Waging the ‘War of Ideas’

In recent weeks, senior Bush Administration officials have begun talking about a heretofore largely neglected, and arguably decisive, front in the War on Terror: the battlefield of "ideas." Unfortunately, as a powerful cover story in this week’s U.S. News and World Report makes clear, the United States has for years remained essentially disarmed in this arena.

‘Armed’ to the Teeth

By contrast, its enemies – notably an array of Saudi princes, charities, businessmen and front organizations – have been spending some $70 billion to recruit, train and arm adherents around the world in the name of the central idea being wielded against us, namely jihad or "holy war."

This U.S. News article was reported by one of the magazine’s most highly regarded investigative reporters, David Kaplan. Entitled, "The Saudi Connection: How Billions in Oil Money Spawned a Global Terror Network," Kaplan’s article documents the extent to which successive American administrations turned blind eyes towards mounting evidence of Saudi involvement in Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terror organization and its counterparts.

According to Kaplan, "U.S. officials now say that key [Saudi government and affiliated] charities became the pipelines of cash that helped transform ragtag bands of insurgents and jihadists into a sophisticated, interlocking movement with global ambitions. Many of those spreading the Wahhabist doctrine abroad, it turned out, were among the most radical believers in holy war, and they poured vast sums into the emerging al Qaeda network."

Kaplan quotes the Center for Security Policy’s Distinguished Fellow, Dr. Alex Alexiev, as saying, "The Saudi funding program is ‘the largest worldwide propaganda campaign ever mounted’ – dwarfing the Soviets’ propaganda efforts at the height of the Cold War."

If Saudi Arabia’s investment in the weaponry and infrastructure of the war of ideas has been staggering, so have its results. Kaplan cites the Saudi weekly Ain al-Yaqeen as saying the funds produced "some 1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic centers, 202 colleges, and nearly 2,000 schools in non-Islamic countries."

Fifth Column

Unfortunately, many of these Saudi-bankrolled institutions are in the United States. The Kingdom’s investments in this country have produced the base for radical, intolerant and violent Muslims – known as Islamists – to mount a Fifth Column threat from within.

Last week, a new example of the potentially devastating gravity of this threat was revealed by the Wall Street Journal. It has previously been reported that Abdurahman Alamoudi, a prominent Washington-based activist who made no secret of his pro-Islamist sympathies, was able to secure the right for his own and a like-minded institution to train at least 9 of 14 Muslim chaplains for the U.S. military.

The Journal discovered that Alamoudi – who is currently in jail on charges of laundering $340,000 in Libyan terrorist-related funding – was able to secure a similar arrangement for between 75 and 100 so-called "Islamic lay leaders." Their job was to minister to Muslims in the armed forces when the chaplains were unavailable. The institutions used to train chaplains received Saudi funds. The lay leaders got their training from an Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies described by the Journal as "an arm of the Saudi government." All of these organizations appear to have engaged in Islamist indoctrination.

Kaplan’s article suggests that the Saudi government is now cracking down on the monster its ideas and funds have created around the world. They may indeed be doing so at home, for reasons that have more to do with preserving the House of Saud’s hold on power than with any real conversion about the unacceptability of the Islamofascism that they have enabled elsewhere. Apart from ostensibly disowning the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies after the Journal story ran, however, there is not much evidence that they have abandoned the war of ideas they and their clients have been waging elsewhere.

Will We Remain ‘Disarmed’?

Meanwhile, the United States government remains woefully ill-equipped to fight back in the war of ideas. Shortly after 9/11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld – who has understood the importance of this front from the get-go of the War on Terror – tried to give the Pentagon a focal point for such efforts. Regrettably, the Office of Strategic Influence was taken down within months by unfounded rumors it would disseminate false news stories to promote American objectives.

Last week, the newspaper that gave currency and international attention to such fraudulent claims, the New York Times, breathlessly reported that an attempt to do the same thing was being quietly done through a contract with a consulting firm, SAIC. The Times was affronted by the wording of the September 17, 2003 contract for a $300,000 study:

"Our inability to seize the initiative in the ‘War of Ideas’ with al Qaeda is perhaps our most significant shortcoming so far in the war against terrorism. We do not fully understand Al Qaeda and its relationship to supportive communities in the Islamic world, and so are not yet able to develop an effective strategy for countering its propaganda in those communities, let alone for winning the information campaign in the war against terrorism."

The Bottom Line

Far from being embarrassed by or opposed to this exceedingly modest initiative – as the Times suggested several Defense Department officials were when confronted with the SAIC contract – the U.S. government should be mobilizing every available resource to alter the damning ideas about us being assiduously promoted by the Saudis and their proxies around the world. If we do otherwise, we are unlikely to be able to hold our own in the War on Terror, let alone win it.

About Frank Gaffney, Jr.

Frank Gaffney is the Founder and President of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C. Under Mr. Gaffney's leadership, the Center has been nationally and internationally recognized as a resource for timely, informed and penetrating analyses of foreign and defense policy matters. Mr. Gaffney formerly acted as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy during the Reagan Administration, following four years of service as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy. Previously, he was a professional staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee under the chairmanship of the late Senator John Tower, and a national security legislative aide to the late Senator Henry M. Jackson.

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