Pick a Strategy

Who Are You Going To Be?

One of the problems facing the Trump administration is the lack of an overall strategy to defeat radical Islamism. The one left over from the Obama administration consists of a schizophrenic blend of attempting to solve “root causes” incongruously combined with a program of targeted assassination. “The U.S. dropped an average of three bombs an hour in 2016 — a total of 26,171 explosive devices dropped in seven countries in the past year” according to a report published at the close of President Barack Obama’s second term, not counting thousands of air strikes which went unreported according to the Military Times. This vast campaign of targeted aerial assassination was accompanied by what the Nation called “the secret nation-building boom of the Obama years”.   By 2014 Obama had doubled “nation-building spending from $24.3 billion to $51.3 billion”.


The Trump administration campaigned on argument the Obama strategy has failed.  David Ignatius says the Trump White House is steeling itself for the fallout. “Michael Flynn, the national security adviser to President Trump, shows visitors a map predicting what will happen to the Islamic State after its stronghold in Mosul is captured. It shows menacing black arrows reaching west toward future battlefronts in Iraq, Syria and beyond.”

That’s the worry that motivates the Trump administration as it plans strategy against the terrorist group: Rather than a shattering defeat for the adversary, Mosul may be the start of a breakout to other regions. That may be one rationale for Trump’s controversial ban on travel from Iraq and six other Muslim-majority countries, which was rejected Thursday night by a federal appeals court.

That fear of metastasis is shared by some regional countries.  The new ISIS nightmare according to the Christian Science Monitor is that having lost their geographical bastions, its soldiers are going home to start new Syrias. “As coalition and allied forces push through Mosul, Iraq, and close in on the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa, Syria, Arab states are bracing what some are calling a ‘disaster’: waves of ISIS fighters returning back home.”

Attacks have left citizens apprehensive over the fighters’ return. In December, Tunisians protested against the return of former Islamic State fighters, holding signs like “Close the doors to terrorism” in front of parliament. Here in Jordan, many know a son of a neighbor, colleague, or distant relative who has gone off to fight to Syria.

“It is better for them to die in Syria then to come back and ruin our homeland,” says Mohammed, a 45-year-old grocer in Amman, who says he knows of “several” families whose sons have travelled to Syria.


Not only is ISIS be blowing back on MENA and Europe but Afghanistan may be falling to a resurgent Taliban, this time backed by Russia and Iran. “General Nicholson, commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, testified before congress today that he urgently needs a ‘few thousand’ more troops to break what has become a “stalemate” between the Taliban and other extremist forces, and the Afghan National Army (ANA). ”

Afghan forces are losing ground in their own country, and there are worries that if this accelerates it could cause a domino effect that could see over a decade-and-a-half of bloody coalition operations wiped away in a matter of months—even weeks. Furthermore, ANA soldiers lost in combat cannot be replaced fast enough to keep end strength on target, and this is especially true within Afghan special forces units that do some of the most intense and critical fighting. The fact that many Afghan regulars don’t show up, or their leadership dissolves in battle, continues to put the entire force into question. …

To make matters worse, Russia and Iran have increased their involvement in Afghanistan in recent months. … The General also made it clear that the large youth populations in both countries—200 million people, 70 percent of whom are under 30—make them rife for the gestation of terrorist networks and recruitment of young and willing individuals. In the long term, this alone poses a massive threat to stability in the region and to US national security.

Trump must now make an immediate choice: reinforce Afghanistan with no long term prospects of victory or watch it fall.  The last two administrations have not brought victory over Islamic extremism any closer.  To avoid defeat from attrition Trump will need a new approach.  While none has been officially announced the outlines of a new strategy may be emerging from the actions it has so far taken.  Trump may be:

  1. Attempting to shrink the radical petrodollar support through increased domestic energy production, something Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would understand;
  2. close the West to Wahabism and its emigres via the immigration policy that is proving so controversial;
  3. trying to diplomatically neutralize Turkey and Iran and play off India against Pakistan.

Such a concept would attack the money and ideology provided by the Saudis, lessen the influence of the Islamic brain trust (the Persians and Turks) and bottle up a potential sources of nuclear weapons (Pakistan).  It would also prevent the buildup of a rear area inside the West itself by border control.  It’s a WW2 or Cold War Era “center of gravity” approach to a problem so far dominated by the “root causes” method.

