Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Analysis Of Eric Schmitt, "Inside The War On Terror"

Tonight I attended a lecture at the Marines Memorial Club by Eric Schmitt entitled "Inside The War On Terror," co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Northern California (as so many of these fine intellectual shin-digs are these days.  Mr. Schmitt was promoting his book Counterstrike: The Untold Story Of America's Secret Campaign Against Al-Qaeda.  Get ready for my thumbnail, stream-of-consciousness impressions.

His discussion of the tricks U.S. intelligence operatives used to root out terrorist activity show that innovation is alive and well within the U.S. government.  We can be proud that America's operatives are using open-source websites to attract jihadi followers who disclose their intentions, and that American linguists posing as jihadists on the same sites are intellectually agile enough to sow doubt and confusion among jihadis.  God bless the U.S.A.

Mr. Schmitt fielded some audience questions on the effectiveness of the homeland security apparatus erected since the 9/11 attacks.  It is obvious, at least to yours truly, that the vast amounts of national treasure wasted on security theater like airport X-rays are a victory for Osama Bin Laden's strategy of forcing us into bankruptcy out of fear.  Mr. Schmitt endorsed the British and Israeli approaches to resilience, where the government teaches the population to bounce back from expected attacks rather than cower in fear of the unknown.  The main difficulty I see with such an effort in America is that it would require unwinding much of the internal security bureaucracy we've built over a decade.  Try telling defense contractors that their subcontracted services are no longer required and watch that effort die on the vine as campaign contributions dry up. 

Mr. Schmitt noted his astonishment that some educational institutions offer degrees in "homeland security" as a serious academic discipline.  I didn't get the chance to explain this phenomenon after the lecture.  You see, online diploma mills have begun offering homeland security majors to veterans looking to spend their generous G.I. Bill educational benefits.  Their hook is that a degree in homeland security is a gateway to hiring by Uncle Sam's myriad alphabet soup agencies.  I've seen some anecdotal evidence that agencies are beginning to buy into this line too, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and a self-funding cottage industry in education.  God bless the U.S.A.

Mr. Schmitt's most important revelation was that terrorism can be deterred, provided the U.S. can locate radical Islam's centers of gravity.  I was waiting for him to use the phrase "information operations" even though he described its principles accurately.  Arab notions of pride, honor, and manhood are viable targets for information operations.  He noted a few success stories from Iraq.  In one story, a terrorist fighter with a bounty on his head was hard to locate.  The U.S. lowered the bounty to make him seem like a nobody, wounding the guy's pride.  When he used a cell phone to complain about his lowered status to fellow jihadis, the U.S. located him and rolled him up.  Another story was the plight of a teenage Iraqi girl forced to wear a suicide vest.  When the U.S. caught her and turned her, she became a local media phenomenon for hosting some kind of Oprah-like call-in show that brought shame to would-be suicide bombers.  Suicide attacks then dropped dramatically before the U.S. 1st Armored Division vacated that particular sector of Iraq. 

IMHO, Mr. Schmitt and other observers show us that the U.S. can win the war on radical Islam by fighting smarter with information operations in the lead and kinetic efforts used sparingly in support.  If we had gone that route after the initial invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, our combat footprint in each country would have been lighter, the wars would have been shorter, and our casualties much lower.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  God bless the U.S.A.