Co-authored by Cyrus Jabbari, USC student and researcher
On Monday, the U.S. and Russia announced plans for a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria that would take effect on Saturday, with Vladimir Putin stating it could "radically transform the crisis situation in Syria."
Although the Syrian army (backed by Russia, Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah) and the rebels (backed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Turkey) said they agree to the terms, it leaves a loophole by allowing further attacks, including air strikes, against ISIS, al-Qaeda's Nusra front and other militant groups.
"Bashar al-Zoubi, head of the political office of the Yarmouk Army, part of the rebel Free Syrian Army, said that it would provide cover for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies to keep attacking opposition-held territory where rebel and militant factions are tightly packed."
BBC News' Russia correspondent Steve Rosenberg describes the significance of Moscow's military intervention in Syria:
"Not only has it forced the West to sit down at the negotiating table and deal with Russia and its president, but also to recognize Russia as a major world power. And, of course, it has given a huge boost to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The reason Washington no longer demands the Syrian leader's resignation as a pre-condition to peace is because it knows that is no longer realistic: Russian firepower has made Mr. Assad more secure, his armed opponents weaker."
This ceasefire allows Russia and Iran to potentially continue tactical operations while the U.S. is the only member of the agreement to comply, because they don't want to undermine Kerry's efforts with the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Obama Administration's crown jewel foreign policy agreement.
A Change In Strategy?
This comes at an interesting time, as Leon Panetta, former U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA director from 2009 to 2011, and Tony Blair, former U.K. Prime Minister, recently announced they are launching a commission on violent extremism, aiming to help the next U.S. administration and European leaders counter radicalization among Muslims.
Panetta told the Washington Post:
"We haven't been very effective at developing a strategy to reduce the allure of extreme ideologies both at home and abroad, to understand what we can do to undermine this narrative that attracts so many recruits to violence."
Sponsored by the CSIS Commission on Countering Violent Extremism, the study will unite academics, former government officials and several technology leaders, including Microsoft President Brad Smith and Google general counsel Kent Walker, to study extremist groups like ISIS and recommend ways to blunt their appeal among disaffected youth.
As this study aims to develop a more effective and comprehensive plan to stabilize the Middle East, is it possible American and European leaders have acknowledged the spike in terrorist attacks and deaths in the region since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and decided a military-centric approach has largely been futile?
Or did they see the Paris Attack as an intelligence failure and determine that building networks of intelligence sharing will prove to be more effective in tracking and predicting terrorist activity?
- Terrorism is rising dramatically and private citizens are increasingly the targets.
- In 2014, 32,685 people were killed in terrorist attacks, an 80 percent increase from the previous year.
- The vast majority of terrorist attacks occur in five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
- ISIS and Boko Haram are mainly targeting private citizens, accounting for one-third of all attacks. This increased 172 percent from 2013 to 2014.
- The number of people who have died from terrorist attacks has increased ninefold since 2000.
- Deaths from terrorism in the West constitute just 2.6 percent of all terrorist related deaths between 2000-2014 with 90 percent of those caused by 9/11.
- 70 percent of deaths from terrorism in Western countries were from lone wolf attacks, and Islamic fundamentalism motivated 19 percent of these deaths.
Clearly, the Middle East and Africa experience the highest volumes of terrorist attacks, but assaults on Western countries have been the most deadly, according to figures released by the Institute for Economics and Peace.
State Sponsored Terrorism by Hezbollah, Hamas, Badr Brigade, Houthis in Yemen and a myriad of factions in Libya is also a major problem that needs to be confronted.
Additionally, the presence of tech executives in this commission augments the need to counter ISIS and other groups online, where they maintain vast recruitment and radicalization networks.
The Boston Marathon bombing and the Fort Hood and San Bernardino shootings are notable manifestations of lone wolf attacks inspired and supported by terrorist organizations and sponsors of terrorism, if not directly ordered or directed as such.
Broader policy research suggests our current approach falls short of receding the tides of bloodshed spilt in the Middle East, and preventing the spread of radical Islamic inclinations and murderous proclivities to future generations.
The Council on Foreign Relations states in their 2013 report, "A Global Venture to Counter Violent Extremism" states:
"A combination of religious literalism and conspiracist politics is at the core of anti-Western ideology. These ideas include the beliefs that democracy is man-made and only extremist understandings of God's law should be enforced; that violent jihad is a Muslim obligation until 'God's law' is manifest; that those who die pursuing it, including suicide bombers, are martyrs; and that the greatest obstacle to Islam's dominance is the modern West, led by the United States ... Unless such ideas are challenged and discredited, extremist groups will continue to regenerate no matter how many terrorists are killed."
- Educating Muslim thought leaders in mosques and on university campuses on why Islamist hard-liners threaten Muslim communities.
- Providing financial support to moderates to provide reading materials of normative Islam, alternative television channels and a 24/7 web presence of a well-informed network of social media experts to refute terrorist propaganda and Islamic extremism.
- Ousting the popular perception that the U.S. is at war with Islam and Muslims.
Although this would help combat extremist ideologies, this study fails to address the issue of State Sponsored Terrorism, disregards Iran's specific role in supporting terrorist groups and actions, as well as ignoring segments of the Saudi ruling class, which funds terrorist groups abroad, almost as a financial carrot stick to repel them from attacks.
Brookings Institute's 2015 study, "The Limits of Counterterrorism," argues poor governance is the root of the problem and defense institutions - the military, local forces, intelligence services, and police - at all levels in the Middle East often need reform.
"Iraq is a painful example where years of massive U.S. assistance went to waste because a politicized political system quickly rotted out the senior military leadership and then spread to the military as a whole."