It has the advantage of clarity. Afghanistan, Sudan, Kenya — even Malmo — are no longer important if the wellsprings of conspiracy that feed and fund it are stopped up.  A center of gravity strategy offers at least theoretically, the prospect of victory, something which “root causes” never proffered.

Apart from the question of whether these represent actual tendencies in the Trump administration any such approach would prove a hard sell which is probably why neither of the predecessors attempted it.  For one thing it would damage the Global World, which was laid on the foundation of the East-West Cold War tensions, whose birthmarks remain to this day.  Internationally taking on the pillars of radical Islamism would upset the delicate system of alliances formed since 1945 and 1989.  Domesstically it would destroy the political modus vivendi in both Western Europe and the US.

In the existing paradigm Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan are American allies in the East-West divide. Effectively attacking radical Islam’s center of gravity strategy  — its sources of money, ideology and leadership — will pit America against it’s “friends”.  It will also risk a showdown with the European and American progressives who view radical Islam as simply the byproduct of past Western sins.


The Obama strategy was an attempt to fight war on terror within the straitjacket of progressive ideology.  The logical outcome was an ineffective attempt to fix the “root causes” while extirpating the few misguided elements who perverted the true Islam. Suitcases of cash were sent to Iran and 3 guided weapons were dropped per hour. Both were ignored by the press.  But it didn’t work. The Iranians never ran out of demands for more money and ISIS never ran out of fighters.

Will a new strategy do better? The conflict between the old Obama approach and the emerging Trumpian of strategic simplicity is nowhere more marked than in immigration and refugee policy. To liberals open borders are simply “givens” — the consequence of their world view.  To Deplorables open borders represent an instinctive threat which they have not been able to explain within a comprehensive framework in the same way progressives have.

But that may soon change. While the Trump administration may not be able to carry out a new successor strategy to replace that of GWB and BHO, it seems well along at raising the essential questions whose answers must form its basis: what is the center of gravity of radical Islamism?  Can you fight radical Islam without blowing up the East-West alliance?  Is it possible to fight radical Islam without starting a fight to finish with the Left in the West. Trump may not have the answers, but to the discomfiture of all, he will pose all the questions.

Follow Wretchard on Twitter

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.


What Has Government Done to Our Money?, Author Murray Rothbard was an American economist of the Austrian School who played a key role in the development of libertarianism. This book is his manifesto of sound money and has, since its publication in 1963, influenced innumerable economists, investors, and politicians. It details the history of money, from early barter systems, to the gold standard, to present-day systems of paper money. He explains how money was originally developed, and why gold was chosen as the preferred commodity to use as money. Rothbard was the first to prove that the government, and only the government, can destroy money on a mass scale and he shows how they go about it in this book.


The Misbehavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Financial Turbulence, by Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard Hudson. In his first book for a general audience, Mandelbrot, a mathematician, with co-author Hudson, shows how the dominant way of thinking about the behavior of markets — a set of mathematical assumptions a century old — simply does not work. As he did for the physical world in his classic book, The Fractal Geometry of Nature, Mandelbrot here uses fractal geometry to propose a new, more accurate way of describing market behavior. With his fractal tools, Mandelbrot gets to the bottom of how financial markets really work, and in doing so, describes the volatile, dangerous properties that financial experts have never before accounted for and sets the foundation for a new science of finance.

Now: The Physics of Time, by Richard A. Muller. In this book, Muller writes about the meaning of “now” and the flow of time. He crafts his own revolutionary theory, one that makes testable predictions. He points out that the standard Big Bang theory explains the ongoing expansion of the universe as the continuous creation of new space. Time, he argues, is also expanding and that the leading edge of the new time is what we experience as “now.” His theory This book has remarkable implications for some of the biggest questions, not only in physics but also in philosophy — including the ongoing debate about the reality of free will.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win (Audible), In this audio book, authors and narrators Jocko Willink and Leif Babin share firsthand accounts of making high-pressure decisions as Navy SEAL battlefield leaders, stories that translate into lessons for business and life. Jocko and Leif served together in SEAL Task Unit Bruiser, the most highly decorated Special Operations unit from the war in Iraq. Their efforts contributed to the historic triumph for US forces in Ramadi.


For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the Belmont Club


Trending on PJ Media Videos

Join the conversation as a VIP Member