Sunday, September 16, 2012

Militant Islam Extremism Exploits Opportunities

The attacks on the US Embassy in Egypt and the untimely death of the US Ambassador in Benghazi demonstrated that ambassador's deep loyalty to his mission and desire to establish trust at the risk of his own safety. While some may ridicule his initiative of informality and cultural submersion, I commend him for trying to understand his environment and taking specific measure to influence that environment through actions, not words. This incident has a more important signature than the obvious catastrophic attack on our embassies.

It is a bit third world countryish for observers to blame the government, the administration, the opposition, or any other political entity; or any one influential figure in the American political landscape. The same applies to blame placed on host country leaders. These incidents are about understanding the threat's opportunities and implementing control measures at all levels of strategy to mitigate the potential for recurrence and/or increase in severity and frequency.

Islam has two distinct poles, defined by extreme militant religious ideology on one end of the spectrum juxtaposed by modern capitalist main stream Islam on the other end. In the middle is the great divide. Unfortunately, the great divide is like a big swinging pendulum. And this past week that pendulum swung far from our favor. Mob mentality became more of the rule than the exception. fueled by a small fraction of the population on the bad end of that Islam continuum. The extremists understand how to leverage small opportunities which result in favorable strategic impact for their initiatives.

When the Egyptian leaders call for protests, we cannot - legitimately - criticize them for inciting terrorism. It is easy and fun to blame another less popular culture or government for our woes. But protests are a basic staple of the democratic appetite. Despite the horrible outcome of the attacks, attacks are not protests. Additionally, an act of violence against the US Embassy in Egypt or Libya does not constitute a reason to throw in the towel on our strategic end state in the region by blaming and labeling all Libyans and Egyptians as terrorists. Yet this seems to be the popular narrative in some media outlets this week.    

We have again missed an opportunity to shape the environment; but the militants did not miss that same opportunity. They swung the pendulum in their direction by exploiting a Coptic Christian video, by a self described Coptic that does not even live in Egypt. This video did nothing to promote and further the positive relations between Christians and Muslims in Egypt. If anything, it further endangered the Christian population in Egypt and Libya. It was a disappointing sequel to the somewhat democratic elections in Egypt.

The concerns of opportunistic environment shaping by Islam ideologues becomes seriously grave when consideration is given to Iran's reported capability to produce a Nuclear device within the next six months. It is probably time to discuss the emerging friction points that we could not predict (because no one can predict at better than a 50:50 ratio), and identify the opportunities that present themselves. Those opportunities, might be a way to move our strategic actions forward in a productive and favorable manner.

In summary - the Coptic video is not the root cause; the Egyptian and Libyan nationals are not the root cause; any specific cited American strategic policy is not the root cause; Iran is not the root cause. When some or all of the singularities are combined in time and space, the environment is rich in opportunity. Those entities who can identify the opportunities and act on them the quickest emerge as the winners in tactical actions, shaping the operational environment, and achieving their strategic desired state.

Quit blaming. Start understanding. And apply some thinking.