Experts: Presidential Candidates Need More Resolve in Facing ISIS
Recently, San Angelo LIVE! wrote a story about the threat of ISIS, and the research completed by the Tony Blair Foundation’s Centre of Religion and Geopolitics. In the published report, “If the Castle Falls: Ideology and Objectives of the Syrian Rebellion,” (download it here in *pdf) CRG researchers explain how this threat expands beyond ISIS, and there are 15 more groups like it waiting in line to inherit the “end of days” tasks originally started by al-Qaeda.
After that article came out, we received mixed reviews, and some people stated the story was nothing more than a conservative fearmongering political tactic. However, the author of that article, and this one, is a liberal—a liberal who, through research and hours spent speaking to experts, has learned this threat the U.S. faces has nothing to do with party politics. It's an American issue.
Unfortunately, according to experts in the previous story, and this one, the current presidential candidates on both the Democrat and Republican tickets are ill-prepared to deal with this issue. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann, and Dr. James Phelps, also retired from the U.S. Navy, have spent many years in the Middle East, and both have written and published books and articles on this topic, as well as provided media commentary. They confirmed this issue of ISIS is not about right or left, and is a topic Americans need to know and should be cognizant of this voting season.
ISIS and the Mission America Victory Garden Tour
Lt. Mann said he spent almost 23 years in the army, and 18 of those years included Special Forces as a Green Beret. Because of his expertise, both liberal and conservative media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News, have requested his expertise on the topic of ISIS.
“I spent a lot of that time working in and around a range of insurgent and extremist efforts,” he said. “Green Berets, our specialty is Guerilla Warfare, so we actually study and immerse ourselves in that kind of bottom up kind of work."
Mann said this work included going behind enemy lines and studying special warfare.
“That’s our expertise: special warfare,” he said. “Since the (World Trade Center) towers fell, I have been heavily immersed in the War on Terror, and my focus was primarily Afghanistan, although I have done significant work against foreign fighters in Iraq and other places.”
Mann retired from the Army a little less than three years ago where he spent the last 10 years on active duty in Afghanistan focusing on a new bottom-up program.
“Even since that time, I’ve been heavily engaged with this," he added.
Originally, when the war started, Mann said the Green Berets were so “emotional and ticked off from the war” that they deployed to the area in order to pursue man hunting and attrition warfare. In other words, they just tried to kill every Taliban and al-Qaeda member on the planet. He also said, as a nation, in a very top-down cold war-esque campaign, the U.S. tried to bring in a Jeffersonian approach to democracy.
“We doled out billions of dollars in development charity,” Mann stated. “We tried to stand up armies that looked like us; and the reality is, in doing all that, we really created an occupation environment that lent itself to more violent extremism, not less.”
Mann added that in places where ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Taliban have established safe havens, they all look similar.
“They are fragile nation states with a weak central government,” he explained. “They’re very tribal and clannish. Eighty percent of that population lives beyond the reach of that weak government, and those populations are tribal; they’re not Jeffersonian democracies. They’re not even affiliated with their government, not even marginally.”
Mann also said these people are usually ostracized, marginalized and preyed upon by their government.
“So when we go in and saddle up a Shia-dominated government in Iraq, and when we saddle up with the government in Kabul (capitol of Afghanistan) and 80 percent of the population distrust that government, we already lost before we even started."
Mann added that when the U.S. tries to project its power from the capitol outward into these outlying areas, it drives the extremists into the population like a “tick in a shaggy dog.”
“Late in the war, we looked around in ‘09 and ‘10, and we Green Berets recognized that there were more powerful Taliban then when we started,” he said. “We stepped back and put in place, and I was fortunate to be among the architects of this program, a strategy that really worked. I saw it all these years, and we called it Village Stability. It was kind of a spinoff of the old movie Magnificent 7, where the main characters help the villagers fight off the bandidos; [it was] very similar to that, and very similar to the Lawrence of Arabia kind of approach of just immersing a small village that was resisting and fighting from the bottom up.”
Mann said this program started in 2010, and included six villages and 75 peasant farmers. In less than a year, that grew to 100 villages and about 15,000 Afghan peasant farmers. Most importantly, he noted that it stabilized areas of the country.
Unfortunately, they started the program too late.
Much like in Vietnam, it got scuttled with all of the other stuff going on in Afghanistan by President Obama’s withdrawal strategy.
“We pulled all of our people out of those villages, and many of those villages were slaughtered,” Mann said.
That strategy was designed, and [experts] were very up front about this, as a long-term persistent presence in these areas, Mann explained. It was a specialized approach that worked effectively in the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador and Columbia.
“It works. It just takes longer,” Mann stated.
Despite the late successes, the generals at the highest level, and the diplomats at the highest level who did not understand this program, or take the time to understand it. They instead saw it as a way to cover the exits because Obama put the pressure on them to withdraw 100,000 troops out of the country.
“We basically flung out these militias who were able to maintain some semblance of rural security while we consolidated and withdrew," Mann stated.
Mann added that the problem with that strategy was that these people are peasant farmers. They’re going to behave in a way that, if there’s no oversight, “you get what you pay for.”
“The program kind of fell in on itself,” he said.
Mann said when he got out of the Army, he realized his son, who had joined the military, was about to fight the same war he should have finished. That prompted him to get involved as a citizen. He wrote a book called The Game Changers, and established a non-profit organization called Mission America, which commits to reconnecting warriors as citizens.
Additionally, after the homegrown terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Mann and other veterans decided to launch the Victory Garden Tour, where they are going around the country and talking to Americans at a grass roots level about the growing danger of ISIS and other Islamic extremists.
