. general and diplomat in Iraq warned on Thursday against cutting short the American troop buildup and suggested they would urge Congress in September to give President Bush’s strategy more time.
Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, in separate Associated Press interviews at their offices in the U.S. Embassy on the banks of the Tigris, were careful not to define a timeframe for continuing the counterinsurgency strategy — and the higher U.S. troop levels — that began six months ago.
Still, Petraeus’ comments signaled that he would like to see a substantial U.S. combat force remain on its current course well into 2008 and perhaps beyond. He said that a drawdown from today’s level of 160,000 U.S. troops is coming but he would not say when.
Petraeus said he and his top deputy, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, are working on how to carry out a reduction in the extra troops Bush ordered to Baghdad and to Anbar province. He said the drawdown would be done “over time, without undermining what we’ve fought to achieve.”
“There is a lot more that we certainly will try to do,” Petraeus said.
‘Its going to take longer’
With the American public’s patience wearing thin, many in Congress are pressing for a troop reduction soon. Bush has resisted, saying he is waiting to receive the advice of Petraeus and Crocker in September.
Pressed repeatedly on when he thought troop levels could be reduced and other U.S. involvement scaled back, Crocker said: “It’s going to take longer than September.”
He said he saw his mission as ensuring “we’re all looking at reality. I don’t think any service is done either in Iraq or the U.S. by saying, again, ‘It’s going to be OK by November.’ This is hard. There is tremendous damage that’s been done physically, politically, socially and it’s going to take time to repair.”
U.S. military officers have said in recent interviews that while troop levels should be determined as conditions evolve, they see little reason to remove the full 30,000 U.S. troop buildup before next summer. Some say they can foresee beginning some reductions by summer or earlier.
Petraeus said he would make his case in September, when he and Crocker are due to report to Congress on military and political progress and on their recommendations for the future.
He said the troop buildup has clearly established “tactical momentum,” meaning its more aggressive efforts to secure volatile neighborhoods in Baghdad and areas around the capital are succeeding. The bigger issue is whether those gains will lead to a stability that can be sustained over time.
“The surge enables us to turn the tide just a bit in key places,” the four-star general said in an hour-long interview.
Patraeus: Iraqi forces need training
Asked what more the U.S. military needs to accomplish to put Iraq on a steadier track, Petraeus ticked of a list that included furthering the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, which are intended to gradually take over for U.S. forces, beginning in areas where security and political conditions allow.
“We want to make much more progress against al-Qaida. We would like to build on the early momentum from local groups rejecting al-Qaida and militias,” Petraeus said. We want to certainly not just sit on the violence in Baghdad neighborhoods and stabilize it but to create a way ahead that can be sustained by the Iraqis over time. We want to, where possible, frankly, to continue the process of handing off to Iraqis.”
‘Movie will keep on rolling’
Crocker spoke more directly of his conviction that the current strategy should be maintained — and about his concern that if the United States were to withdraw now Iraq would be plunged into a humanitarian disaster.
“It is not as though we can simply decide that we do not want to be involved anymore and the movie comes to an end,” he said. “The movie will keep on rolling in Iraq and in the region whether we’re here or not.
“I, for one, as someone who has spent decades in the Middle East, am deeply concerned about what could happen if we decide based on reasons other than conditions on the ground in Iraq that we simply don’t want to be involved anymore.”
He said the consequence could be inroads by the al-Qaida terrorist network, a consolidation of Iranian influence in Iraq, intervention by Turkey and other neighboring states, and a “massive human catastrophe.”
‘No … magic answers’
Sprinkled throughout his remarks were references to a need for patience in seeing Iraq through its current crisis.
“There are no easy, quick, magic answers at this stage,” he said.
Petraeus, who was installed as the top U.S. commander here in February as the troop buildup got under way, underscored his belief that the extra troops have produced the intended benefit of reducing sectarian murders, encouraging more Iraqis to help U.S. forces and squeezing extremist groups.
“Once you get the locals recognizing that you are going to be there a while, they then tell you” where insurgent forces are hiding, where they have placed roadside bombs and where they store weapons, he said.
The problem, at this stage, is that these developments have not led the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to push through key legislative measures and to move toward political reconciliation between the majority Shiites, the Kurds and the Sunnis who lost power when Saddam Hussein was toppled.
Petraeus said he believed the Sunnis are beginning to see their future in a different, more positive light.
They have “gotten a little bit past the point where they were the last few years, which was one of feeling disrespected, dispossessed, disappointed, disgusted, distressed, you name it, at their loss of power,” he said
Operation Phantom Thunder and the Baghdad Security Plan continue to place pressure on al Qaeda in Iraq, allied Sunni insurgent groups, the Mahdi Army and the Iranian-backed Special Group. In Baghdad, junior al Qaeda in Iraq operatives are reportedly cooperating with Coalition forces and a series of car bombs hit a Shia area of the capital. In the Belts, U.S. and Iraqi forces maintain aggressive operations against al Qaeda and insurgent cells as both Sunni and Shia tribal leaders in and around Taji have banded together to fight the Mahdi Army and al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the U.S. captured two more members of the Special Groups and have indicated that Iran is now smuggling Chinese made weapons into Iraq.
“Our forces continue to strike wherever they hide,” is how Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman Major Mark Young described a series of recent coalition raids targeted on Al Qaeda cells and cell leaders. Here is a recap:
1. 10 buildings raided south of Baghdad looking for cell leader. 2 terrorists killed by coalition forces as they approached first building. 16 suspects detained in process of securing remaining objectives.
2. Terrorist attempting to set up automatic weapon killed during another raid and 10 suspects detained.
3. Two terrorists suspected of involvement in AQ media operations detained (see previously posted item in major AQI media center discovery)
4. East of Ramadi, alleged financial “emir” and 4 associates detained. “Emir” recently returned from Syria where he’d been facilitating weapons shipments into Iraq.
5. In Mosul, 8 terrorist suspects detained in raid targeted against AQ “emir” of that city.
The stakes for the Islamic Republic of Iran inside Iraq are greater than those of the United States. While Washington’s international prestige is on the line, the Islamic Republic of Iran faces an existential crisis. U.S. success in Iraq and the establishment of a stable, democratic government in a majority Shiite country along Iran’s borders would undercut the theological legitimacy which the Iranian regime claims. While Western diplomats and journalists emphasize the struggle within Iran between political hardliners and reformers, the real Achilles’ heel for the Iranian regime is the theological challenge to its system of governance.