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Wednesday, May 16, 2007
every man for himself and god against them all:
Dave Kilcullen, COIN expert and Petraeus brain-truster, is engaged in a fascinating debate over religion and counterinsurgency on the Small Wars Journal blog. Kilcullen's basic contention is that religion provides only superficial motivation for insurgency; Bing West rejoinders here. Among the most intriguing aspects of Kilcullen's argument -- made in comments to West's reply -- is that not all Salafists are "irreconciliables":
But in point of fact many countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia) have had considerable success in de-radicalization and de-programming this type of extremist. So it may be that hearts and minds requires a significantly different approach from the “bread and circuses” style of the 1960s, but it still seems to work if done right. Treating these people as irredeemable just encourages them to fight to the death. Like any other human being, they respond to a psychological "out" with weakened resolve.More traditional approaches would prioritize separating the Salafists from a vulnerable population before indoctrination sets in. Kilcullen doesn't quite go this far in his post, but his argument suggests that a viable approach would be to understand, identify and isolate the less-committed members within a given Salafist organization, who would be vulnerable to de-radicalization. It's controversial, but it's also fairly intuitive: every identity-based organization exhibits varying degrees of commitment among its membership.
If this reads Kilcullen correctly, the argument holds that a counterinsurgent strategist doesn't have to cede, say, al-Qaeda its existing adherents. This would run into the problem of identifying who the weak links are, and crafting strategies of deprogramming. Neither of which are trivial concerns -- in fact, they're significant-enough challenges as to raise the question of whether such a strategy is resource-effective, and hence whether it's better to isolate the extant al-Q cohort from further potential recruits. But, man, what a bracing idea.