Grand Strategies are not a plan of action, so much as a general process to handle a problem. They must be flexible and adaptable to changes in enemy behavior. The best strategy to combat the Islamist Global Insurgency is to attack its ideological center of gravity, rather than its organizations. The Grand Strategy is one of Disaggregation. We must aggressively drive wedges between enemy factions in this war.
As a review
Islamist Grand Strategy
Al-Qaeda Associated Movement aims to do the following
• Defeat the Near Enemy (Muslim Governments)
• Establish Islamist Governments
• Unite all Islamic Insurgencies worldwide into AQAM global insurgency
• Attack the Far Enemy (US and Non-Muslims) to rally popular support
• Terrorist Attacks against Far Enemy
• Insurgent Attacks against Near Enemy
• Non-state and Network Warfare
• Islamists share resources between theatres of conflict
• Each captured sanctuary strengthens Islamist insurgencies in other regions
The American Grand Strategy
David Kilcullen outlines a grand strategy in
Countering Global Insurgency. He emphasizes Disaggregation.
The US should respond to the Islamist threat to ourselves and our Muslim allies in three ways. Disaggregation, Delegitimization, and Nation-Building.
1. Disaggregation separates and divides Islamist forces preventing a Grand Alliance.
2. Delegitimization undermines and weakens the political ideology of Islamism
3. Nation building is necessary to destroy the material center of gravity for Islamist insurgencies. Integrating the periphery into the Core should be a long-term priority – not just for military reasons, but for economic and medical reasons as well. It is also the most difficult of the three, yet necessary for sustainable victory.
LTC David Kilcullen is an Australian Army officer who worked with Gen. Patraeus to create the current Iraqi COIN strategy. He envisions disaggregating as a way of combating Islamists and other non-state actors. This is a polite term for Divide and Conquer.
“Applying this model generates a new strategy for the War on Terrorism – Disaggregation. Like Containment in the Cold War, a Disaggregation strategy means different things in different theatres or at different times. But it provides a unifying strategic conception for the War. Disaggregation focuses on interdicting links between theatres, denying the ability of regional and global actors to link and exploit local actors, disrupting flows between and within jihad theatres, denying sanctuary areas, isolating Islamists from local populations and disrupting inputs from the sources of Islamism in the greater Middle East.”
Islamism aims to unite Islamic insurgencies across the world to form a single jihadi front. Kilcullen’s counterstrategy blocks such confederacies from forming and disrupts those that already exist.
Disaggregation takes a World War and divides it into a multitude of separate conflicts. The Islamist strategy has a critical weakness: each regional insurgency has a separate agenda and is primarily focused on it’s “near enemy” rather than its “far enemy” and universal goals.
We can categorize insurgents according to their primary and secondary allegiances
-Reformists and Moderates
We use different strategies against each group, seeking to detach membership from larger confederations. As AQAM produces nothing of substance, friction increases between insurgent factions. Moderates (a relative term) can participate in the regional government. Tribes and Nationalists have local causes for fighting but no global ones, so there is often an enmity between them and Islamists. It is also possible to separate criminals from other combatants because they are primarily interested in money and protection of black markets, not ideology.
If segregating global insurgencies is successful, we will no longer be fighting a global war. Instead we will fight one small insurgency in Afghanistan, another local one in Indonesia, another in Somalia, another in Algeria, another in Thailand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Yemen, etc.
The Islamist movement is principally a civil war within Islam. This key insight provides the means to delegitimize the AQAM ideological center of gravity. The US and its Muslim allies can undermine the ideological attraction of Revolutionary Islamists.
1) Confuse the Near and Far Enemy
Islamists are at their weakest when attacking other Muslims and they lost most of the previous civil wars. Their latest strategy attempted to segregate Muslims and Non-Muslims for propaganda purposes.
America can insert itself into the civil war and take a clear side in favor of certain Muslim groups and states. The only way Islamists can stop this strategy is by attacking Muslims and repeating their earlier failed strategy.
As Islamists attack Muslims, their popularity declines sharply and many tribes and religious scholars condemn them. This politically deligitimizes Islamists and enables disaggregation.
