Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category



The vicious attacks by Islamist terrorist in Brussels this week firmly places Brussels, and the rest of western Europe, in the middle of the crescent of chaos that arcs from Tunisia to Sweden.

The arrest of Paris terror suspect Salah Abdeslam last Friday in Brussels took down one person and unwittingly unleashed a network of other terrorists who took over thirty lives in an orgy of terror and shut down an entire country if not all of Europe.

Belgium authorities touted Abdelslam’s arrest last weekend much the same way the Obama administration telegraphs the latest drone or Special Operations strike in Syria/Iraq/Libya with the ubiquitous headline “Number Two ISIS Commander Eliminated.” There have been so many “number two” ISIS commanders reportedly killed there is no mystery why we never hear of a “number three” in ISIS.

In 2008 Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom wrote a study of leaderless organizations, “The Starfish and the Spider” which was little read until recently. In this study Brafman and Beckstrom look at the fruitless strategy of targeting individuals in decentralized organizations such as ISIS. They do this by comparing a spider and a starfish, which look similar from a distance but up close are fundamentally different systems.

Killing a starfish is significantly different from killing a spider. A spider can be stopped by crushing its head because it is a centralized system.  If one tries to cut off a leg of a starfish not only does that leg grow back, but a new starfish emerges from that severed leg because its decentralized  system.

In combatting a decentralized terror network like ISIS, going after a known individual is like cutting off a starfish leg. The immediate threat is neutralized but the system lives on to metastasize into an even larger threat.

Belgium authorities saw what they thought was a spider in arresting one person only to be confronted with a starfish in the form of an ISIS network which struck with such force because authorities simply were not ready.

The Obama administration would be wise to peer through its policy binoculars and evaluate whether ISIS is the spider they assume it is…or is it a starfish?






Yesterday British authorities named the masked terrorist with a British accent that has appeared in over six recent beheading videos. “Jihadi John” has been unmasked as Mohammed Emwazi, formally of West London.

Emwazi reportedly immigrated from Kuwait to Britain as a child and is a computer science graduate from University of Westminister. His long path to radicalization is well documented as British intelligence allegedly knew who he was and apparently interviewed him at least once before he made his way to Syria in 2013.

His closest friends/associates expressed shock and dismay when reacting to this outing of the “face” of ISIS. CAGE, a alleged human rights group, which has dubious connections to Islamic extremists in Britain, claimed that it was actually British intelligence (MI 5) who radicalized Emwazi through their constant harassment and intimidation of him.

By stating that it was MI 5 who pushed Emwazi into the Islamic extremist camp the Muslim public square absolves itself from any responsibility in addressing extremism from its own ranks. CAGE’s line of thinking releases Emwazi from his cold blooded behavior by implying he never would have secretly moved to Syria, joined ISIS, committed murder on video (there is video of his beheading a Syrian soldier), participated in systematic torture of Western, be the on-camera spokesman for ISIS and the last voice six hostages heard before being beheaded…..if MI 5 would have not questioned him after he failed to make his way to Somalia in a previous trip.

Perhaps they also could claim that he was teased in gym class as a child as well, which led to his decision to commit murder and wage war on modernity.

We can anticipate a parade of friends and associates to state in the coming days that this is out of character from the person that they knew and it must have been “something” else that transformed Emwazi into the murderer seen in numerous videos. In reality it wasn’t MI 5 or the lack of employment (please take note Marie Harf, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson)….it was Islamic extremism.

Radicalization of Muslim youth in the West will never be properly addressed until the Muslim community, the public square in the West, claims it as a challenge from within. Consequently, the West will not come to a basic understating of Islamic extremism until it finally acknowledges it as a grave challenge to the community of nations.

The chicken comes before the egg.  Emwazi’s radicalization brought about his investigation. His decision to adopt Islamic extremism is a personal decision that he is now personally responsible for choosing.




