The Art of War on Terror

By Moorthy Muthuswamy, July 2004


  The ongoing war on terror took an intense turn starting Sept. 11, 2001, bringing the full attention, resources and the might of the United States of America, easily the most powerful nation in existence. The United States will determine the course of the war on terror for years to come. I discuss here the strategies adopted by America and what changes it needs to make to win the war on terror quickly and with less cost. This has implications for other nations that too are targeted by jihadi forces: India, Israel, the Philippines or Russia.

  It appears that an alternate analysis of the war on terror is badly needed, as experts with humanities/journalism background mostly dominate this very important area of research. Typically, during their younger days these individuals have shown less ability in mastering complexities, pattern recognition and logic as presented in science or math. If “best” minds are said to gravitate toward these fields, it is time such minds too study the problem of Islamic fundamentalism – in the words of the current American President, “the defining problem of our generation”. Internet has opened up this area for outsiders by making previously specialized information, news and analysis easily available.

  Although trained as a nuclear physicist, I have published extensively on Islamic fundamentalism since 1998. Even before Sept. 11, 2001, I was among the few to uniquely identify the roots of Islamic terrorism and Muslim backwardness, and suggest remedial measures ( A more complete list of my publications can be found at the following location:

  Strategies adopted by America

  America has become an extraordinarily capable nation for one main reason: its ability as a nation to identify, analyze and solve problems. Nevertheless, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and now, the emerging nuclear proliferation from Pakistan shows that America has been slow in realizing the implications of Islamic fundamentalism. An unprepared America suddenly thrust into the war-theater in 2001 was going to take time to figure out effective strategies to win the war on terror. This is further compounded by a dearth of American experts on this new phenomenon.

  America’s immediate military response was in Afghanistan, the staging post of jihadist Al-Qaeda led by Osama Bin Laden. A far superior American military quickly overran Al-Qaeda and its Taliban supporters. This victory has reduced the possibility of a mass attack on America, of the kind witnessed on Sept. 11, 2001, at least on a short-term basis.

  The central piece of America’s long-term policy to win the war on terror was to invade Iraq and bring democracy there, and then expand democracy to the rest of the Middle East. America sees democracy as the real solution to Islamic fundamentalism that is at the root of the war on terror. It now appears that American efforts in Iraq are failing. This failure was due to the American inability to identify why Iraq or even most of the Muslim nations are under dictatorships. This is due to shortcomings in Islamic ideology. The proper approach should have been first to help reform Islam and then guide Muslim countries towards democracy, and not the other way around.

  America-hating jihadists continue to be created unhindered around the world. It has now become clear that the ideological aspect of America’s war on terror is not only weak, but can be even seen as unwittingly aiding the enemy (more, later). What America needs at this stage of the war on terror is a strategy that addresses the root cause of the conflict – the deficiencies in Islam – that are creating terror groups.

  Nuclear threat

  With the primary sponsor of Islamic terror, Pakistan, firmly under the ideological influence of Al-Qaeda, a nuclear threat looms on the United States. What is also notable is the extent of jihadization of the Pakistani society. All available indications are that jihad is the primary focus of the Pakistani nation. Its acquiring of nuclear weapons and even spreading of the technology was for a “higher cause” – taken to mean jihad, admitted so by none other than Qadeer Khan himself.

  America does face tricky policy options vis-ŕ-vis Pakistan. But it has allowed Pakistan to dictate terms by playing the victim card, when it is Pakistan that has victimized America through its sponsorship of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Pakistan also has a long track record of victimizing its neighbors as well (New Ideas for a New War).

  Musharraf’s track record shows him reluctant to take on Islam’s power structure -- consisting of clerics. Without weakening this power structure, jihadization of Pakistan or its threat to the United States is not reversible.

  Islam hijacked

  It is no over statement to say that many Muslim clergies have become the generals of the war waged on civilization. The backbone of this jihad is the bankrolling by Muslim countries from the Middle East. Since the early 80s Saudi Arabian government alone is supposed to have spent at least 170 billion dollars on spreading its version of Wahhabi Islam -- a retrogressive, non-performing, expansionist, fascist and hateful ideology. Wealthy private individuals from the Middle East too have contributed immensely to the same cause.

  Muslim clerics form the power structure in Islam. They wield enormous influence across the spectrum of the population. The indoctrination by jihad-oriented clerics occurring from a young age also involves discovering “grievances” against non-Muslims, while saying nothing about Muslim atrocities on non-Muslims. This creates an absolute sense of anger on the part of Muslims and conviction, and an overwhelming desire to take revenge. If one Muslim can be indoctrinated to conduct evil acts on non-Muslims, so can a large section of the community and most of the rest giving a passive support. Such a scenario has developed in many Muslim communities around the world.

  India's own Kashmir insurgency is one such an example. The aspiration of Kashmiri jihadis, in reality, has turned out to be nothing less than marginalizing non-Muslims and expanding Islam’s frontiers.

  A confused America

  For a nation founded on religious freedom, American society and its constitution values and respects religion/faith immensely. It has not only become hard for Americans to digest the fact that a religion, by and far, has been hijacked by extremists, -- but it has also led to paralysis at the legislature and policy-making levels. This has resulted in America not being able to make rapid progress in the war on terror.

  The primary purpose of a religion is to define a code of conduct for its adherents to function within the framework of a society. Hence a religion must be capable of preaching tolerance and allow its adherents to acquire new knowledge, compete and create wealth to survive. Any religion that doesn’t follow these requirements will lose out to other religions and that is the law of nature. This may be seen as the basis for American public’s faith in an established religion.

