Radical Islam: The Hydra-headed monster
The jihadists of radical Islam behave like the Hydra – the many-headed water serpent of Greek mythology. When one of the Hydra’s heads was cut off, two new heads would appear. Ultimately, Hercules was able to kill the Hydra by cutting off all the heads and then setting fire to the monster’s neck.
Now that the Surge is putting serious pressure on the jihadists in Iraq, the jihadists are causing trouble in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unfortunately, our Judeo-Christian Hercules isn’t militarily strong enough and cannot gain sufficient tactical intelligence to deal with all the Hydra-like heads that keep popping up.
For those who see every glass as half-empty rather than half-full, our situation vis-a-vis the Islamic terrorists is abominable. Those who see every glass as half-full can point out that the fighting is taking place in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in parts of Pakistan and not here in the continental United States. Better over there than over here.
If we had the will to create armed forces sufficient to be everywhere at once and chop off the Hydra-heads the moment they erupt, we would not need an effective, civilian intelligence-gathering agency But if your armed forces are small, relative to the multiple threats they must face, then an effective, civilian intelligence-gathering agency is essential.
Unfortunately, our current ability to gather and analyze actionable intelligence on a timely basis is virtually non-existent. The harsh reality is that service in the embassies, consulates and CIA stations across the Crescent of Islam is not very attractive to the elitist Ivy-Leaguers who, at one time, wanted to join the diplomatic corps or to serve abroad for the CIA.
So few Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) are willing to staff our new embassy in Baghdad that some FSOs are being ordered to Baghdad or else. Even the dullest FSO or CIA officer understands that learning Arabic or Farsi or Hindu or Urdu or Punjabi is a one-way ticket to places where hot showers and cold, vodka-martinis (shaken, not stirred) are rare.
In Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, author Tim Weiner opines, “To succeed, the CIA [needs] to find men and women with the discipline and self-sacrifice of the nation’s best military officers, the cultural awareness and historical knowledge of the nation’s best diplomats, and the sense of curiosity and adventure possessed by the nation’s best foreign correspondents.”
While some of our foreign correspondents, such as Arnaud de Borchgrave, are still willing to venture into some rather smelly places, the kidnappings and even beheadings of some reporters by the radical Islamists are creating “green-zone commandos” who, a la Vietnam, stay inside the safe areas to interview each other over iced drinks.
Having been deceived by the CIA more than once (for example, WMD in Iraq), Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, created a substitute CIA within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). It remains to be seen if Rumsfeld’s replacement, former CIA Director, Robert Gates, will take advantage of the skilled and dedicated military intelligence personnel now available to him.
For example, for at least 50 years, the Army’s Foreign Area Officer (FAO) Program has produced officers with the discipline and self-sacrifice needed to undergo years of language training plus actual, in-country, cultural training and then go back to serve in many of the world’s armpit countries.
The U.S. Army Special Forces “A” Teams are language- and culture-trained to live side-by-side with the ordinary people of third-world countries. Incredibly, at the time of 9/11, only a handful of CIA officers could understand conversational Arabic.
We now face the Herculean task of producing a new generation of intelligence officers and diplomatic corps personnel with the discipline and self-sacrifice to match that of the American military. Until that new generation can be recruited and trained, our chances having a civilian intelligence agency capable of even finding the neck of the Hydra-headed monster are somewhere between slim and none.
Syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. Writing as William Penn, he and his wife are the co-authors of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2007. William Hamilton.