Strategic Collapse in the War on Terror

Words matter, and in the global war on terror we are losing the battle of words, in a self-inflicted defeat. The consequences could not be more profound.

Recent government policy memoranda, circulating through the national counter-terrorism and diplomatic community, establishes a new "speech code" for the lexicon in the war on terror, as reported by the Associated Press and now available in the public domain .

These new "speech codes" recommended that analysts and policy makers avoid the terms jihad or jihadist or mujhadid or "al-Qaida movement" and replace them with "extremists" and by extension other non-specific terms. 

The use of these "new words" and rejection of the "old words" is ostensibly designed to avoid legitimating al-Qaida and its followers while mollifying the sensitivities of the larger Muslim community.

This culmination of previous trends does not surprise me at all.

This is more than simply dancing on the pinhead of cultural sensitivity-words have meaning, ideas have consequences.

This policy is a strategic collapse.

It does nothing to improve our strategic comprehension of the threat or improve our foreign strategic communications; in fact it reinforces existing conceptual problems and risks confusing our messaging with our own actual knowledge of the jihadist threat.

It is a failure of commission, a collapse of competency and reason. It is a collapse of precision and possibly the most profound setback in the war on terror since 9-11, when the global jihad brought itself to our attention.  

Clausewitz noted that in war the moral factors are perhaps the most important, and we have just demonstrated we neither have the moral clarity or moral fortitude to comprehend the nature of the war we are in.  Dr. Antulio Echevarria of the Army's Strategic Studies Institute stated once that the "US military does not have a doctrine for war as much as it has a doctrine for operations and battles" and we have just demonstrated we don't have the comprehension of this war as much as we can comprehend its operations and battles.

The AP report highlights a level of ignorance and hubris by the functionaries speaking to this topic so grave that is raises my concern about the actual extent that our government is in fact co-opted by our enemies. 

War is a complex endeavor, there are no silver-bullet weapons, theories, words or phrases that will disarm our enemies or shape the cultural attitudes of the jihadists or other fellow Muslims.  Only how the Islamic world doctrinally perceives and receives the claims of legitimacy of al-Qaida and the rest of the global Islamic movement will determine that outcome -- not any mincing of words by the West.

But it is important that we use the right words so that the West and the American people can understand the nature of our global challenge in this war as much as anyone else.

No Global Threat Model

Over the last several years, there have been numerous examples of incredible malfeasance and lack of due diligence in homeland security, prediction and investigations evidenced by the reporting of, for example, Patrick Poole in his Hometown Jihad series.  

Also the schizophrenic activities of our government in dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood in America that has declared itself engaged in "civilizational jihadist process"  to destroy our way of life and replace it with an Islamic model, and repeated examples of one arm of the government attempting to prosecute elements of the Brotherhood while the other half  vets their actions and cultural sensitivity programs against the same organizations. Or recall the DHS booth placed next to the Islamic revolutionary organization of Hizb ut-Tahrir at another Islamic conference.

National security strategy is policy and policy implies a theory -- a theory for action.  To date we have no concrete theory of action because we have no fully articulated global threat model. We are seven years into a global war with armed combat and many dead and wounded, and yet still lack a common analytic paradigm to describe and model the enemy.  It is a stunning failure to propel the country to war without a fully elaborated threat model that clarifies and specifies the enemy and makes clear our true objectives.

The lack of a threat model and a theory for action explains our schizophrenia, our failures and homeland security shortcomings.

Understanding the enemy -- "the threat," his threat doctrine and the authoritative statements, sources and philosophy undergirding that doctrine is a primary duty. That is the first step in developing a threat model. It is the vital step in the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield
process, to template enemy doctrine by laying it over the terrain: the physical, human and cultural terrain to understand its manifestations in reality. These are the first relevant questions to be answered for US national security analysis. 

Our enemy says he is fighting jihad warfare to extend the Islamic faith; the basis of that claim rests on his exegesis of Quranic and Islamic Law injunctions.  Irrespective of whether we or other Muslims accept or deny the legitimacy of his claim, if that is his stated doctrine, then that is the doctrine we must study and comprehend. That is the doctrine that will provide the indicators and warnings of future threats, that is the basis of our threat model. 

That fact that other Muslims do not engage in violent jihad bears no relevance to our problem set or the analysis of those who do; it is a distraction and ancillary information that does not contribute to the threat model or understanding the enemy. 

The fact is we have already so nuanced this war that we have failed to complete those required analyses. Our national security strategies and plans are so nuanced now as to be useless in terms of understanding the threat, defining it, clarifying it, modeling it.  Read them, see if you can distill the enemy and orient on a clear objective. Even in our own strategic planning documents we admit to ourselves that we don't agree on the threat.

