Al Qaeda is still with us almost nine years after successfully attacking the greatest power the world has ever know. American firepower has won every battle, but al Qaeda is winning the war of ideas, and the war of ideas is decisive.
Mao said “The guerilla must move among people as a fish swims in the sea.” Al Qaeda has survived and prospered because they swim in the sea of Islam, a world of over one billion people. This is possible because al Qaeda has convinced much of the Islamic world to see them as Holy Warriors defending the Faith against the infidel. They have succeeded because America has been almost completely AWOL in the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab Street, incompetent on those rare occasions it has tried anything, and, worst of all, until recently treated al Qaeda like Holy Warriors defending the Faith, and acting to confirm al Qaeda's framing of America as an evil empire out to destroy Islam.
Fortunately for us, al Qaeda is actually a criminal, heretical cult. Al Qaeda will be destroyed when they are viewed as such by the Islamic World. They are a criminal, heretical cult because they kill Muslims, kill innocents, and encourage suicide; all of which are explicitly forbidden by the Koran.
In the Sunni areas of Iraq, al Qaeda came to be viewed as criminal and suffered a terrible defeat when the local people turned against them and allied themselves with the American army. This is why the surge worked. In Afghanistan NATO is still fairly popular after over eight years of occupation in an area that hates foreign intervention because the people know how awful the Taliban/al Qaeda were when they were in power. Even with frequent annihilation of wedding parties by the US air force, many Afghans have still not turned against us. This is astounding.
Mance's approach to defeating al Qaeda is a full scale, well-funded, all-media assault on al Qaeda conducted primarily by Muslim-Americans and our Muslim allies, framing al Qaeda as what they are, a criminal, heretical cult. This will sever their connection to Islam without which they cannot survive. Mance suggests several specific policies to accomplish this. These include (from chapter 9):
- Denounce al Qaeda as Heretics
- Publicize al Qaeda's Atrocities
- Play up former al Qaeda Members' Renunciations of the Group
- Back Islamic Political Movements, particularly democratic movements
- Playing up Internal Disputes
- Start a Social Epidemic of Rejection
- Identify the Criminality to al Qaeda's Target Audience
- Make al Qaeda Answer Publicly for Killing Innocents, Particularly Children
- Make the Terrorists' Community and Families Fear for the Spiritual Safety of Recruits
- Make People Remember They Can't Depend on Terrorists
- Reframe al Qaeda as Political Opportunists
- Encourage Positive Ideological Fitna (Fitna is ideological civil war, which is occurring between former and current al Qaeda members)
- Use the Same Viral Media Techniques They Do (particularly the use of YouTube)
- Organize Counter-Extremist Message Swarming (drowning al Qaeda web sites with our activists)
- Help Stand Up and Support De-radicalization Programs and Plans (for example, Saudi Arabia sends Imans to argue religion with captured terrorists, often converting them to more main-stream Islam and thereby getting complete and full cooperation in fighting al Qaeda)
- Do No Harm and Do Know Harm
Mance also stresses the importance of killing bin Laden and other senior leadership. Cults are dependent on charismatic leaders, and al Qaeda is no different. Kill bin Laden and it will be very difficult to hold al Qaeda together. Interestingly, "One of the first acts of the Barack Obama presidency was the signing of the executive order to capture or kill bin Laden."
It is also important to reframe America, which al Qaeda has successfully labeled as an enemy of Islam. Fortunately, America effectively defended Bosnian and Kosovo Muslims against Christian Serbs, defended religious Saudi Arabia against a secular Saddam Hussein, and helped Islamic Afghan warriors defeat the Soviet Union. We need to point this out to the Islamic World loudly and often.
This reframing has been immeasurably aided by electing a President with a (non-practicing) Muslim father, who lived in Muslim Indonesia as a child, and, best of all, has the middle name "Hussein." This is a political liability in America, but the last election rocked the Muslim world's negative perception of America. Al Qaeda's view of us is incompatible with Obama becoming president. This opened a window of opportunity to reframe America in Islamic eyes. Unfortunately, a number of critical domestic issues have taken most of Obama's time and has prevented deploying him in Islamic media as much as he should be.
Many conservatives want to treat captured al Qaeda members as 'enemy combatants,' in other words, Holy Warriors Defending the Faith. Until recently, we've fought the war that way, but notice we haven't won. If we treat captured al Qaeda members as criminals, trying and convicting them like any other criminal, we send a clear message that, once accepted, means al Qaeda is beaten. Then it will just be a matter of mopping up.
There you have it, how to defeat al Qaeda. Notice that this will take a small fraction of the $700 billion we spend on the U.S. military each year which, after nine years of trying hard, has failed to win. It's not their fault. They can't. This war cannot be won by firepower and maneuver, it can only be won in the minds of Muslims. We'd better start fighting there.