‘Surge of ideas’ can counter violent extremism


The government of Saudi Arabia paid “insufficient attention” to money that was being funneled into terror groups and fueled the rise of Al Qaeda, says President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, POLITICO reports:

Ben Rhodes was speaking to David Axelrod in his podcast “The Axe Files” out Monday when he was asked about the validity of the accusation that the Saudi government was complicit in sponsoring terrorism.

 “I think that it’s complicated in the sense that, it’s not that it was Saudi government policy to support Al Qaeda, but there were a number of very wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia who would contribute, sometimes directly, to extremist groups. Sometimes to charities that were kind of, ended up being ways to launder money to these groups,” Rhodes said.

“So a lot of the money, the seed money if you will, for what became Al Qaeda, came out of Saudi Arabia,” he added.

This week’s trip will likely be the final opportunity for President Obama to raise human rights concerns directly with Saudi leaders while inside the kingdom before the end of his term in office, says Human Rights First. Its letter to the president notes that he has repeatedly emphasized support for civil society as a key component of an effective strategy for countering violent extremism, stating during the February 2015 White House Summit that, “When people are oppressed, and human rights are denied — particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines — when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism. It creates an environment that is ripe for terrorists to exploit.”

Getting the “big ideas” right is particularly important when major developments appear to have invalidated the concepts upon which previous policy and strategy were based — which now appears to be the case in the wake of the Arab Spring, notes David Petraeus, the chairman of the KKR Global Institute, and a retired U.S. Army general who commanded coalition forces in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011 and served as CIA director from 2011 to 2012.

To illustrate this point, I have often noted that the surge that mattered most in Iraq was not the surge of forces. It was the surge of ideas, which guided the strategy that ultimately reduced violence in the country so substantially, he writes for The Washington Post.

The biggest of the big ideas that guided the Iraq surge included recognition that:

  • The decisive terrain was the human terrain — and that securing the people had to be our foremost task. Without progress on that, nothing else would be possible.
  • We could secure the people only by living with them, locating our forces in their neighborhoods, rather than consolidating on big bases, as we had been doing the year before the surge.
  • We could not kill or capture our way out of the sizable insurgency that plagued Iraq; rather, though killing and capturing were necessary, we needed to reconcile with as many of the insurgent rank and file as was possible.
  • We could not clear areas of insurgents and then leave them after handing control off to Iraqi security forces; rather, we had to clear and hold, transitioning to Iraqis only when we achieved a situation that they could sustain.

Now, nine tough years later, five big ideas seem to be crystallizing as the lessons we should be taking from developments over the past decade, he adds:

First, it is increasingly apparent that ungoverned spaces in a region stretching from West Africa through the Middle East and into Central Asia will be exploited by Islamic extremists who want to establish sanctuaries in which they can enforce their extremist version of Islam and from which they can conduct terrorist attacks.

Second, it is also apparent that the attacks and other activities of such extremists will not be confined to the areas or regions in which they are located. Rather, as in the case of Syria, the actions of the extremist groups are likely to spew instability, extremism, violence and refugees far beyond their immediate surroundings, posing increasingly difficult challenges for our partners in the region, our European allies and even our homeland.

Third, it is also increasingly clear that, in responding to these challenges, U.S. leadership is imperative. If the United States does not lead, it is unlikely that another country will. ….Partners from the Islamic world are of particular importance. Indeed, they have huge incentives to be involved, as the ongoing struggles are generally not clashes between civilizations. Rather, what we are seeing is more accurately a clash within a civilization, that of the Islamic world. And no leaders have more to lose should extremism gather momentum than those of predominantly Islamic states.

Fourth, it is becoming clear that the path the United States and coalition partners pursue has to be comprehensive and not just a narrow counter-terrorism approach. ….

Fifth, and finally, it is clear that the U.S.-led effort will have to be sustained for what may be extended periods of time….RTWT

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