This completely contrasts with our well-developed threat model in the Cold War, beginning with NSC-68 and the containment policy, national security courses that taught Soviet ideology and world-view, the Soviet threat doctrine series published by DIA, and then wargaming against it at our military schools.. We understood them intellectually, philosophically, doctrinally from the very top down to the tactical bottom. 

Seven years into this war we cannot say the same for the global jihad and have failed the same analytic and policy rigor. That is a serious error of omission.

Submission to Multiculturalism

Dr. Bernard Lewis, speaking recently at a luncheon and conference in Washington DC, noted that the two greatest shortcomings to understanding the Middle East are the "orthodoxy" of "political correctness and multiculturalism" and the reality that in the face of those driving ideologies, too many sworn to defend have proven themselves wilting lilies.

This new "no jihad policy" is the greatest of example.

Let's dissect the government message to show not only its folly, but factual errors that point to a lack of strategic comprehension and due diligence amounting to the level of an ethical failing.

An MSNBC article discussing this policy said this on the meaning of Jihad:

"For example, while Americans may understand "jihad" to mean "holy war," it is in fact a broader Islamic concept of the struggle to do good, says the guidance prepared for diplomats and other officials tasked with explaining the war on terror to the public."

That is wrong; it is in error. It is incompetently derived information.

Recall Patton famous exclamation:  "Rommel I read your damn book".

This is the book our counter-terrorism communicators need to read. This is what sacred Islamic Law says on jihad:

"o9.0 - Jihad. Jihad means to wage war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion. [italic emphasis in original]"... The scriptural basis for jihad, prior to scholarly consensus (def: b7) is such Koranic verses as: (1) "Fighting is prescribed for you" (Koran 2:216); (2) "Slay them wherever you find them" (Koran 4:89); (3) "Fight the idolators utterly" (Koran 9:36); ... I have been commanded to fight people until they testify that there is no  god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and perform the prayer, and pay zakat. If they say it, they have saved their blood and possessions from me, except for rights of Islam over them. (Umdat al-Salik p.599)"

Irrespective of the polemics, this is the only definition of jihad in Islamic law, this is the only controlling and binding definition of jihad for any Muslim.

So are we now to deduce from the media reporting that the US government, expects for example, those in military service to accept that waging "war against non-Muslims establish the religion" is a "struggle to do good."  Does our government consider jihad a "good" thing.  Am I to accept that jihad is good for America?

Is this how far we have come with multiculturalism? 

The Islamic Law of Nations

Al-Shaybani's Siyar, known as The Islamic Law of Nations, was drafted in the 9th century.  It is described by Rudolf Peters as the first major Muslim work "devoted exclusively to Islamic law dealing with relations with non-Muslims." It is a body of law that Dr. Majid Khadduri noted,

"Muslims declared to be binding upon themselves, regardless of whether non-Muslims accept it."

Khadduri adds for context:

"The Islamic Law of Nations, however, is not a system separate from Islamic law. It is merely an extension of the sacred law."

And with respect to jihad, after discussing that the world is divided into two camps the dar-al Islam [house of submission] and the dar al-harb [the house of war] Khadduri elaborates the Siyar:

"The territory of war was the object, not the subject of the Islamic legal system and it was the duty of Muslim rulers to bring it under Islamic sovereignty whenever the strength was theirs to do so."  The state of war existing between the dar al Islam and the dar al harb, however, does not necessarily means that actual hostilities must occur. The instrument which would transform the dar al-harb into the dar al Islam was the jihad. The jihad was not merely a duty to be fulfilled by each individual; it was also above all a political obligation imposed collectively on the subject of the states so as to achieve Islam's ultimate aim-the universalization of the faith and the establishment of God's sovereignty over the world. Thus the jihad was an individual duty, especially in the defense of Islam, as well as the collective duty on the community as a whole, and failure to fulfill it would constitute a gross error.

 The jihad, in the broad sense of the term, did not necessarily call for violence or fighting, even though a state of war existed between Islamic and non-Islamic territories since Islam might achieve its ultimate goal by peaceful as well as by violent means. This participation might be fulfilled by the heart, the tongue or the hands, as well as by the sword. The jihad was accordingly a form of religious propaganda carried out by spiritual as well as by material means. (pp. 12-16)

Peace does not supersede the state of war, for the jihad is a legal duty prescribed by the law; peace means the grant of security or protection to the non-Muslims for certain specified purposes...Muslim authorities concluded peace treaties with the enemy only when it was to the advantage of Islam." (p. 54)


"It was Shafi'i  [founder of the Shafi'i school of Islamic jurisprudence]  who first formulated the doctrine that the jihad had for its intent the waging of war on unbelievers for their disbelief and not merely when they entered into conflict with Islam's. The jihad was thereby transformed into a collective duty enjoined on Muslim to fight the unbelievers "wherever you may find them."(p. 58)

So does the United States government also now considers [fighting] the unbelievers "wherever you may find them"(Quran 9.5) to be more "broadly" a "struggle to do good"?