  The inherited oil wealth in many Islamic countries, and especially in Saudi Arabia, “the citadel of Islam”, has changed these requirements. This unearned wealth meant that old rules of a “good religion” no longer apply. When this free money is mixed with the idea of Islamic conquest started by Prophet Mohammed, it resulted in Islamic terrorism to convert the entire world under the banner of Islam -- also known as jihad in many Muslim countries (Islam’s Weakness). It is no stretch to say that oil wealth has corrupted Islam and has resulted in the war on terror.

  Unfortunately, no American leader of any standing has been able to articulate this to the American public or to the world at large – that a religion/faith under special circumstances can get corrupted.

  Ideological warfare

  America has already won an ideological warfare before with the then Soviet Union. America portrayed its democratic system as one based upon liberty and freedom that also made wealth creation possible. At the same time America launched a propaganda portraying the Soviet Communist ideology as lacking in liberty and freedom, that keeps its people poor and deprived. The Soviet Communist system finally collapsed from within because the reality of the American propaganda got through. While the atheistic communist system was easier to discredit for a religious America, the American establishment has thus far, surprisingly, failed to play by this winning strategy vis-ŕ-vis Islamic ideology.

  Finding a solution to a problem lies in correctly identifying it. As the first step an American President should declare along these lines: Islam has been violently corrupted by extremist elements and it needs to be reformed.

  The above statement does not call all Muslims as terrorists, but puts the blame squarely on where it should be. Such identification makes it possible for America to gain the moral high-ground over the Islamic fundamentalists and their supporters and even give a shot in the arm of reform-minded Muslims. It will basically put the onus on Muslims to make sure that they reform. Only such a statement from an American President can initiate public relations campaign and policy decisions leading to an American victory, similar to the one over the Soviet communists.

  This need to be contrasted with a statement consistently delivered by a top American leader describing Islam as a “religion of peace". He is implying that there is no major violent component to Islam -- a sheer fallacy on his part and he is yielding, undeservedly, the high-ground to terrorists and fundamentalists that puts the United States in an ideologically defensive mode – no way to win a war!

  This top American leader has further created a great deal of concern by calling for Turkey’s inclusion in the European Union. As I have argued this goes against the very essence of the war on terror – will lead to a “peaceful” extension of Islam’s frontiers into Europe at the expense of the Europeans (Soft Borders with Pakistan: A Certain Suicide).

  All of the above and the debacle in Iraq raise serious questions about America’s preparedness to win the war on terror.

  Military component

  Besides the military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, American efforts toward the war on terror have been focused on cutting off financial support to terror groups and toward reforming educational curriculum in terror-base countries such as Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. This effort, while essential, is taking long time to yield results. Also, in some of the Muslim countries extremist clergy are so well-entrenched that reforming the curriculum becomes hard to implement. This is particularly true in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

  To complement these efforts, the American efforts should be directed toward destroying Islam’s power structures proven to engage in jihad directed at America. America should treat the extremist clergy as enemy combatants and treat their religious institutions as military installations -- deemed for destruction. These religious institutions also act as a base for terrorist gatherings, logistics, and even arms storage. This proposal doesn’t call for a large-scale Iraq-like military deployment, but instead calls for surgical and mostly, executable air strikes.

  Many of these clerics are also too powerful for local governments to take on, even if they want to – an essential reason for requiring American military response. This approach goes under the current policy of presumption and the right to retaliate. In the short run such American strikes will inflame the situation. But in the long run seeing their extremist leaders and their institutions taken out one by one will convince the population base the emptiness of the extremist rhetoric and the futility of confronting America. This contrasts with the current situation where only the foot soldiers of jihad are dying and the generals free to continue their indoctrination.

  Besides, these clerics use freedom to indoctrinate innocent young minds toward destroying Americans or other “infidels”. The actual force or the threat of it should put them on the run, and should take away most of their ability to indoctrinate. Most of these lead clerics have taken decades to rise to prominence, their removal or anyone else taking their place would mean that Muslim masses will find it difficult to identify with their replacement. Destruction of jihad-teaching institutions too weakens militant Islam -- by vastly reducing the fundamentalists’ ability to mobilize masses. It is worth pointing out that outside of religious gatherings, Muslim populations in general are highly disorganized, and mostly worry about their day-to-day existence. Conclusion: It is important to realize that Islamic fundamentalism/militant Islam is a one-trick pony. That one trick happens to be the jihad-teaching institutions. If these institutions are neutralized, it is all over.

  This military component, together with a propaganda that focuses on Islam’s deficiencies in comparison with America’s successes (not carried out until now, as I discussed earlier), should gradually lead to a marginalization of militant Islam and a flowering of reformed versions of Islam. Neutralizing militant Islam should also make it possible for Muslim masses to convert to other faiths – yet another way of winning the war on terror.

  Future of America

  I have no doubt in my mind that a capable America will eventually “solve” the problem of Islamic terrorism. But at question here, given the lack of a vision displayed so far, is the cost America incurs. China has managed Islamic fundamentalism well and has kept the costs of battling it to a low level.

  America sees for the first time a real threat in China as a civilizational leader, given China’s phenomenal economic growth and its size. To maintain an edge over China, America needs to invest in the future of its children, but instead it is wasting away many hundreds of billions per year in the war on terror -- with no end in sight. If this money is invested in America itself, it should lead to better educated and prepared American children and an infrastructure that would create more intellectual property – a true measure of civilizational edge and prosperity.

  Unless a capable American leadership soon emerges, the war on terror may have already initiated the eventual replacement of America as the dominant civilizational nation.