06 May 2015

Jefferson, Pirates, and Ideology

Like many of you, I read the cover story, “Why Do The Best Soldiers in the World Keep Losing?” in an issue of The Atlantic with great interest. Reading that article combined with some other discussions, research, and internal dialogue has led me to something that seems obvious in regards to our post 9/11 Middle East actions.

I came to this conclusion: for the past 14 years we have been fighting a kinetic war in the Middle East and avoiding the war we need to fight – the ideological one.  

I would argue our political correctness has gotten the better of us and hampered our defense strategy and foreign policy. At the very least, it has prevented us from having the open conversation necessary to define the strategy we need in the war of ideology and how we intend to act on that strategy. 

To get the discussion going, I offer up Thomas Jefferson and pirates...

Before Thomas Jefferson was the President of the United States, he was the Ambassador to France (following Benjamin Franklin). Roughly a year into his term, he faced a problem with U.S. ships being captured and their crews sold into slavery by Islamic states along the Barbary Coast.

In the spring of 1786, Thomas Jefferson asked the Ambassador of Tripoli why the Barbary Coast Islamic pirates were attacking U.S. ships when the U.S. had never warred on Tripoli. The Ambassador replied:

“It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every Mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.”

The Ambassador went on to describe how the Barbary Coast states used terror to force the enemy to surrender quickly without much of a fight. This concept of attacking the soul of the enemy is still in use today by the terrorist organizations that threaten our national security.

My point in bringing up a 229-year-old story is to point out that 229 years ago, Americans were targets of an ideology and 229 years later, that ideological strategy has not changed. 

One of the most significant ideological texts on Jihad, written in 1979 by a former Pakistani General, expands on the belief of attacking the soul of the enemy through acts of terror:

'Kill the enemy or convert them by raging an individual war of terror against non-believers, only this will bring back the greatness of the Caliphate [Empire of Islam] and the sovereignty of Allah on Earth.' 

Once you connect the 229 years together and realize we are facing an ideological war where bullets alone cannot win, the sooner we can actually make progress.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

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