You can call it revenge. You can call it justice. You can call it a well executed clandestine operation. You can call it anything you like, the simple fact is that on the early hours of May 1st, 2011 some of the deadliest warriors this earth has ever known infiltrated a foreign country, assaulted a compound and killed one of the most recognizable men in the world. A man who had directed a war against the West, and had callously ordered actions that caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
But that is not the end of the story. There are hundreds, thousands of men who are just as callous, just as cruelly evil, who have just as few qualms about mass slaughter. You can term such men anyway you wish, Insurgents, Jihadis, Terrorists, Criminals, Killers. All are apt, and fit the profile. All such titles can apply to any number of the groups currently engaging US forces or interests around the world. The problem is that the enemy is amorphous. Much like the Hydra of ancient myth, whenever we cut off one head, two more spring into place. It is clear that you can't simply lop off heads willy-nilly, and yet that seems to be exactly our strategy since President Obama took office.
The solution seems childishly simple: starve them out. But here too the simple idea becomes massively complicated. Starve them out how? Deny them propaganda victories? If you are somehow able to undercut the ideology, then potentially you reduce or eliminate the "true believers" that the organization has to call on. Anyone who studies Mao will tell you its almost impossible to deny and insurgency propaganda victories, especially when the society being fought is a free society. For starters, the idea of a free society lying to its people usually has severe and extreme back lash, so official propaganda is almost nonexistent. The insurgents also, usually get the benefit of the doubt, especially if the government or society you're fighting against isn't popular, or there is little to no official contact. Also we as a society need to understand that what we say and do officially and unofficially matters and can have drastic consequences.
The other solution would be to "starve" out the enemy would be financially. Here too, this is not as easy as it sounds. Take Afghanistan for instance. The insurgent/terrorist activities there are being funded not only by Islamic "charities" but in a large part they are being funded by heroin, and marijuana growth and trafficking. We can't slash and burn crops that net a farmer hundreds of dollars and tell him to grow food which would net only a couple of dollars. Likewise our own laws on the subject of drug use and selling, seem to make it nearly impossible to stop it at our end. The debate for treatment or legalization seem pretty silly, when we a a society can not control our urges enough to realize we are literally funding our own destruction on many levels.
In other parts of the Arabian peninsula , groups loosely called "al Qaeda" (though their actual link may be in name only) are actually using pornography sites to fund their activities. This is almost impossible to stop. The internet is so massive that it would be nearly impossible short of shutting the whole thing down, to stop funding of this type. Still other groups, many in the South Pacific, and Asia, are relying on the old tried and true method of kidnap and ransom, the idea is to find someone moderately well off, or wealthy, kidnap them, threaten to do horrible things to them until X amount of money is paid. Most likely the victim is killed anyway, even if the ransom is paid. The only way to stop that is for there to be more effective police world wide, which is a problem you can't go to the international community to solve. When looking at these methodologies of funding it is almost impossible to choke off the money supply to "al Qaeda" groups.
The last methodology of starving this Hydra we call "extremist Islam" is to deny it warm bodies. I don't care what type of army you run, if you don't get new recruits it is only a matter of time before you wither and die. Here's the problem, short of killing every Muslim male in the world, how will you deny the enemy warm bodies? If we hypothetically had a tool or devise that could kill everyone that was an actual terrorist instantly, no muss no fuss, would that end the Global War on Terror? The answer is, probably not. someone somewhere would pick up the banner and start the whole mess all over again. You can not simply kill your way out of this war.
So how do we as a society combat this threat? Well first we have to acknowledge that yes we are at war, and it is really a war unlike any we have fought before though there are some similarities to the Cold War. We have many tools at our disposal that can aid us, and these tools should be used. Mass media, cyber espionage/sabotage, human intel (HUMINT), signals intel (SIGINT), we have very bright politicians, and economists, and we have a military that is second to none. All of these tools seem disparate, and as they function now they are. Much like pre-9/11 often times you will find agencies working cross purposes, or one agency is doing mission essential actions that will directly hinder the mission of another agency. Getting everyone on the same sheet of music will continue to be an ongoing process, but the good news is that it is improving. The solution it would seem would be more integration and a national conversation if you will, about the tactics and methodoligies that we as a nation should use.
to quote an enemy:
Army cadres concern themselves solely with
Government cadres with administrative jobs,
Party cadres with Party business.
They are like men standing on one leg. It is wrong for a cadre
to be acquainted only with one field. He will no be truly
proficient because army, mass, government and party work
forms a whole which would not be strong and complete should
one of its components come to miss.
Ho Chi Minh- July 1952 (Ho's Selected Writings, p. 146)
Counter-insurgence is not a mission the Army or Marine Corps were designed to do. Dropping 500LB bombs on a bunch of raggedy fighters in mud-brick huts, while effective tactically, strategically, and economically make no sense anymore. We will need an organ (or organs) of government that can provide boots on ground policing functions, that is also politically attuned to the situations on the ground, and able to provide bureaucratic support to itself and the population we wish to support. Effective Counter Insurgency requires a greater cooperation between military/paramilitary and civilian organs of government than we have thus far seen or been willing to contemplate.
This might be what the Army and Marine Corps become, or it might be what greater co-operation between FBI/INTERPOL the State Department, and some as yet unknown organ looks like. One thing is clear, political appointees to posts in a counter insurgency area must not be ideologues. The bureaucratic functions we deploy to support a flagging government must be far better than the ones we have in our own government (FEMA), and we will either need to re-task our military, or create an international police force that we can train up, deploy and leave in place for however long it takes.
Unfortunately this ideological war will most likely require more nation building as well. Iraq was in a sad state in 2003, after years of neglect under Saddam, but that country was positively first world compared to Afghanistan or Pakistan. The people will need to be taught not only what tools to use, but how to make the tools, how to distribute, and how to market the tools, to say nothing of actually how to use said tools. Keep in mind we have had almost 500 years in this country to figure out what works and what doesn't. Any serious nation building program would condense centuries of development into just one decade.
We also have to acknowledge, we can not do for them what they can not do for themselves. The attitude and mentality that we can just come in and fix everything for them nearly lost the Cold War, has saddled America with crushing debt. One could also argue that it was the mentality that lead to the Republic of Vietnam to be such a painful, and failed experiment. If we go somewhere we will need to find quality people in the local populace and teach them trades vital to the proper running of a vibrant economy and nation. In many Muslim nations, they simply do not have this knowledge, or worse have actively suppressed it. Our assistance, Military, Civil, and Political must always be stated at the outset to be temporary, with the overall goal that the populace is self sufficient, or nearly so by the end of the program. The Army's "Right Seat, Left Sear, Ride" model is apt here, regardless of the profession or vocation being taught.
Lastly we need to acknowledge that the war is in fact not over. Not even close. This is an ideological struggle for the hearts and minds of over a billion Muslims around the planet. It will take time, blood and treasure much as the Cold War before. It will require direct intervention at some point in the near to distant future, and that (those) intervention(s) may indeed be long term. It is readily apparent that this problem will not "fix itself" and nothing can be served to the international community or to our own national interest by American Isolationism. The world is simply too small for that to work anymore. Yes we should be reticent to get involved in wars around the world, be we should also acknowledge that we, to some extent allowed this problem to become a major problem, and thus bare some responsibility to fix it.
Believe it or not, we can slay this monster. It will not be easy, and will require a truly Herculean effort. That is what America is good for. We are very good at such actions, and we are very good at making things work when they seem like they shouldn't. We are one of the few actors on the world stage that seems to be capable of carrying out more than talk. We did not ask for or want this job, but it is ours nonetheless.