"In Islamic legal theory, the jihad was a permanent obligation upon the believers to carried out by continuous process of warfare, psychological and political, if not strictly military. (p.16)

It is interesting to consider the "continuous process" of "psychological warfare": what better way to prosecute a war against your adversary than convincing those with whom you are at war with that you are not at war with them; to convince them not to use the language and the logic of the war.

No America they are not "jihadist" you face but "extremists".... miscreants, "evil-doers," murderers, "cultists," just really bad people.

Do the speech code writers understand the concept of "masking terrain" in war?

Finally Khadduri makes two additional points:

"If a Muslim entered the dar al-harb... he was under obligation to respect [and] observe its laws...but if conflicts arose between his own law and that of the territory, no doubt existed where his choice would lie."(p.14)
"The jihad is the Islamic bellum justum and [is] the very basis of Islam's relations with other nations." (p. xi)

If you appreciate the above concepts then you understand their strategic ramifications and our challenge with respect to the "extremists."

al-Ijma and Quranic Warfare

That is why Brigadier S K Malik's Quranic Concept of War described jihad in terms of "grand strategy" and "total war" because it applies every element of force and suasion, every stratagem, every inducement and every coercion to submit the world to Islam. The "philosophy of war ... is an integral part of the total Quranic ideology" Malik stated. Note too, Malik was no Wahhabi or Salafist, he was a Pakistani general in 1979.

Importantly, Khadduri before is not merely waxing historical platitudes because he follows by saying:

"Jurists who came afterward, up unto the very decline of Muslim power, merely introduced refinements and elaborations of these basic principals.  No essential difference among the leading jurist is to be found on this fundamental duty [of jihad], whether in orthodox or heterodox doctrine."(p.58 and 16 )

Do these wordsmiths understand the implication of what Khadduri is describing?

It means the jurists agree.

It means ulemic consensus.

It means al-ijma and that means that this legal obligation of jihad is "unquestionable truth" it cannot be ignored, abrogated, or contravened and for a Muslim to willingly deny the truth of jihad or of the religion "thereby becomes an unbeliever (kafir) and is executed for his unbelief. (Umdat al-Salik p. 109)

It means this applies today, now, tomorrow.

Do not doubt the jihadists of al-Qaida, and the al Qaida “movement” and the Muslim Brotherhood “movement” and Hizb ut-Tahrir, Lakshar e-Taiba, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Salah Sultan and Abdurahman Alamoudi,  Sami al-Arian,  Esam Omeish and Niwad Awad and all the rest of the affiliated Ikhwan front groups in America and mujtahid of the “global Islamic movement” fully understand this. Do not doubt that any schooled Muslim does not understand these tenets of jihad as well whether they adhere to them or not.

The Homeland Security policy stated:

U.S. officials may be "unintentionally portraying terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers or spokesmen for ordinary Muslims," says a Homeland Security report.

This cannot be documented as fact.

Can the drafter and the approval authority of that Homeland Security report cite where the terrorists "lack moral and religious legitimacy?" Can they cite their incontrovertible sourcing? If so I want to see it; I have searched for it.

The closest I can come would be the Spanish fatwawhose import in the rest of the Islamic world was questioned, while most readers would not understand the legal nuance of "innocence" in Islamic law. The fiqh council of North America, itself tainted as a Muslim Brotherhood entity, also issued its own fatwa that was in fact challenged as non-specific and fraudulent,

Can the memo-writers point to any universal ulemic denunciations against al-Qaida or denouncement from the major Islamic centers or key muftis across the Middle East?

Shmuel Bar noted its absence in his "Jihadist Ideology in Light of Current Fatwas":

"[This] is a one-sided battle; the radicals are on the offensive, whereas counter-attacks of moderates are few and far between. Fatwas commanding terror can only be countered by a clear opposing consensus (ijma') of mainstream ‘ulama. Such a consensus does not exist. This is due, inter alia, to the deference that mainstream ‘ulama feel towards the radicals as the quintessential believers, and the sense that they are competing with the radicals over the same constituency. Such deference is strengthened in Islam by orthodox Islam's aversion to declarations of heresy (takfir) and the fear of igniting internal conflict (fitnah). It is in the home field of this presumed silent majority that the main battle is taking place, and as long as it does not enter the fray, the battle cannot be won."

It is the silence that is the consent and legitimacy.

No Jihad means No War of Ideas

From the NCTC guidelines:

"We suggest you avoid the term 'al-Qaida movement,' which implies a degree of political legitimacy (e.g., 'labor movement,' 'civil rights movement,' 'women's movement:'. . .). There is no legitimacy to al-Qaida's activities."

This is ahistorical.