“We’re talking about the realities of this 15-year war, [a war that’s] three times longer than World War II and most Americans don’t even know about," Mann explained. “[Therefore], we’re arming the American people with information on how they can vote responsibly regardless of their political affiliation—how they can judge their presidential candidate on the knowledge of this threat. We’re also doing what we call the Contract to Protect America. It’s kind of a take off of the Newt Gingrich Contract with America in the 1994 congressional election. It’s a 10-point contract we’re putting forward to get a million signatures to compel our politicians, on both sides of the aisle, to take this threat seriously in 2016 and end it once and for all."
Overall, Mann said all the candidates are woefully ill prepared for what they’re dealing with.
“On the democratic side, you have the head-in-the-sand this is not a threat; it’s just all overreaction. Or, you have the 'we’ll deal with this threat by using drones and spec ops raids' so we can just deal with it over there and not have a bloody mess on our hand. In reality, in tribal society, it’s where we’re doing these strikes. That’s actually viewed as an apostate way of warfare in Islam. It actually engenders a level of tribal revenge that we don’t even understand. That’s going to visit and pay us back in spades."
On the Republican side, Mann said there’s a “Hey what would you do if you were president? ’Well, I’d bomb the hell out of them.’”
Mann said, “We’ve been bombing the hell out of them for 15 years. We’ve put tens of thousands of these guys out of business, and not only has it not had an effect, it’s had an adverse effect."
Mann said he has fought both under Presidents Bush and Obama, and the major problem includes the advisors to each president. They have been advising since the beginning, and they are all the same senior leaders, generals, and retired generals who didn’t fight this war.
“They don’t know this enemy, and they didn’t know this enemy when they were in uniform,” Mann stated. “The guys and girls who have been fighting this enemy in the trenches are the ones these guys ought to be listening to. Again, with The Game Changers and the Victory Garden, that’s what we’re really after. We’re after political change."
Mann said American people need to demand strategy from these politicians. Otherwise, they’re just going to keep doing the same things until something cataclysmic happens.
That something cataclysmic will be a school attack, Mann said. ISIS wants and needs the U.S. in this fight, not just fighting from the air, but on the ground with infantry and armor. He said they want us emotionally “ticked off” and committed—and dying.
The next wave of attacks, Mann believes, will involve our children via an attack on a school.
“That’s the way to attack us, through our children,” he said. “There is a growing precedence in going after children as a way to socially control adults. I really firmly believe that the next attack we see will be some kind of mass shooting against a school."
Mann said the U.S. is facing a diabolical threat that we haven’t seen since the Nazis. ISIS, in particular, has the will, energized by its end-of-days ideological mindset, and the capacity, which is access and placement here in the U.S. and abroad. What people have to understand, he noted, is that ISIS believes they will usher in this end of days, and they are going to do this in our lifetime.
He noted, “They have full will and capacity to strike us at a community level, which they have said they’re going to do, and showed us in San Bernardino, then at any point in our history.”
A More Local Perspective
Dr. James Phelps, an assistant professor in the Department of Security Studies and Criminal Justice at Angelo State University, and who served in the Navy and has spent years in the Middle East as well as writing and publishing on this topic, said Americans tend to be very unaware of what is happening in the state next door, let alone what is happening on the other side of the world.
He said the media plays a major role in that. Media outlets are only focused on very limited and narrow aspects of what they want Americans to know.
“If it doesn’t fit [their] political or profit agenda, [they] aren’t going to publish it,” Phelps said. “That applies to all forms of media, from newspapers to television to online news outlets. Americans are more interested in what is happening with the “Shamy” on the Big Bang Theory than with mass murder happening across the expanse of Mexico’s northern border, let alone the sociocultural contributors to the Syrian conflict or the rise of ISIS. Wait until China’s navy begins making frequent port visits to Mexico or Canada. When that happens Americans will suddenly realize that U.S. preeminence on the seas is being seriously challenged—but it will be too late to effectively counter.”
Phelps also said world politics is much like world geography. Americans can’t identify most of the states in the Union correctly, let alone their capitols, ports, or major cities.
“What makes you think that Americans can understand world issues if we can’t even identify the major continents, let alone their languages, peoples, religions, economics, or geography?” he asked.
Phelps said ISIS is a threat to the entire world, in particular, western developed countries.
“Drawing us into their conflict in Syria works to their advantage and their interpretation of the Koran,” Phelps added. “The sooner we get directly involved and can be drawn into a major battle on the ground—the sooner they will bring about the apocalypse and a world where the only religion is Islam. But, if we see ISIS as only a threat to Syria and Iraq, we are missing the larger context of the conflict.”
As for the upcoming election, Phelps said the Republican pool will decrease significantly, probably to three candidates, and on the Democrat side, there will be two candidates. This will allow them to discuss their stance on a variety of politically charged issues, including ISIS.
“Where I see a problem is that, as a whole, Americans tend to vote emotionally or based on single issues, not based on what is best for the country,” Phelps said.
Mann, however, said that as citizens, we are still capable of an all-in mindset, and he believes that’s what his brothers died believing. As citizens, we have to get that back. We have to make our political leaders listen.
“I don’t know how we do it, but this is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is an American issue," he emphasized.
Note: In February, the America Victory Garden Tour will come to Houston, and San Angelo LIVE! is working to invite the tour to San Angelo. We will be posting more in days to come. Also, to learn more about Lt. Col. Mann and his discussions on ISIS, visit www.mannupreport.com, www.thegamechangersbook.com and www.victorygardentour.com. Dr. Phelps book What Happened to the Iraqi Police?: Applying Lessons in Police Democratization Successes in West Germany and Japan can be found here.