[Welcome Malcolm Nance, and Host Matt Duss]

An End to Al-Qaeda: Destroying Bin Laden’s Jihad and Restoring America’s Honor

Few Americans can claim the knowledge of radical terrorist ideologies that Malcolm Nance can. With almost three decades of experience in the intelligence field across the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Balkans, Nance was also an eye-witness of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon, rushing onto the crash site to help with the rescue and recovery effort.

In 2007, Nance published The Terrorists of Iraq, a detailed description of the various factions and movements then fighting U.S. forces in Iraq. Now Nance, who currently works as a counter-terrorism and terrorism intelligence consultant for the U.S. government’s Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence agencies, has published a new book with the purposeful title An End to Al Qaeda, which describes the nature and extent of the Al Qaeda threat, and suggests that the key to ending Al Qaeda is to vigorously challenge them in the realm of ideology.

I first became aware of Malcolm Nance back in 2007, when he staged an intervention into the waterboarding/torture debate with an item at Small Wars Journal entitled “Waterboarding is Torture…Period. “With regards to the waterboard,” Nance wrote, “I want to set the record straight so the apologists can finally embrace the fact that they condone and encourage torture.”

Coming from a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the U.S. Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE), Nance’s views on the subject carried enormous weight. Responding to the nonsensical “waterboarding isn’t torture because we use it on our own trainees!” argument (which is still a favorite of torture advocates like Liz Cheney and Marc Thiessen, of whom Nance has written “has no sense of honor and no moral compass“), Nance noted that “SERE was designed to show how an evil totalitarian enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. If this is the case, then waterboarding is unquestionably being used as torture technique.” In other words, U.S. trainees were subjected to waterboarding in order to prepare them for torture if they are ever captured.

In his new book, Nance goes just as hard at the incompetence with which the U.S. has thus far waged the ideological battle against Al Qaeda. “The American strategic communications effort since 9/11 has been an unmitigated failure at every level,” Nance writes. The Bush administration’s “lack of knowledge about Al Qaeda and their religious-based ideological strategy led President Bush to declare the ‘War on Terrorism’ a new Crusade,” effectively affirming Osama bin Laden’s own claims about the nature of the conflict between Islam and the West.

As to why American strategic communications efforts were so poor, Nance writes that, rather than directing its messaging toward Al Qaeda’s own target audience among Muslim populations, “the Bush strategic communications policy was focused like a laser on the American public”:

But getting the American people to understand terror was not the goal. The push behind the policies to influence the nation’s message was designed to target changing American laws to benefit the conservative agenda in America, not counter the ideology of bin Laden. By choosing the spend billions on influence operations to change the internal dynamics of American life with the objective of what presidential political adviser Karl Rove called working toward “a permanent Republican majority,” the Bush administration effectively surrendered the war of influence in the Muslim world to bin Laden.

(I’ve similarly noted on several occasions that conservatives’ obsession with being “at war” with Al Qaeda is a transparent attempt to keep the national security debate on grounds more favorable to conservatives, nevermind that this both misunderstands the actual nature and scope of the threat, and plays right into Al Qaeda’s own propaganda.)

Though the Obama administration has made progress in degrading the capabilities of Al Qaeda and affiliated groups, Nance insists that it is essential to continue to challenge Al Qaeda over the basis of its murderous ideology, and better highlight the fact that the vast majority of Al Qaeda’s victims have been innocent Muslims, including hundreds of children. Noting a number of influential Islamic scholars who have condemned Al Qaeda, Nance writes that “the greatest weakness of Al Qaeda’s religious militant ideology is vulnerability to any deep analytical dissection of their religious motives.” While Western governments getting into fine-grained discussions over Islamic precepts will probably do little to convince those Al Qaeda is targeting with their pitch, much more can be done to facilitate and publicize internal Muslim critics of Al Qaeda, who have far more credibility in calling out Al Qaeda’s attempted hijacking of Islam. “In the war of ideas,” writes Nance, “Al Qaeda and their viral messengers need to be shouted down.”

Malcolm Nance is with us tonight to discuss his book.