First the roots of al-Qaida lie in the in the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the international "global Islamic movement." See the Holy Land Foundation documents at the NEFA Foundation and even Dr. Marc Sageman's first book, Understanding Terrorist Networks. The al-Qaida ideology and jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood constitute a movement, and it is moving right past the competency of the drafters of this claptrap.

Secondly, the recommendation begs the question by claiming "there is no legitimacy to al-Qaida's activities." Who says so? Produce the quantitative demographic analysis and ulemic rulings to substantiate that claim.

But maybe this is how we win the war of ideas; declare there is no ideological movement and it all goes away sort of like calling "gangs" a "crew".

So, considering last year's anniversary 9-11 Senate hearing on global threats, one can imagine this year's carrying on the same thinking:

Senator Lieberman- "What is your strategy for the war of ideas?"   FBI Director Mueller- "Sir, there is no war of ideas."

Lieberman- "No? What do you mean?"  Mueller- "I'm not sure how to express it; because we can't use the words therefore I have no ideas."

Again the NCTC:

"Do not use 'ummah' to mean 'the Muslim world.' It is not a sociological term, rather, it is a theological construct not used in everyday life."


"[We] should recall that Islam is not merely a set of religious ideas and practices but also a political community (the umma)," Dr. Majid Khadduri reminds us. "The umma, composed of all those who profess the Islamic faith, is the immediate point of reference for every believer."  It seems our "experts" disagree about the concept of umma in everyday Muslim life.

From the NCTC Memo:

"Don't Take the Bait: When Osama bin Ladin or others try to draw the USG into a debate, we should offer only minimal, if any, response to their messages. When we respond loudly, we raise their prestige in the Muslim world."

Osama bin Ladin is not debating us. If he is debating anyone it is his fellow Muslims over the mandate of jihad and the doctrine of Loyalty and Enmity.

And another:

"In Arabic, jihad means "striving in the path of God" and is used in many contexts beyond warfare. Calling our enemies jihadis and their movement a global jihad unintentionally legitimizes their actions."

That is a non-sequitur; it presumes a cause and effect based on our word choices in the West.  Again, al-Qaida is legitimate or illegitimate based on what the Muslim ulema say about al-Qaida not us; but more importantly, in any language and in Islamic law jihad means "warfare to establish the faith."

And this:

"Avoid the term 'caliphate,' which has positive connotations for Muslims, to describe the goal of al-Qaida and associated groups. The best description of what they really want to create is a 'global totalitarian state.'"

You say "caliphate" I say a "global totalitarian state." Maybe the crafters of nuance don't realize how loaded their rejoinder is.

Finally this analysis from Jeffrey Imm  Writing in the Counter Terrorism Blog, he notes the 9-11 Commission Report on the topic of jihad:

"The 9/11 Commission Report uses the term "jihad" in referencing the enemy 79 times and specifically defines "jihad" as a "holy war" executed by Osama Bin Laden and his compatriots (Section 2.3, Paragraph #302 on page 55), as well as defining "mujahideen" as "holy warriors" (Paragraph #302, same page). The 9/11 Commission Report refers to such "mujahideen" 22 times.

The 9/11 Commission Report refers to the term "jihadist" 31 times, including the references to the "worldwide jihadist community" (Section 5.1, Paragraph #691 on page 148), to "Islamist Jihadists" (Section 5.3, Paragraph #741 on page 158), to "Islamist and jihadist movements" (Section 6.3, Paragraph #887 on page 191), and multiple references to an NSC memo on "Jihadist Networks".

Most importantly, the 9/11 Commission Report provides the definition of "Islamist terrorism" as being based on the ideology of "Islamism" (Notes, Part 12, Note 3: "Islamism", page 562)."

In light of the NCTC and State Department GWOT lexicon guidelines one must surmise that the 9-11 Commission Report should now be withdrawn from public consumption and all must stop referencing it.

I submit the people advocating this line of argument are either unstudied as to what they are saying, or if the sourcing for these lines of argument can be traced to their original roots, then I would wager those roots are in the strategic disinformation of the "global Islamic movement."

One must also question if those recommending and making these decisions have a doctrinal understanding of any of the original lexicon, much less intellectual preparation to change it to something else.  Has anyone considered that maybe our perceptions are being shaped by the jihadists as much as we think we are shaping foreign perceptions?

Caution reminds us that to the extent we outsource our knowledge base we outsource our decisions. To the extent we do this with our knowledge of Islam and Islamic jihad we do so at risk. 

This lexicon change represents systemic organizational failure: a professional failure and the failure to know is a failure of leadership.

As Dr. Bernard Lewis asked last week, "where does ignorance end and falsehood begin."

Joseph C. Myers writes and speaks on terrorism and homeland security issues and is completing his PhD in public policy.  He recently presented a paper for the Association of scholars for the Study of Middle East and Africa.