The ideology behind the Islamist State (ISIS) and its goal of establishing a caliphate in the Middle East is about the "struggle within" Islam, despite President Barack Obama's reluctance to call it radical Islam, retired Gen. Michael Hayden told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"This is about Islam. It's a struggle within one of the world's great religions. And our ability to influence that is very indirect and distant," Hayden, a retired four-star Air Force general, said Wednesday.
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Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, called ISIS "terrorism 2.0 or 3.0" when comparing it to al-Qaida, which he described as "your grandfather's terrorist organization."
"They've left al-Qaida in the dust. There are lots of differences between the two. Al-Qaida, believe it or not, was more cerebral, was more patient, was more theological. These guys are just violent, and they want to immediately establish the caliphate which they've claimed in Iraq and Syria," he said.
Hayden said the struggle within Islam was more complex because of the various countries and sects involved.
"You've got ISIS-Jordan, ISIS-Egypt, ISIS-Saudi Arabia, the struggle between Sunni and Shia Islam. That's Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah against the Sunni monarchy.
"Finally, there's a struggle with elements of Islam trying to deal with modernity across the West. The common thread across all those is Islam. This is a struggle within that monotheism," he said.
Hayden suggested State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf, who once worked for him at the CIA, might want to "take a mulligan"
over comments on Monday in which she told CNN "we cannot kill our way out of this war" and suggested people joined ISIS because of a "lack of opportunity for jobs."
Hayden said a clearer idea of Harf's thought was "unless you change the conditions on the ground, you get to kill people forever." He said the U.S. needed to work with allies in the region to "very boldly take on some of the issues that create this phenomenon."
It was a "frightening thought" that videos released by ISIS showing beheadings and people being burned alive helped them to recruit new members, he said, adding the U.S. had the "outlines of a coherent strategy" to battle the militants in Iraq, but lacked one in Syria.
"We're doing enough to slow ISIS down. They're not as expansionist as they were in Syria and Iraq four or five months ago," he said.
Funding also set ISIS apart from other terrorist organizations, Hayden said.
"One of the distinctions between ISIS and al-Qaida, ISIS is far more self-funding than al-Qaida ever was," he said. "ISIS is a para-state. It collects taxes. It has commerce. It sells things. And so they're far less dependent upon funding from radicals, say, in the Persian Gulf."
Defining the "core problem" was also an issue, not just for the U.S., but also with allies in the Middle East, Hayden said, but stressed ISIS at this point "really isn't an existential threat to the United States."
"It's going to take positive action getting our friends in the area on the same page. We don't even have coherence as to what the core problem is. We think it's ISIS. The Turks think it's the Syrian government. So we've got an awful lot of lifting to do," he said.
It was time for the U.S. to "focus and act" on ISIS, Hayden said, because "this doesn't get better with time. In fact, it gets worse with time."
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