Ben Carson: Obama needs new ideas to blunt ISIS

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The United States is in the 14th year of a long and frustrating war against what I deem global Muslim fascism. 

I’ve spent much of my professional life as a neurosurgeon working on complex medical issues and challenges around the world. I was blessed throughout my career to work alongside a number of brilliant, inspiring colleagues who led, mentored and demanded excellence from their charges. It is from this optic that I offer these thoughts. President Obama needs new ideas, new leadership in the intelligence community and a plan of action that will produce results quickly, to blunt the momentum of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and seize the initiative in the region alongside our Kurdish and Arab allies.

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This is an ideological conflict and an intelligence war, in some ways similar to the Cold War, where information and ideas clash across the globe. Today, this war is constantly viewed from a distance on laptops and televisions. But where is the counter messaging? The battle for the minds of the young and confused has yet to be undertaken by our side. 

We monitor ISIS websites, and watch in horror as beheadings and various human atrocities appear anew every 24 hours. We issue warnings here at home to be vigilant. Yet we seem unable to muster a grasp of the obvious: We are losing this war while America looks and feels afraid at home. By the jihadists’ measure, they are winning. They have changed our country, created a republic of fear and, as Osama bin Laden predicted, his enemies are destroying themselves.

How do we counter and destroy this brutally administered war of ideas in the midst of a terrified civilian populace? The actions we have undertaken since Sept. 11, 2001, have not produced the desired results. We must change personnel, thinking and tactics while simultaneously setting new conditions for success based on a sober assessment of where we currently are. This is the only way to truly move forward. John Paul Jones said, “Those who will not risk cannot win.” I regard this as wise counsel for today. 

Let us now establish a list of some specific suggestions.

Wage relentless ideological and information warfare: Monitoring ISIS websites is not a strategy. We must wade into the ideological war using allies, native-speaking assets and principle networks. There is a necessity to recruit people who live in the chaos; we need to work with agents who could not possibly pass a government background investigation and polygraph. We must engage, answer and actively participate in the ISIS information flow. This must be complemented with a new Voice of America that pounds creative messaging, hitting sensitive issues head-on, while pushing relevant messaging into the cyberspace discussion. 

Reinforce the models that are working: Starting with the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, it is clearly vital to arm the Kurds directly, support them financially and encourage the path to what will ultimately become an independent Kurdish state. The Kurds are an oasis of peace, unity and reliability as an ally in the sea of Middle Eastern chaos. The United States should build and nurture this new nation in the center of the storm. A partnership with a free Kurdistan should include building schools to educate the millions of displaced children of all ages, religions and ethnic backgrounds. This is the best way to counter ISIS’s Lion Cubs effort to produce a savage, holy-warrior class. 

Address realities: U.S. policy planners and the intelligence community must begin to address the reality of what we face in this war. A Syria-Iraq-Iran-Turkey policy must be developed that treats the region as a whole. The countries and the national security issues are interwoven, and we need to address them together. Again, one only needs to refer back to the Cold War. We had a clearly articulated Soviet policy that included multiple countries. 

Wage war: If we develop a coherent plan of action and implement it with vigor, we can destroy ISIS and break this seemingly endless cycle of violence. Just War Theory demands that any war be waged in such a manner as to make the war as short as possible and limit the suffering and destruction of innocent people. The various phrases we have created, including “surgical strikes,” “measured force,” “proportional response” and a myriad of other soft words and catchy phrases describe, in fact, the slow incineration of human beings. This approach is immoral. It perpetuates war and suffering, and exacerbates the conditions that create hatred and foster endless revenge. 

Build a capable team that can win: Through such a team, we can employ covert messaging, active measures and deception and disruption efforts. This effort must have authority to conduct lethal actions; it must be ruthless and relentless in its size and scope. As former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in early 1942 is said to have told his commander, Gen. George C. Marshall, you cannot win the fight without a team that can win. Well, it is time for a new team.  

Carson is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.