On February 14, 1895 Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest debuted in London. The play raised triviality to new heights and mocked the then contemporary Victorian society and its values. The play’s theme was, in the words of Wilde, “”that we should treat all trivial things in life very seriously, and all serious things of life with a sincere and studied triviality.” This would include even ignoring the major problems in one’s life in order to concentrate on such minor things such as cucumber sandwiches.   The inversion of real values and the mocking of reality is haunting as we once again watch this administration ignore the obvious in order to focus on the inconsequential.

The White House has concluded its conference on violent extremism this week with many observers still searching for a theme and a cogent reason for its gathering. Like most initiatives coming out of this administration, an unsteady and fragile summary is substituted for a much needed focused and robust pronouncement of the challenge faced.  But then that challenge, Islamic extremism, was never named albeit addressed comprehensively.

It seems the Washington rendition of Wilde’s satirical play was in the form of this week’s conference on violent extremism. Over sixty foreign government officials attended as well as numerous US officials all to participate in what appears to be an echo chamber repeating the excuse “it’s not our fault.” The unspoken reason for convening a conference such as this is the violence that has spread within the Muslim public square.  As long as this administration continues down this path of substituting the trivial for the meaningful, a real solution in combatting ISIS, al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Shaabab, and Boko Haram will remain elusive.  Meanwhile these violent groups with Islamic extremism at their core will continue to gather new recruits and seek new targets.

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance in Being Earnest closed after only 86 performances. Meanwhile we still have 626 performances remaining in order for this administration to get this right.

You have to wonder what was served with this week’s cucumber sandwiches.



The awaited “long strategy” in combating ISIS/ISIL/IS was unveiled two days ago when State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf stated we “cannot kill our way out of this war”  but rather we must create economic opportunities through job creation and entrepreneurial start-ups in order to go to the source of jihadi recruitment. Leaving most who heard her…. speechless.

To begin with most Americans would be surprised to find that the US is currently “at war” with ISIS. Though a non-binding, noncommittal resolution was slingshot to Congress from the White House last week it would be a war with no ground troops, a defined time limit and by the looks of it, one lacking a coherent strategy.

Secondly, to believe that economic opportunities would dissuade potential recruits from joining ISIS is naive if not simply dangerous in its misunderstanding of the nature of Islamic extremism. These young men, along with the women, now being recruited by ISIS are not the unemployed and disaffected youth Ms. Barth would like to neatly place in that category.  Many of the new recruits are highly educated, financially well off and determined to bring the West to its destruction. They are leaving not only family but careers and futures in the West in the hopes of bringing that world they left to its knees.

Osama bin Laden was not exactly a man who was reduced to counting his pennies and looking for handouts. Leadership of the Taliban in Afghanistan are engineers, doctors and other professionals with advanced degrees and established careers. All these are not men looking for a few dollars to either blow themselves up and to wage war against modernity. They sacrifice futures that they , as all professionals, study and work for but willingly left behind for an ideology and not just a job.

The blind spot with this administration is a fundamental disconnect with the reality that there is an ideology born within Islam, fostered by those who simply want to hate. That hatred is directed at those who are not like them….which would be the West.  The West is defined by everything from Plato to NATO. That would include the United States, Ms. Harf.

Finally, there is little benefit in projecting community development polices on the world stage. Job creation, educational counseling and midnight basketball will do nothing to stop ISIS in their drive to destroy Western civilization. Taking these terrorists off the battlefield in the most lethal way will.




The White House released its budget for 2016 and with it President Obama revealed his vision of the threats that he sees  confronting the United States in 2015. The White House is still clinging to the misguided belief that a “pivot to Asia” is the first foreign policy priority facing the US this year while dismissing the chaos in eastern Ukraine and the spiraling violence under ISIS (ISIL of Islamic State…take your pick) in Syria and Iraq as short term challenges.

