Why the U.S. Is Losing the War of Ideas Against Transnational Extremism

Why the U.S. Is Losing the War of Ideas Against Transnational Extremism
This photo released by a militant website shows a flag of the Islamic State group placed on a damaged helicopter, Tadmur military airbase, Palmyra, Syria, May 31, 2015 (Militant website via AP).

Once again the Obama administration is revising its programs to counter and defeat the self-styled Islamic State, particularly on the battlefield of ideas. With no apparent decline in supporters flocking to the movement nor any shortage of unhinged murderers inspired by it, State Department officials announced that they were creating a new “Global Engagement Center” to combat the Islamic State online. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama met with social media-savvy representatives from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to convince them to join the effort.

This is simply the latest episode of a series now deep into reruns: The United States fiddles with the way it deals with the Islamic State and other transnational extremist movements, rearranging organizations and changing things at the margins, then calls it a “new strategy.” Like past adjustments, this one is inadequate and unlikely to have any major effect.

The problem is that policymakers and policy experts are not thinking big enough. Failing to place today’s transnational extremism in its broader historical context, they cannot grasp—much less address—the psychological appeal of ideological barbarity and violence. Yet doing so is the only path to an effective response. History offers clues but they must be mined. Put simply, today’s transnational extremism is the dark side of globalization; the Islamic State is simply the most barbaric component of a wider and deeper current of transnational extremism. It is not the sum total of the darkness, and defeating it, while necessary, will not resolve the problem. The ultimate task is bigger: To prevent new mutations of the Islamic State from arising once the group is eradicated, policymakers and policy experts must think deeply about the social and psychological disruptions that globalization has caused.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.