Top 10 Ways to Make War on the “War of Ideas”

“Countering violent extremism” is an overly vague term, lacking clarity and precision of scope and focus.

Washington should not be dictating the needs and scope of programs to state and local officials and law enforcement agencies. Instead, federal engagement should be based on stakeholder input, with federal efforts properly scoped and consistent with national priorities.

Emphasize Support to the Field in Overseas Programs

Although ISIS and Al Qaeda are global phenomena, they manifest themselves based on local conditions. Globally run and managed programs with massive bureaucratic overhead and big staffs in Foggy Bottom are a waste. Further, with limited resources there is a risk of penny-pinching U.S. efforts around the world and accomplishing very little. Instead, U.S. efforts ought to be prioritized and resources pushed to support local programs and be well-integrated with regional strategies that complement other efforts to address radicalization with other instruments of national power and regional partners.

End Handouts That Don’t Deliver

The United States ought to scrupulously review programs to ensure they are supporting our strategic priorities. Too often, “countering violent extremism” has taken the form of handing out grants to NGOs for trips to nice places and feel-good conferences at comfortable hotels. Micro-loans and private sector efforts are often more efficacious than big grants. Further, the United States ought to avoid getting wrapped in proliferating programs to address the so-called root causes of radicalization and the mania of funding development programs to prevent failed states. Conflating development and aid programs with counter-radicalization efforts is a huge mistake. Each of these programs ought to be pursed on its own merits, commensurate with U.S. interests.

Avoid Obsessing over Social Media

Despite what you may have heard, social media is not the root cause of radicalization. Social media seems to have the most impact in a region where there is a human network on the ground that can facilitate radicalization. Efforts on social media should be scoped appropriately.

One: Drop the Label

“Countering Violent Extremism” is an overly vague term. Lacking clarity and precision of scope and focus, it contributes little to explaining what government programs should be. Perhaps there is no apt label for describing what should be plethora of discrete and crafted activities dealing with a global, but disparate threat. And who needs to engage in a contentious branding exercise anyway? Far better to see the U.S. government just buckle down and do it: fighting effectively the war of ideas against Islamist extremism.

A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano heads the think tank’s research on matters of national security and foreign relations.

Image: Former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump squat next to each other in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016. Wikimedia Commons

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