LT. General Michael Flynn, outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency recently told an audience at the Aspen Institute that the ideology of Al Qaeda was “expanding,” and that Al Qaeda was not “on the run” as the Obama Administration had repeatedly insisted during the 2012 election. Flynn said, “It’s not on the run, and that ideology is actually, it’s sadly, it feels like it’s exponentially growing,”
Flynn went on to point out that “the core” of Al Qaeda was not in fact a geographic designation, but instead a belief, “We use the term ‘core al Qaeda,’ and I have been going against these guys for a long time,” The Free Beacon reports Flynn as saying, “The core is the core belief that these individuals have.”
While Flynn does not go so far as to name the ideology which Al Qaeda acts in furtherance of (namely Shariah), he is clear that one can not solely counter an ideological threat kinetically.
Under Flynn, the DIA has been one of the few intelligence agencies to hold the line against the Obama Administration’s popular, if delusional, reimagining of the threat. As Eli Lakenoted in a Daily Beast article discussing the connections between Al Qaeda and Boko Haram:
The dispute inside the intelligence community falls along familiar lines about al Qaeda. The White House has emphasized the distinctions between al Qaeda’s core and its affiliates and other aspiring jihadists, who the White House sees as operating almost entirely independent of the central group.
However, another faction inside the U.S. intelligence community—one that comprises the current leadership of the Defense Intelligence Agency and others working in the military—see al Qaeda as a flatter organization that coordinates between nodes and operates through consensus in the model of an Islamic Shura council.
The idea that DIA should need to wage an rearguard action around a concept as basic as the fact that Al Qaeda is organized along shariah-prescribed lines, is itself an example of how badly we have failed to understand the enemy’s stated threat doctrine.
While Flynn does not say so, the reason the ideology of Al Qaeda has expanded is we have failed to directly combat it. We have failed in combating the ideology, as the direct result of influence operations waged against U.S. policy making by affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has resulted in the purge of U.S. trainers who understood the enemy doctrine, leaving U.S policymakers, and law enforcement and intelligence officials unprepared.
One quibble however. LTG Flynn warns that Hamas ought not to be destroyed, as there is a risk that the Islamist groups that would replace it would some how be “worse.” There is not any substantial difference in ideological doctrine between the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham. they are all based upon the Shariah. Saying that Hamas must survive because ISIS is worse is the same kind of mistaken thinking that permitted some to argue that we could work with the Muslim Brotherhood to serve as a bulwark against Al Qaeda. There is no major doctrinal disagreement between Hamas and Al Qaeda, or ISIS. Hamas hailed Osama bin Laden as a “holy warrior” when he was killed by U.S. forces. The Muslim Brotherhood also recognized Bin Laden’s role as a legitimate jihadist. The godfather of both Al Qaeda and Hamas was Muslim Brother and Islamic Jurist named Abdullah Azzam.
But even this mistaken view of Hamas is itself evidence thats proves Flynn’s point. Without understanding the nature of the enemy’s threat doctrine and its primary thinkers (Like Azzam), we will not be successful in defeating it.