For John, BLUF: We can contain the ISIL problem, but we can't kill our way out of it.
On the 5th of September The Boston Globe under Mr Bryn Bender's byline, published "US wants more from Saudis in fight against extremists". The lede is:
The US battle against the self-described Islamic State is being complicated by concerns that Saudi Arabia has helped support extremist Sunni elements — both spiritually and financially — even as the Saudis call themselves friends and allies of the United States.This sort of skirts the real issue regarding our fight against ISIL. At the core of ISIL is an idea and that idea can only be countered with another idea, an idea good enough to win back the young men and women who have signed up for ISIL. Here is the third paragraph.
“The Muslim leadership in Saudi Arabia would rather spend their time writing [religious edicts] on the color of women’s fingernail polish” and has failed to deal with the crisis “inside of their religion,” said James B. Smith, the American ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2009 to 2013.Ambassador Smith hits on an important point. The religious leaders in Saudi Arabia are only playing around the edges of the problem at this time. And I don't think Egypt gets it either.
The grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, fiercely attacked the Islamic State (IS) yesterday [Sept. 8], describing its members as “criminals tarnishing the image of Islam.” He said IS and other terrorist groups are “products of colonialism serving Zionism.”♠Imam Tayab does not seem to grasp that this is a fight for what it means to be a Muslim. He puts forward a vision for Islam, but to the degree he blames ISIL on Zionism and the West, to that degree he misses that the threat is to him and the Egyptian Government.
Here is a graphic insight into the problem we face, from a senior US officer in Afghanistan around 2002.
In Afghanistan when things were relatively quiet an Allied SoF unit made an interesting assessment at one of the remote villages. All was quiet and it should have been a quick stop but they stayed. A small herding village had an enormous new mosque & Madrasa complex adjacent. Over time they discovered that the town was 99% illiterate and the Madrasa offered the only hope for their children to have a different or better life. Rules of the Madrasa were:As one of my friends (a progressive Democrat with ties to the Administration) put it:
The particular cleric was unknown. Some checks showed that the texts used were off the scale in terms of radicalism.
- No girls
- Boys must be committed to the Madrasa at approximately age 4 and would not be allowed to see their parents again until around age 12, and then must continue the program to completion.
The Allied Task Force spent 6 months securing supplies and permissions to set up an abandoned building as a school, secure texts, recruit mothers to teach... Building an alternative took considerable time and effort in one of the hundreds of villages in the area. I don't know if the effort was sustained or not. It is to be noted that the Taliban placed a high priority on terrorizing and to destroy such efforts.
My impression is there are two parts of this. One, per the Boston Globe article and comments, to understand the phenomena. Two, disrupting the growth and evolution of said phenomena is then possible, but incredibly difficult and long term.
It just seems so strange to be talking about a religious/cultural fight without talking about the religion or the culture, even to note that it is a fight within the regional family.Too right.
Regards — Cliff
♠ The response from the Arab Muslim leadership seems to be that this is a fight for the West to wage. The problem is, we are foreigners and while we can kill our way to a diminished threat, we can't make it go away. In fact, we can create new ISIL fighters along the way by our actions. I would refer you to David Kilcullen's book, The Accidental Guerrilla.