Posted: 5/1/2009 11:18:00 AM
Author: Reviewed by David Major
Book Review: The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad by Walid Phares
Reviewed by David Major
"The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad" is the third book by Walid Phares in a trilogy beginning with "Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West" (2005-2006) and "The War of Ideas" (2007). In the first book, the author uncovers the historical evolution of the jihadi movements and strategies against America and the West. In the second book, Phares explains how the jihadists delayed the Western counter offensive for decades until 9/11. In the third book, he proposes strategies and policies to win the confrontation.
Redefining the War
In his first chapter, Phares puts the finger on the wound: We must define the war. In fact, he calls for a "re-definition" of the eight-year-old confrontation that began officially on Sept. 11, 2001, but has started historically decades earlier. The classical definition used by the United States government, "war on terror" has served its purpose even if it wasn't intellectually accurate. The foes of America and other democracies, namely the jihadists, aren't confining themselves to military activities and acts of terror. Rather, they have a global agenda they seek to attain which would lead to collapse of international law.
As many have doubted the ability of democracies to eventually win the confrontation with the jihadi forces, the author maintains that the free world can still win. But to win, he argues "you must define the threat and the enemy." At a time when the United States and Great Britain's governments are gradually dropping the term "war" from the lexicon of foreign policy, the author reviews the pillar-arguments of the debate and suggests identifying the actual enemy by referring to its ideology and goals, not to cater to our public relations needs. It is neither a war "on terror" nor is it just an overseas effort against individuals and particular organizations. It is a confrontation with an ideological movement which uses terror as one of its means, Phares correctly argues. Chapter 1 sets the agenda of the debate about identifying the conflict: framing past and present campaigns and localized wars as one global confrontation is inescapable. Otherwise it will be a unilateral war waged by the jihadists against democracies while the latter would become unable to respond globally, systematically and methodically. This war, initially waged by the jihadists, won't be won if we fail to define it strategically, warns Phares.
Unfortunately, a fundamental lack of understanding grips many in the policy world both around the globe and in the United States. Interestingly, the Bush administration had used some of the author's descriptions of the foe, such as caliphate–seeking-jihadists, as presented in his first post 9/11 book, "Future Jihad" of 2005. But the Bush administration never went to the end of this logic in its strategic communications. Nowadays, the Obama administration is borrowing an idea advanced in "The Confrontation" — the conflict in Afghanistan wasn't initiated by the U.S. but by al-Qaida. However, the present administration fails to reach the minimal level of definition, the ideology behind the movement.
In order to engage in a strategic "redefinition of the war," Phares thoughtfully argues there must be a "Western Rethinking" of the conflict. He asserts that "the dominant elite in Western academia, the one dispensing teaching and researching in Middle East studies, international relations and history, have failed their classroom, their people and their government. By ignoring the rise and advances made by the jihadi forces worldwide over decades, most of those who were trusted to educate and advise the decision-making institutions have intentionally or non-intentionally subverted the debate about the mounting threat, particularly in the post Soviet era and specifically after the 2001 strikes. The 9/11 Commission asked questions that were never answered: Why is it that America wasn't educated about the jihadi threat?
Amazingly, today some are still asking whether there is a jihadi threat. Phares wonders how it is possible that eight years into the conflict that basic questions are still haunting the national debate. Instead of discussing how to defeat the jihadi menace over the forthcoming decade, most of our mainstream intellectuals and specialists have been reversing the direction of the public awareness. Hence, the global counter strategies in defense and counterterrorism are still at square one, argues Phares.
Cultural Revolution in the West
A global Western rethinking, according to the author, must generate a "cultural revolution in the West" first. The war of ideas must be won within liberal democracies, argue Phares. As stated by Tony Blair when he was prime minister, the real battle is within our societies, to win hearts and minds of peoples, so that they in turn can support this hard and long global campaign. Phares calls for an overhaul of the way we teach, research, and understand the threat and thus most of our international relations, defense, security and historical studies should be reformed.
And for major rethinking and for a cultural change to occur, the free world needs to undertake another "economic revolution," that is energy independence. Phares has been raising the issue of what he has coined as "oil economic imperialism" for years. A Petro dollar influence over U.S. and Western security can be removed only with strategic shifts towards energy independence. These moves are likely to cause a greater confrontation as the producers — who happen to fund jihadism — won't let go of their influence easily.
A new diplomacy should be able to create alliances, binding together all countries and societies targeted by the jihadists. Observing how the trans Atlantic West was divided on how to confront the threat for years, and how it has never reached out historically to other like-targeted regions and countries to produce a world joint strategy, Phares proposes a patient reconstruction of alliances with one overarching goal: creating the widest possible coalition against the threat. Americans and Europeans must mend their own bridges and base their trans-Atlantic alliance on a common vision of the rapidly spreading stealth jihadi menace from within. The West must move energetically to reach out to Russia, despite the numerous points of contentions between the two world powers. Russians are threatened to their core by jihadists forces inside the federation and on its outskirts. With these strategic changes achieved or being implemented, the free world can seriously help backing a "revolution in the Arab and Muslim world," in the same way it supported dissidents in the former Soviet Union, brought down the Apartheid regime and backed changes in Latin America. While maintaining basic stability in international relations, extending hands to democracy and human rights movements and figures across the Greater Middle East and beyond is the second most important key to provoke strategic change leading to defeating the threat. The author, who has called for a serious, coordinated effort internationally to empower democracy forces in the region in his previous book "The War of Ideas," considers this a maker or a breaker of the global new direction needed to win the confrontation. Without the forces of change in the Muslim world, the jihadists will continue to grow. Who to support becomes a matter of sheer logic, argues Phares. Comparing the strength of the jihadi ideological and propaganda machine and the first wave of Western produced strategic communications, the author concludes that the war of ideas is not being won simply because it is not being fought as such. Phares believe we need to intensify the war of ideas but within a clear and strategic agenda. Effective and truthful education at all levels, from schools, to universities, to U.S. government civilian and military counterterrorism professionals to community groups is an essential strategy and must be won.
The State of the Confrontation
In his last chapter, Phares describes the "State of the Confrontation" worldwide and projects the trends in the years to come as he disconnects the national questions from the ideological jihadi linkages. Understanding where we are in the evolving multidimensional conflict is a condition sine qua non of planning and winning understandably, argues Phares. Realizing where Western and international efforts are in the confrontation is unavoidable if we are to resume the campaign successfully. Our national and international debate shows little progress has been made since 9/11 on the most central question of the confrontation's analysis. Engaging al-Qaida and the Taliban in confrontation in Afghanistan but not ideologically has had consequences on the length of the conflict. Removing a totalitarian regime from Iraq but not resuming the pressures on similar regimes also led to the current geopolitical bind. On an optimistic note, Walid Phares concludes that the United States, other democracies, and their potential allies across the world and within the Muslim world can win the confrontation.
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David G. Major is president of The Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies.