How should the United States address threats from violent extremist organizations nearly two decades after the 9/11 attacks?
Retired Gen. David Petraeus joins this episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast. During the conversation, he outlines five lessons he argues the United States should have learned from the past two decades of fighting Islamic extremists. He also explains how US dominance in the areas of intelligence collection and precision strike—among other enabling capabilities—allows it to support partners against violent extremist organizations using small and sustainable footprints. He concludes the conversation with his thoughts on the recently released Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy and how irregular warfare is situated within the context of rising great power rivalry.
Gen. Petraeus served over thirty-seven years in the US military, including as commander of coalition forces during the surge in Iraq, commander of US Central Command, and commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan. Following his service in the military, Gen. Petraeus served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a 1974 graduate of West Point and received his PhD in international relations from the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Gen. Petraeus is currently a partner at KKR, a global investment firm, and chairman of the KKR Global Institute.
The Irregular Warfare Podcast is a collaboration between the Modern War Institute and Princeton University’s Empirical Studies of Conflict Project. You can listen to the full episode below, and you can find it and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, TuneIn, or your favorite podcast app. And be sure to follow the podcast on Twitter!
Image credit: Chief Petty Officer Joshua Treadwell, US Navy
Whether we are dealing with extremists abroad — or extremists here at home — I suggest that the following (from Jerry Muller's 2002 "The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought") tells us all that we really need to know about the "root causes" of the extremism(s) that we are having to deal with today. (Again, both there abroad and here at home also):
"All in all, the 1980s and 1990s were a Hayekian moment, when his once untimely liberalism came to be seen as timely. The intensification of market competition, internationally and within each nation, created a more innovative and dynamic brand of capitalism. That in turn gave rise to a new chorus of the laments that, as we have seen, have recurred since the eighteenth century. Community was breaking down; traditional ways of life were being destroyed; identities were thrown into question; solidarity was being undermined; egoism unleashed; wealth made conspicuous amid new inequality, philistinism was triumphant. Yet it also led new groups and nations into the circle of wealth; expanded the peaceable relations of exchange among nations; and created new cultural combinations as Simmel had noted, new possibilities for individual development. "
(Re: the term "philistinism," in the context above, and as per the Meriam Webster dictionary: "Philistine: a person who is guided by materialism and is usually disdainful of intellectual or artistic values.")
As can easily be seen from this excerpt, capitalism has many exceptionally well-know (as early as the 18th Century) and exceptionally well-understood "good and "bad" qualities, characteristics and outcomes.
Thus, to understand extremism today — NOT JUST IN THE GREATER MIDDLE EAST BUT ALSO IN THE U.S./THE WEST — I suggest that we need only concentrate on the exceptionally well-known and well-understood "bad" outcomes of capitalism, described by Muller above. (Again: "community breaking down; traditional ways of life being destroyed; identities being thrown into question; solidarity was being undermined;" etc., etc., etc.)
Once we do this, then it does not take a super-wise or intelligent person to see that:
a. It is these capitalist "bad" characteristics and outcomes — identified above — which have given rise to ("conservative?") extremism in a "modernizing" Greater Middle East. And to see that:
b. It is these exact same "bad" attributes/outcomes/characteristics of capitalism that have now given rise to (conservative?) extremism in the U.S./the West today also. This, as the U.S./the West, now also, confronts the adverse consequences the "Hayekian moment" described by Muller above.
Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:
David Petraeus, I believe, understands these matters better than most. Thus, he tells us that our military efforts — for example in the Greater Middle East — these must be seen as "generational" project; one designed to:
a. Help with these countries' "modernize" and to
b. Help them deal with the exceptionally well-known (and, indeed, often "routine") "bad" consequences of such activity. (Example: so-called "extremism" — in what really amounts to a full-throated defense of community, traditional ways of life, etc. — whether we are taking about conservative populations abroad or conservative populations here in the United States?)
I should note that David Kilcullen, in his "Counterinsurgency Redux," also seems to understand extremism, its root cause, etc., as I (via Muller's "The Mind and the Market") have described it above. Here is an excerpt from David Kilcullen's such paper:
"Politically, in many cases today, the counter-insurgent represents revolutionary change, while the insurgent fights to preserve the status quo of ungoverned spaces, or to repel an occupier – a political relationship opposite to that envisaged in classical counter-insurgency. Pakistan's campaign in Waziristan since 2003 exemplifies this. The enemy includes al-Qaeda-linked extremists and Taliban, but also local tribesmen fighting to preserve their traditional culture against twenty-first-century encroachment. The problem of weaning these fighters away from extremist sponsors, while simultaneously supporting modernisation, does somewhat resemble pacification in traditional counter-insurgency. But it also echoes colonial campaigns, and includes entirely new elements arising from the effects of globalisation.")
Does this help?
Yes, it (your comment) helps a lot. Juxtaposing Friedrich Hayek's criticisms of capitalism with today's hyperglobalized world are a very accurate way of understanding and thereafter addressing the root causes of extremism across societies — be it religious, political, socioeconomic, or any other kind of extremism.
Totally agree with the notion that the fight against radical Islamic extremism is a generational project: one that rational Muslims need to fight in the realm of ideas as well as on the battlefields.