2) Attack the ideology
Orthodox Muslim ulema dispute Islamist religious bases and the authority of Islamist Intellectuals. Islamists intellectuals are almost never from the trained and educated ulema. They lack legitimacy as a religious movement. Mainstream Muslim organizations do not advocate revolutionary violence and oppose attacks on “Near” Muslim enemies.
We can offer political alternatives through democracy and the tribes as a response to political demands of Islamism.
3) Information Warfare
Expose Islamists in the worst light possible. This takes the glamour off their appeal and exposes the fact that Islamists primarily attack other Muslims.
This is difficult as Islamists made the Information War a centerpiece of their strategy. They coordinate with Arab news stations like Al Jazeera and began a mass deception campaign. Socialists have entered the Information War on the Islamists side as part of a growing Red-Green alliance. The American media is particularly inept and poorly designed to prevent manipulation.
Propaganda is a central strategy for Sunni and Shia Islamist militants. They emphasize perception over empirical reality. High-profile Terrorist attacks are a theatrical show, designed to send messages through the international media for free. They use the media to collect intelligence on open societies. They manipulate journalists to spread false propaganda through hired stringers or staged photos in order to deceive or demoralize the public. Because of this, we are losing the Information War.
A key part of any long-term Grand Strategy is to eliminate the territorial sanctuary and material support for networks in the periphery. This means tackling the failed states problem by focusing on failed states in the Islamic World first.
Nation-building is very complex. It is a wicked problem. What we can do instead is a much simpler task that can lead to long-term nation-building. We can establish friendly client governments and train security forces. Once this client government takes over, it can suppress militant threats and develop the economy on their own.
The Client State option is the most common and basic method of countering non-state actors in the periphery. Core and Client Indigenous Forces cooperate in attacking non-state actors and criminal organizations. This offensive strategy disrupts hostile network growth and secures the borders of the Core State. Client States do not simply “buffer” attacks against the Core – they complement and improve its defense.
Non-state actors splinter into multiple factions when under increasing pressure. Smaller network companies of ~100 men are less threatening. Crime is reduced. Stable law and order is restored in the Client State and this provides and opportunity to begin economic reforms to modernize the state and make it self-sustaining. This is a very incremental process and results will occur over a period of years or decades.
The Client State system is not the most effective way to eliminate non-state threats, but its advantages outweigh its flaws.
• It enables Core states to extend their security and defenses beyond their geographic or economic limits.
• Opposition Parties in the Core will sabotage any long term security operation out of self-interest and greed, even if it harms their population. Client States are relatively quick to establish and provide long-term staying power.
• It enables Core states to handle a large number of threats simultaneously without overstretching its professional military. The Core military acts as a reserve that reinforces its client allies when needed. This reduces military casualties and allows fighting on multiple fronts.
Stationing permanent military bases in the region provides ability to rapidly mobilize forces and respond to threats. Core and Indigenous forces are complementary. Professional Core militaries provide heavy firepower and disciplined soldiers, while Indigenous Forces speak the local language, understand the customs and people, are more capable of differentiating civilians from criminals and insurgents.
Non-state belligerents lose legitimacy when they begin attacking their own population so the indigenous population becomes more likely to support the Client State, provide intelligence on criminal activities, and join security forces.
Client States use of “Hard” and “Soft” Power. Hard power is the military and police element. Soft power represents economic and cultural factors. Hard power is necessary and sufficient for short-term security. Soft power makes the system more stable and resilient against non-state threats.
Client States are cheap to set up and maintain. This is politically important as few Core States actually want to spend long periods of time and money in peripeheral areas of the world. States can set up a few types of Client governments, each with its own tradeoffs.
• Military dictatorship. Lowest risk to implement, least stable over the long term
• Traditional authorities like Tribes and Monarchs. Moderate risk and stability
• Democracy. Highest risk to implement, most stable over the long term. This option transforms the Peripheral region into a Core region. If the democracy survives for about 2 years, the window of opportunity for overthrowing it passes and the democratic state will be a success.
The struggle for the United States will be to maintain a “disaggregation” strategy for 50 years or more. Politically, it will perform similarly to Containtment during the Cold War.