- Leaders - They provide direction and serve as a source of inspiration for the group and its followers.
- Operational Component - Members who conduct the attacks based on direction from the leaders, get operational support from the parent organization, or draw inspiration from the leaders.
- Operational Supporters - Individuals who may have a hand in providing a range of support activities to operational elements.
- Sympathizers - Those who take no active part in supporting or executing operations, but display empathy for the cause and may even see an attack as justified in retribution for perceived past injustice.
"The terrorist problem cannot be solved through a set of draconian measures that treat the four groups as a single entity. Rather, separate strategies must be developed to address each of the components. Some common elements exist, however, including the use of intelligence, communications resources and the use of force by law enforcement."
Further research from RAND also suggests military force is rarely the cause of a terrorist organization's demise and effective political reform has helped marginalize extremism.
Judging by the foreign policy dialogue present in the primaries thus far, Blair's and Panetta's report is needed sooner rather than later.
Spreading Idiocracy and Exceptional Americanism Around the World
Republican rhetoric is almost as fanatical, vitriolic, violent and extremist as our enemies, but since it's in the name of Jesus and freedom, they get a mulligan apparently.
Whenever Marco Rubio claims there's a "clash of civilizations" between Americans and Muslims, it reeks of the type of corny pandering that would be skewered in "Team America."
Donald Trump's call to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. only plays right into anti-Western propaganda, and has been embraced by too many god-fearing Americans who also subscribe to Apocalyptic rhetoric. "We can't live like this. You're going to have more World Trade Centers. It's going to get worse and worse, folks," he said.
Iran-ically, Iran's Ayatollah, Mohammad Beheshti, who was one of the principal founders of the Islamic Republic and Ruhollah Khomeini's right hand man and ideologue, summoned the term "clash of civilizations" into international conversation.
It was later repeated by Iranian presidents Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (a Holocaust denier who opposes homosexuality) respectively, and has remained as part of the Iranian leaders' nomenclature to this day.
Conversely, the Democrats are no Captain America themselves.
- She voted for the war in Iraq.
- She supported overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi, which destabilized Libya.
- She was involved in the coup of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, which brought to the country the highest rise of wealth inequality in Latin America, according to the Center for Economic Policy and Research.
- She granted Afghanistan, a failed state, major non-NATO U.S. ally status.
- She calls for arming the Syrian rebels and a "no-fly zone," making her no less bellicose than Republicans on military intervention.
- In a primary debate, she admitted to being influenced by Henry Kissinger, who supported the "carpet-bombing of Cambodia, supporting Pakistan's genocide in Bangladesh, and green-lighting the Argentinian dictatorship's murderous crackdown on dissidents" as Richard Nixon's Secretary of State.
While it's unfair to blame Clinton for all of the chaos in the Middle East, her record is far from impressive. Hillary citing her Secretary of State tenure as a qualifier for Commander in Chief is about as nonsensical as Carly Fiorina using her time as Hewlett Packard CEO (where she lost 30,000 jobs) as a barometer of her economic prowess.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders seems about as interested in foreign policy as he is combing his disheveled hair - it seems that he is still meandering through the Cold War-era battles between international socialism and capitalism.
Overall, the remaining candidates are pretty uninspiring with their plans of stabilizing a region of strategic importance to American economic and national security interests.
The Big Picture
Bruce Hoffman, Director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, who has nearly four decades of terrorism research experience, stated a key objective in terrorist attacks is to create fear among the target population by gaining attention through mass media coverage and political response.
He said to an important extent, terrorists also want to intimidate the audience and the target government so that "even the threat of possibly becoming victim of terrorist violence is enough to create fear."
The whole point of terrorism is to create terror, and hyper-reacting out of fear just plays right into their twisted game. When our politicians manipulate our widespread concerns of a potential impending terrorist attack, it does our country a huge disservice and confines our political dialogue to how much we should nuke or how much should we insulate ourselves from the Middle East.
No doubt, terrorism remains a national security threat, but a knee-jerk response or a commonplace belief that escalating war and perpetual bombing is a cure-all panacea is either Fox News-inspired, pseudo-militarist, patriotic posturing or just utter ignorance of a region that has suffered from political instability, religious extremism, daily violence, pan-Arabism and militant Islamism since the end of World War I and the dissolving of the Ottoman Empire.
While air strikes have reduced the amount of land controlled by ISIS, it remains a largely ineffective strategy, as it has killed more civilians than terrorists. Ground troops presence may be necessary to eradicate ISIS, but it won't abolish anti-Western ideology or militant Islamic objectives. It needs to be one component of a larger policy framework.
Huffington Post reported ISIS's ideology is partially influenced by Wahhabism, an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia. The Atlantic's article "What ISIS Really Wants," notes the bloodthirsty group seeks a caliphate and to spread its apocalyptic worldview through carnage and destruction.
Simply put, terrorism is an ideology and a tactic. Declaring War on Terrorism is as silly as proclaiming war on kamikazes during World War II.
However, the U.S. can battle state sponsors of terrorism or terrorist organizations, which requires actually fighting the war in order to win. Declaring war and then not showing up or leaving before defeating the enemy is almost worse than not fighting at all, as it creates instability and a power vacuum waiting to be seized by militant extremists.
Terrorism in the Middle East is a very complex problem and needs a nuanced solution that will involve cultivating allies in the region, supporting democratic and moderate governments and opposition movements, and countering extremist propaganda through effective television and newspaper outlets as well as social media.
Until we realize this is a societal and historical phenomenon with its own psycho-political idiosyncrasies, and push our politicians to address this outside of the confines of regurgitated inflammatory talking points, terrorism will remain a problem.
Fortunately, Panetta's and Blair's report could be the next step forward.