Document Created: 1 February 2007
Air & Space Power Journal Book Review - Spring 2007
Y: The Sources of Islamic Revolutionary Conduct by Stephen P. Lambert, USAF. Center for Strategic Intelligence Research, Joint Military Intelligence College, Washington, DC, in cooperation with the USAF Institute for National Security Studies, USAF Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2005, 216 pages. Available from National Technical Information Service at http://www.ntis.gov/search/product.asp?ABBR=PB2005110415&starDB=GRAHIST. $26.50 (microfiche), $41.00 (customized CD).
Lt Col Steve Lambert’s next-generation title intentionally recalls George Kennan’s famous article published in Foreign Affairs at the outset of the Cold War (“The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” signed by “X”). Clearly, Kennan’s work was monumental, but in a few important ways, Lambert’s “Y” presents a more ambitious approach than that taken by Mr. X. Both admirably explain what motivates “enemies of the West”; however, Lambert’s study also provides us with an explanation of how Western ideological foundations handicap our understanding of and response to al-Qaeda (and its ilk). In this respect, Lambert goes beyond Kennan by reaching all the way back to the wisdom of Sun Tzu’s admonishment of 400 BC: “Know your enemy and know yourself.” In the context of the emerging “long war,” this approach provides us with two essential steps in the right direction.
Lieutenant Colonel Lambert (a major when he published this study in early 2005) has a special interest in politico-military affairs and military strategic sciences. Since 1995 he has published three major works for the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS Occasional Papers nos. 12, 20, and 46) with a focus on strategic arms control and post–Cold War nuclear strategy. In this work, however, Lambert significantly branches out in search of the answer to heretofore unexplained reasons behind the terrorist attacks against the United States on 11 September 2001 (9/11).
The author employs a five-part approach to address these issues. His study begins with introspection: a look at the roots of Western intellectual pedigree. On this point, Lambert concludes that a society like that of the United States—one conditioned by philosophies of the secular age—can understand fundamental questions of a religious nature only by first coming to terms with its own biases and intellectual foundations.
In part two, Lambert delves deeply (with perhaps too much detail, employing extensive use of seminary-level nomenclature) into a comparison between Islam and Christendom. Readers should skim this section and concentrate on the 15 pages of conclusions. Key points include the following: (1) Islam and the West have divergent historical and political imperatives (for example, Islam embraces the fusion of religion and state, whereas the West [with its Christian heritage] generally differentiates between the secular and divine realms); (2) Islam’s history and theological exhortations overwhelmingly demonstrate that it is not a “religion of peace”—Islam demands exclusivity, hostility, and incompatibility with all non-Muslims; and (3) Islam is expansionist. “The house of Islam” is locked in a continual struggle with all others who dwell in “the house of war.” Unlike Christian evangelism—which is spiritual—Islam’s kingdom is temporal, and its followers are exhorted to physically conquer this world.
In the next section (pp. 99–128), Lambert attempts to “capture the mindset of the broader Islamic faithful,” which he asserts is “plagued by the fourfold trauma” of (1) the impact of European colonialism, (2) pressures of modern secularism, (3) military and scientific impotency vis-à-vis the West, and (4) distorting influences of the modern Arab states. This trauma results in tension and misunderstanding between Islam and the West. Strategically—and unfortunately—these factors provide militant Islamists with a fertile recruiting ground.
The heart of Lambert’s study lies in part four, “The Mind of the Enemy” (pp. 129–48). To date, numerous theories and characterizations have emerged as to whom America is fighting. More clearly than others, Lambert cogently characterizes al-Qaeda and its associates as “a revolutionary Islamic vanguard, with a goal nothing less than the complete transformation of the global status quo” (emphasis added, p. 5). In this context, keep in mind that terms are extremely important. Pres. George W. Bush and other statesmen have declared that America is not at war with Islam or with Muslims in general—and they are correct! In fact, the West is at war with a radicalized element of Islam—a fervent group of militant Islamists (some employ the term Islamofascists) comprised of more than just fundamentalist, purist, and radical Muslims, none of whom has necessarily declared jihad against the West. Instead, al-Qaeda and other self-proclaimed jihadists aim to overthrow the existing world order—wherever possible and by any means necessary, including the use of terrorism—to establish an international, Islamic theocracy ruled by a revived caliphate. This revolutionary Islamic enemy has stated for the record its clear intent to use chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons against all “infidels,” innocent civilians included (pp. 138–41). Together, these tactics, targets, and justifications “yield the gravest military threat confronting the United States today” (p. 148).
Following his in-depth analysis that helps the West understand both its own ideological and intellectual heritage and that of its enemies, Lambert concludes with a section entitled “Seven Propositions for Recovering Strategic Insight.” Propositions one through five follow directly from the earlier sections, summarizing foundational assertions such as “Islam’s theological foundations yield expansionist imperatives” and “the United States is engaged in a religious war” (pp. 155, 158). These are clearly important postulates, basic to any strategic understanding of the current global war. Lambert’s sixth and seventh propositions, however, do not follow from the text and are less compelling. (They speak to the unique nature of the Palestinian movement and recommend Sufism as “a strategic alternative to revolutionary Islam” [p. 165]—as if al-Qaeda is searching to radically alter its basic beliefs.)
In sum, Lambert’s monograph explores fundamental issues central to understanding the global war on terror / long war. He rightly calls into question a Western “enlightened” approach that favors negotiation or attempts to reason with the revolutionary Islamic vanguard forces. Similarly, the West cannot fool itself into thinking that the root causes motivating enemy hatred and terrorist attacks can be easily resolved via renewing an emphasis on education, promoting equitable resource distribution, and proliferating/sharing democratic values. He points out that many of the 9/11 hijackers/terrorists received their education in the West, owned profitable businesses, and had access to Western freedoms and conveniences. Clearly, as the West continues to go down this road—assuming that its values are universally applicable and failing to comprehend what motivates its zealous enemies—it will founder upon one of Sun Tzu’s most basic tenets of warfare.
Lambert’s strategic motivation for writing Y: The Sources of Islamic Revolutionary Conduct was to offer a seminal analysis of the long war—just as Kennan did at the outset of the Cold War. In 1947 America rallied around a clear understanding of the global Communist threat. Today, the West faces a similar enemy who aims at nothing less than international, revolutionary change. In terms of analysis, Lambert’s study clearly hits the mark. However, unlike Kennan’s article, which directly informed America’s most influential decision makers (leading to key policies such as National Security Council 68, United States Objectives and Programs for National Security, 14 April 1950), Lambert’s monograph has received no such visibility. In fact, it is already out of print and available only via the National Technical Information Service (see above). As such, it remains to be seen if a sufficient number of Western leaders or policy makers gain access to and act upon the insightful information contained in this immensely valuable study.
Col Mike Davis, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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