John Kerry, US Secretary of State, confirmed these missteps by stating the pivot to Asia remains“a top priority for every one of us in [Obama’s] administration.” This tragedy of group think in this administration is ignoring the obvious and dismissing the dangerous.  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ISIS’ nation grab are massive challenges the the US and the community of nations writ large will have to contend with for years to come.

The Obama administration came into power six years ago with a commitment to “pivot” or to swing away from Europe and the Middle East and focus on Asia. One has to credit the White House that despite the erasure of borders in Europe and the Middle East through state sponsored aggression, they have remained true to their original vision.

This week The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) released their ten priorities in foreign policy issues for 2015. This is a compilation by leading scholar/practitioners in the foreign policy world. Those top ten priorities are:

-the intensification of the conflict in Iraq
-a large-scale attack on the U.S. homeland or ally
-a cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure
-a severe North Korean crisis
-the renewed threat of Israeli military strikes against Iran
-an armed confrontation in the South China Sea
-the escalation of the Syrian civil war
-rising violence and instability in Afghanistan
-increased fighting in eastern Ukraine
-heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions

CFR’s top ten included two focusing on east Asia. The overwhelming majority of challenges remain focused on Europe and the Middle East.

It is time to place politics and ego aside and focus on the clear and present dangers that confront the US today. Sovereign states have been invaded and occupied (Ukraine) by an aggressor nation (Russia) while a well organized terrorist organization (ISIS)  has swept into Iraq and Syria and is now a center for Islamic extremism.

It’s time for the White House to rethink its long held pivot to Asia in favor of a pivot to reality.



As the White House wrestles with their thesaurus in an attempt to recast Islamic extremism in more nebulous terms, the threat that it poses globally only increases exponentially.  It increases due to the lethality of the attacks, it increases due to the timing of the attack that is known only to the one carrying it out, and finally it increases due to our reluctance to admit that it emanates from the Islamic faith group.  This violence is not due to the lack of economic opportunity or corruption of their government in their respective homelands or even in reaction to what was termed disrespect for their beliefs. It’s carried out in the name of their faith and it’s incumbent upon both Muslims and non-Muslims alike to recognize it.  As Tom Friedman of the New York Times wrote in a recent Op-Ed, it comes from anger from within certain corners of the Islamic public square.

A cursory look of Islamic extremism gives us a partial listing of,  1) Taliban in Afghanistan; 2) Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan; 3) Boko Haram in Nigeria; 4) Al-Shabaab in Somalia; 5) al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; 6) al Qaeda itself; 7) al Qaeda in the Maghreb in Algeria; 8) Hezbollah in Lebanon; 9) Hamas in West Bank and Israel; 10) ISIS (ISIL or IS) in Syria and Iraq.

Certainly the common thread with these groups is that they all claim to be carrying out their extremist acts in the name of Islam. While no suggestion is made that all Muslims are extremists, it cannot be ignored that Muslims that are carrying out these acts of terrorism are in fact the face of Islamic extremism.

In 1951 a former longshoreman wrote a small book that encapsulates our debate today, “The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer has recently been making the rounds in Washington. A book nearly forgotten from the time when President Eisenhower quoted from it during one of the first televised news conferences from the White House, it is now receiving new attention. Hoffer succinctly put forward that the true believer sees the present as “cruel and miserable….that he is truly at war with the present day.” The war against modernity that Islamic extremism is waging today begins to emerge from the fog as Hoffer goes on from there to explain hate as a unifying tool among disparate and seemingly disconnected populations.

This unifying action can be seen in the ten (10) groups listed above which come from central Africa to the deserts of the Middle East to the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. As Tom Friedman’s Op-Ed stated, the long term remedy for this must come from the Arab Sunnis and Pakistanis and I would add from Teheran, which seems highly unlikely for the seeable future.

While the strategic or longterm goals must be addressed by the Islamic community, the tactical or short term must be first, recognized by us for what it is and secondly, countered both militarily and politically while preventing further acts of violence.