Since the war on terror began in 2001, radical Islamic movements have been on the rise. A recent New York Times editorial described the situation thus: “A year after announcing its expansion goals, [ISIS] is operating or has cells in more than a dozen countries.”
Our clear failure to defeat or even stem the tide of terrorism has cost us thousands of American lives and has put an enormous strain on our Treasury.
In the fight against ISIS alone, the Pentagon is spending an average of $9.2 million per day, more than half on airstrikes, with virtually no significant positive impact. And President Barack Obama, by his own admission, lacks a clear and complete strategy to defeat the terror group.
The Islamic State’s proven ability to control huge resources and vast territories coupled with dramatic advances in technology spawns a new and terrible threat to the future of the world. The danger of course escalated when ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) changed its name to IS (Islamic State), signifying a shift from a singular focus on the Levant to far grander ambitions on a global scale.
Nothing could be more stupid than repeating the same military approaches against radical Islamic groups while seeing them fail and continuing to expect a different outcome.
The free world has essentially five different options in fighting this war:
1. Do nothing.
2. Continue to employ the same military tactics and operations (without a coherent long-term anti-terrorism strategy) that we have used over and over again since Sept. 11 without long lasting results.
3. Use effective psychological deterrents to discourage further attacks by the jihadists.
4. Support the fighters of other Islamic groups to fight ISIS, as Gen. Petraeus has suggested.
5. Eradicate terrorism from the face of the earth, just as we have almost succeeded in doing with polio.
The “do nothing” option would simply result in continued expansion and power-grabbing by IS, accompanied by the inevitable rise in terror attacks worldwide.
Using the same approaches to fighting terrorism that have failed even to contain the problem for more than a decade describes precisely the aforementioned definition of stupidity (or insanity).
The use of effective psychological deterrents to dissuade the jihadists from attacking us is a valid and powerful tactic. Unfortunately, however, due to the complexity of the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism (which includes cultural, psychological, theological and behavioral components), the current level of knowledge and understanding within the U.S. government makes it unlikely that such an approach would be used correctly or effectively.
Supporting other Islamic groups to fight ISIS as suggested by Petraeus would be like trying to defeat a lethal cancer by empowering a different deadly cancer to develop in the body.
Let us now turn our attention to the fifth option, which is far more likely to change the outcome and achieve success.
We can learn a great lesson from the process of the eradication of Polio.
Despite a century of research, the crippling disease caused by the poliomyelitis virus remains incurable. Yet polio has been nearly 99 percent eradicated. The reason is the development of the polio vaccine, which prevents the viral infection.
In other words, we have defeated polio not by curing those who have been infected but by vaccinating normal individuals to protect them from catching the infection in the first place. According to the World Health Organization, “if the virus cannot find an unvaccinated person to infect, it will die out.”
This extraordinary success has been achieved by vaccinating well people rather than attending primarily to those who are already sick. The same formula needs to be applied to the case of Islamic terrorism. If the plague of radicalism cannot find an unvaccinated person to infect, terrorism will die out.
Anti-radicalization measures (which we might regard as the terrorism vaccine) include both theological and educational approaches and can be designed to prevent normal individuals from becoming radicals. Such a preventative terror-eradication initiative must of course run parallel to proper counter-terrorism efforts.
Some may feel that this approach could take a long time. But let us not forget that traditional military approaches failed for nearly 15 years to eradicate or at least significantly reduce the level of the problem. This seems to necessitate additional more effective and probably more efficient approaches.
In brief, we have been spending most of our resources and effort fighting those already infected with radicalization and diseased with terrorism. It is time for a fundamental shift in focus and energy to make sure the disease finds no new victims.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.
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