General Michael Flynn and Dr. Michael Ledeen recently published a book, Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies. General Flynn, a former 3-Star General and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has a number of critics in the National Security community and the negative views of his critics impacted the reception of the book. He also has a number of admirers: his counsel was sought after by a number of 2016 GOP Presidential candidates. The book should be read carefully given his role as the incoming National Security Adviser to President-elect Trump.
General Flynn and Dr. Ledeen (who blogs at forbes.com) wrote the book for 2 reasons: 1) “to show the war being waged against us” and 2) “to lay out at winning strategy.” The ideas in this book fall well within a conservative internationalist tradition. The authors call for: a multi-decade Long War against terrorism, the use of all forms of national power including economic assistance and public diplomacy, confronting the “root causes” of terrorism, and working closely with partners and allies.
The authors call for several steps: First, the elimination of safe havens including threatening states that harbor terrorists. The authors are in favor of using US military and economic assistance to help countries defeat terrorists. Second, the authors make clear that this is a multi-decade project for which we will have to organize all our national power, from military, economic, to intelligence and tough minded diplomacy. Third, the authors call for an “Islamic Reformation” (something the US can have little if no influence over if at all). In this context, the authors refer to Egyptian President Sisi’s important but overlooked speech where General Sisi in essence calls for a renewal of Islam.
The first part of the book is a memoir of General Flynn growing up in Rhode Island and joining the Army as a way for a rebellious teenager to get on the straight and narrow. The second part of the book General Flynn brings his personal experience and some historical context to the current war on terror. For example, he reminds the reader at one point that Communism was once seen as “unbeatable” and that once a country was taken over by communists that country never left the communist camp. This so-called Brezhnev Doctrine was broken starting with Grenada in 1982.
The third part of the book is about what they call the “Enemy Alliance,” of North Korea, China, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and most interesting, Russia. There are several sections that are critical of Russia. The authors anticipate the inevitable criticisms and potential contradictions of this formulation of countries and offer “prebuttals” to such questions such as “how can a Communist regime like North Korea embrace a radical Islamist regime like Iran?” or “what about Vladimir Putin? He certainly is no jihadi….” The authors call Iran the “centerpiece” of the Enemy Alliance. If there is a Green Revolution 2.0 in Iran, it would be safe to speculate that the Trump Administration will be sympathetic and creative in trying to help. The authors are strongest in the sections on Iran. The book has very little to say about China, a country that perhaps requires a book of its own.
The fourth part of the book is the most important part of the book for the reader seeking to understand the next National Security Adviser’s views and one might jump to that section of the book. The last section of the book is entitled “How to Win” and lists the steps as:
- Destroying the jihadi armies,
- Discrediting the jihadists ideology,
- Creating a set of 21st century global alliances and the authors particularly note as important allies: Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, India, Argentina, Britain, Australia, France, Germany and Italy. (There are many other allies perhaps dozens of other countries that the authors do not list and it is a missed opportunity to not include them. For example: Canada, Japan, Spain, Denmark, a series of African countries, other Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Romania as well as partners in South East Asia).
- Bringing a direct challenge to the regimes that support our enemies, weakening them at a minimum, and, given the new Trump Administration, bringing them down whenever possible.
The authors lay out a strategy for winning the Long War:
First, energize every element of national power similar to the effort in the Cold War or World War II “to effectively resource what will likely be a multigenerational struggle.”
Second, engage with military power the violent Islamists wherever they are. The US needs to be prepared to provide military and economic assistance to countries who seek to work with us.
Third, confront the state and non-state supporters and enablers and “compel them to end their support or be prepared to remove their capacity to do so.”
Fourth, and most interesting, the authors call on waging an ideological war against Radical Islam and its supporters. “if we can’t tackle enemy doctrines that call for our domination or extinction, we aren’t going to destroy their jihadis.”
The authors remind us that the US vigorously sustained decades of ideological confrontation with Communism and Fascism and that our then adversaries also believe that they were historically destined to win. There were energetic (what we would now call) public diplomacy efforts and psychological warfare efforts to undermine and weaken the potency of these ideologies. “When most people talk about ‘war,’ they think of tanks …But at least as important, people need to recognize the strategic power of words and pictures….Ideas, and the words that express them, are very much a part of war, but we have deliberately deprived ourselves of using them.” Part of this war of ideas should (correctly) expose the connections among jihadists, drug dealers, money launderers and human traffickers to discredit the bad guys who purport to be “morally superior” to the West.
The authors’ closing argument is: “We want the world…to see that we are effective and determined to prevail. …If they see it those who share our values will join with us to win (this) global war…I don’t think we can without (our allies).” The book does not deal with Asia, Latin America nor a series of other challenges we are going to face. The book does not offer an entire foreign policy so much as one important strand. The book does not lay out a Trump foreign policy but offers an important window into the thinking of one of the most influential players entering the Trump Administration.
Article Published in Forbes.com on December 30, 2016.