Hard Knocks and Soft Power

In the first half of this essay we looked at our need to combat Trumpism and the violent threat it poses as a new phase in the Bush-era “Global War on Terror.” In part two we dive into aspects of that campaign that go beyond conventional law enforcement, military, and intelligence operations.

Like fixing potholes.

The Limits of Brutality

While the so-called Global War on Terror succeeded in neutralizing Al Qaeda as an urgent threat to the Western world, it failed (thus far anyway) in defeating Islamist extremism at large. Eradicating an ideology — religious fanaticism, fascism, communism, or any other — is a much taller order than beating any given army, terrorist organization, or paramilitary force.

Indeed, “Al Qaeda” — the Base, in Arabic — is itself a Western term for a multipronged global movement of radical militants, with Bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and a handful of others at its core, and a vast web of admirers, freelancers, lone wolves, and copycats spread all over the world. Its fluid nature meant that it was less defeated in the conventional military sense than merely dispersed, like mercury dropped on the floor, to reassemble spontaneously in new and sometimes even more lethal forms. In that regard, the successful destruction of Al Qaeda as a combat effective organization was a mirage, leading only to the rise of its successor, ISIS — or ISIL, or the Islamic State, or Daesh, or whatever you wish to call it.

Which brings us to the limits of conventional “force” full stop.

Certainly soldiers, spies, and law enforcement officers are the speartip of stopping the “violent” part of violent extremism, whether abroad or at home. But there is a hard limit to what force can accomplish. Ultimately a radicalist movement can only be fully defeated by the obliteration of its credibility and appeal to potential members…..and that is as true of Trumpism as it was (and is) of Islamist fundamentalism.

It is the animating mentality behind the movement that needs to be conquered in order to put a permanent end to the violence, rather than just containing it. Only when no more recruits can be attracted in any appreciable number, leaving just an insignificant and manageable lunatic fringe, will the cause be dead…

Robert Edwards / The King's Necktie

Writer, filmmaker, and veteran — blogging at The King’s Necktie @TheKingsNecktie