Mr. Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Advisor to the President, RAND Corporation & Member of the Professional Advisory Board, ICT, IDC Herzliya, United States of America
The session was part of the ICT's 16th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism: "Unpuzzling Terrorism". Mr. Jenkins analyzed ISIS and Al Qaeda and claimed that while both organizations garner sympathy and have immense finances, neither organization can be classified as a mass movement and can be beaten over time. Given the ideology these organizations rest upon, which recruits devotion to the cause and fight, the conflict will surely continue.
Mr. Jenkins opened his presentation with the claim that the day after 9/11 was also important, as it was really the beginning of the effort to understand what had happened and to put together an effort involving intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement and military cooperation. He was asked this summer to analyze what really had happened during 9/11, as it is common for Americans to want “a return on their investment” or at least “what they did right and what they did wrong”, a way of measuring progress.
Given the different dimensions of the challenge we are facing, Mr. Jenkins argues that it is difficult to assess what is right/wrong, best/better. Our worst fears have not been realized, yet. The operational capabilities of ISIS and Al Qaeda remain limited despite being beneficiaries of a large monetary fortune. The success that they see inside places like Iraq and Syria are less because of their military prowess and more with the collapse of the militaries fighting them.
He also argues that neither Al Qaeda nor ISIS have become a mass movement, though both organizations attract a degree of sympathy. There is overall wide disapproval of both, even among those they consider their constituents—though, there is a significant enough minority of people who are attracted to their message that it serves as a real problem. That being said, the constellation of jihadist groups is not as scary as it looks.
ISIS is losing territory, and it can be defeated, however slowly. ISIS’ ability to gain followers and plan attacks in Western countries has been meager, even considering the recent events in Europe and the United States. Yet, Europe faces a more imminent threat than the United States. Our intelligence has been fairly effective in interrupting about 90% of these plots. On the negative side, people who are targets of US counter-terrorist efforts have largely survived because they are resilient and adaptive, and we have not dented their determination.
These are organizations and ideologies regard the struggle as process oriented rather than progress oriented. As such, they value success in their commitment to the continued fighting because victory or defeat is in the hands of G-d. They have a powerful ideology, arousing extreme devotion. Fortunately while they can disseminate that ideology through social media, they still receive a narrow response. ISIS in particular has been effective in its use of social media, though this medium has been a magnet for troubled individuals.
Furthermore, fighting will almost certainly continue. Their loss of territory will not assuage their advances. Syria and Iraq will remain fragile states with regional instability and violence. Some small areas, such as the south of Iraq under Shiite control, can see economic viability, but the majority of the two states will not see economic stability any time soon.
The world will be dealing with the influence of the conflict in Syria and Iraq for years to come. ISIS could continue underground, however foreign fighters cannot survive a move to underground action by ISIS. These foreign fighters will either move to another jihadist front or will return home.
Refugees will continue to pose a long-term challenge to society and security. They cannot return, but some terrorists infiltrate amongst them. Many will be able to assimilate and settle down, but there is a large proportion of single, young males, some of which are susceptible to radicalization.
The concern the US has is inspiration received from abroad. Our biggest vulnerability right now is that American citizens remain fearful—America is frightened, its divided society is its Achilles heel. There is also a distinct difference in American societal perception and the progress that has been made by the government in fighting terrorism. Rather than appeal to traditional American values like fortitude and tolerance, our political system leaves people divided. Nevertheless, in 15 years, progress has been made and Americans are safer.