Radical Islam: The New Cold War

Another potential domino effect, and we have nothing in place to stop it. Photo: President Obama and the National Security Council (AP)

WASHINGTON, September 19, 2013 — The United States of America is now actively engaged in supporting the Syrian Opposition forces in their effort to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. After waiving a federal statute making the “material support” of terrorist organizations legal, President Obama has somewhat muddied the waters of American foreign policy, considering that some of the Opposition fighters the US now supports are designated by the U.S. as terrorist groups.

The current American defense doctrine identifies militant radical Muslim groups as one of the greatest threats to US interests at home and abroad.

According to the National Security Strategy released by the White House, “The United States is waging a global campaign against al-Qa’ida and its terrorist affiliates. To disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qa’ida and its affiliates, we are pursuing a strategy that protects our homeland, secures the world’s most dangerous weapons and material, denies al-Qa’ida safe haven, and builds positive partnerships with Muslim communities around the world.”

Now the United States is now in direct contradiction of our own National Security Strategy. In supplying Al-Qaeda linked groups with weapons, the Obama Administration has shown the country and the World that the United States is unable to act decisively. Furthermore, it shows that the United States is unable to recognize that radical Islam is the largest threat to American interest since Communism.

Thus far, our policy has been to ignore the events in Africa because there really is no policy in place to deal with such situations to begin with. The US arms al-Qaeda in one area of the World and fights them in other areas of the World. Despite the fact that al-Qaeda is particularly called out in the most recent publication of the National Security Strategy as being the organization most dangerous to American interests, the Obama Administration has failed to adequately realize that it is not just al-Qaeda, but all radical Muslim groups which pose a threat to the United States.  

While the Obama Administration has seen fit to arm our enemies, radical Islamic groups have been quietly building support and strength in North and Western Africa. Much like the Communist expansion in Southeast Asia and South America during the 20th Century, the expansion efforts of radical Muslim groups target weak governments in an attempt to replace or overthrow the existing leadership with their own ideology. They do this by targeting vulnerable leaders, governments at war abroad, or governments in a state of civil war. Africa is home to over a dozen ongoing conflicts, as well as countless natural resources managed by corrupt officials.

During the Cold War, the United States practiced the strategy of Containment, which was a concerted effort to stop the spread of Communism by means of financial and military assistance, and in some cases direct military intervention. Southeast Asia in particular was a favored target of the Communist because of the general disconnect of the governments towards the people, the squalid conditions of much of the population, as well as a population of restless military age men ready to fight. These aspects were exploited by the Soviet Union and China who funneled money into revolutionary groups who sought to replace existing governments with Communist or Socialist regimes. Much like the Communist Domino Effect in Southeast Asia, North and West Africa are also in danger of falling victim to revolutionary groups funded by outside sources.

While Russia and China were responsible for spreading Communism through Asia and Europe in the 20th Century, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among those responsible for funding and propelling the spread of radical Islam in the 21st Century. And just like Russia and China, direct war in response of such support would lead to global disaster. And as such, the United States cannot counter the result of such support at the source, but must do so, as it did with Communism, where the results of that support emerges.

The United States made a mistake in its handling of the Arab Spring. Under President George W. Bush, the dictators in the Middle East and North Africa, though tyrants, still managed to keep the radical Muslim groups in check. The United States was able to counter groups such as al-Qaeda and al-Shaabab where they sprung up, or where they were attempting to infiltrate the governments of weaker nations such as Afghanistan through their support of the Taliban.

However with the Arab Spring the United States went from holding dictators in check to supporting destabilization and the rise of radical Islamic regimes in Egypt and Libya, which led to a series of civil wars and revolutions further undermining the ability of these nations to govern themselves. Under President Obama and his National Security Strategy, the US has allowed the Middle East and North Africa to become increasingly unstable, a haven for radical Islamic groups.

What can we do? Well, for one we have to realize that the groups operating in North and West Africa, called the Maghreb, are threats to the interests of the United States. By arming al-Qaeda linked Syrian rebel groups the US has made it clear that it does not have a workable foreign policy, so we need to adopt one. We need to recognize that, like Communism in Southeast Asia before it, Africa has become the Dominos and radical Islam has become the Effect. And just like Communism in Southeast Asia, radical Islam in Africa must be recognized as a threat to US international interests and directly addressed through diplomatic and military action. These actions include propping up weak regimes, expanding the training of host nation security forces, as well as expanding the capabilities of our military to assist at risk nations in military operations with minimal manpower but maximum effectiveness.

As a model, the United States should look to the Vietnam Mission under JFK. Through the implementation of small scale, local efforts to assist the South Vietnamese government and people, and the deployment of no more than 20,000 advisers and special operators, the US was able to make leaps and bounds in opposing Communist forces in their respective areas. This model could be repeated with success, if applied to Africa and radical Islam.

The United States must counter the spread of radical Islam on the Maghreb with the same tenacity and strength that it met the threat of Communism during the Cold War. That means that the US must recognize that this is a credible threat. Arming radical Muslim organizations in Syria not only sends the wrong message but is counterproductive to American interests. The United States cannot arbitrarily bomb every nation that supports radical Islam; however they can make the act of supporting such groups enormously expensive and ultimately futile. 


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Conor Higgins

Conor Higgins has a B.A. from Catholic University in DC in American History, with a concentration on guerrilla warfare on American soil. He has an M.A. in US History from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, with a concentration on Cold War insurgency. He believes that all news and all information should be taken with a grain of salt, and implores people everywhere to seek news stories everywhere. 

Higgins is also a fervent believer in the traditional role of media, in terms of acting as a balanced check on government policies and individuals regardless of party affiliation. But in the end, he believes that no matter how heated an issue is, there is nothing that can't be discussed over a smoke and some whiskey. 

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