The missing factor in the war on terror

Despite the fact that death is not a deterrent for Islamic radicals, there are certain deterrents that can bring them to their knees and end or significantly diminish their barbarism.

Islamic State Tank (photo credit: REUTERS)
Islamic State Tank
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The recent burning of the Jordanian pilot is further evidence that Western measures to counter radical Islam since 9/11 have failed spectacularly. The US and other free countries have spent trillions of dollars in the so-called “War on Terror” – a futile attempt thus far to end or at least contain Islamic terrorism. Our “strategy” (and I use the term very loosely indeed), which has relied predominantly on kinetic military confrontations, simply isn’t working. The Western response to the problem has neither prevented the Taliban from regaining significant power in Afghanistan nor has it prevented ISIS from conducting barbaric terror acts in different parts of the world. The beheading of the Japanese journalists, the recent killing of Charlie Hebdo journalists in downtown Paris, and too many other outrages are a continual reminder of our extraordinary ineffectiveness. 
History teaches us that wars ONLY end when one side of the combatant groups is forced to surrender. History also teaches us that to force surrender generally requires a powerful deterrent. For example, WWII continued for years before the Allies forced first the Nazis and then the emperor of Japan to capitulate. The deterrent in each case was the unambiguous threat that failure to submit would result inexorably in the utter erasure of the defeated nation from the face of the earth. Similarly, during the Cold War, the deterrent – known as the MAD Doctrine (Mutually Assured Destruction) – sufficed to prevent both the US and the Russians from using nuclear weapons. Both sides wanted to live.
Our failure in fighting Radical Islamists so far is fundamentally due to our failure to create a sufficient deterrent (or negative reinforcement tactic) that will sway the Islamic radicals from practicing their barbarism and from conducting future attacks.
Unlike the emperor of Japan and the Nazi leadership in WWII and unlike the Americans and Russians during the Cold War, Islamic radicals want to die! Death for Allah is their ultimate goal. In other words, threatening to kill them too often works as a positive rather than negative reinforcement factor.
The recent declaration that Jordan will execute failed suicide bomber Sajida Al-Rishawi “within hours,” as revenge for the ISIS killing of hostage pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh is important but is not a sufficient deterrent. She had intended to die a martyr. She failed. And now Jordan is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by handing her a triumphal martyrdom. In the view of Islamic radicals she will inherit paradise forever. We really need to rethink our approach.
The situation for the Islamic radicals is a Win-Win-Win. If they are killed they will be martyrs who will live in paradise with the prophet Muhammad (as they strongly believe); if they achieve earthly victory they will be able to impose their barbaric ideology on the rest of us; and if they are caught by the Infidels (the non-Muslim world, esp. the West) they will be treated humanely and will find human rights activists defending their rights. 
Denouncing the attacks, demonstrating against terrorism, refusing to call radical Islam by its name, and making statements like “We will bring them to justice” just make the radicals topple over with laughter. Similarly, the US president’s recent statement (during his comments on the burning of the Jordanian soldier) that the US will redouble the vigilance and determination to defeat ISIS has zero impact on the Islamists, who are well aware that redoubling the Wrong Approach will not suddenly bring results.  
The use of military power is certainly needed; however, the lack of an effective deterrent guarantees the failure of such a one-dimensional approach.
The sad reality is that the Western responses to the problem (which have relied largely on incorrect assumptions, unrealistic perceptions and vain imaginations) have served in many situations as positive reinforcement for Islamic terrorism over the last ten years. Some of the responses which have been a great boon to Islamic radicals include – but are not limited to – the US delay in giving the Egyptian army the Apache helicopters needed to fight the radicals in the Sinai Peninsula. Many of the leaders of ISIS got their training in Sinai before travelling to wreak havoc in Iraq and Syria. Additionally, attempts in certain US circles to punish the CIA officials who conducted waterboarding to gain information from the terrorists has only encouraged Islamic radicals to continue their war against our civilization.
Despite the fact that death is not a deterrent for Islamic radicals, there are certain deterrents that can bring them to their knees and end or significantly diminish their barbarism.
Such deterrents need to form the basis of an effective psychological operation (PSYOP) strategy to utterly defeat the Islamic radicals. This war needs to end. The fact that these deterrents have not been used is likely due to ignorance that they even exist. Western “experts” on Islamic terrorism can only recommend solutions that they themselves can understand. Unfortunately, these “experts” seem to have very little insight into the minds of the Islamic radicals, and even less understanding of how the radical mindset can be undermined, manipulated and controlled. 
A proper PSYOP strategy with correct tactical implementation would not only deter the terrorists from conducting more atrocities, but would also significantly diminish the attraction of radicalism in the minds of young Muslims. We have both the technology and the capability to engage in highly effective PSYOPs. But our inability (or maybe unwillingness) to use really effective content is giving the radicals the upper hand in this war.
Reformation and education are vital components for a long term solution to the problem of Islamic Radicalism. These components, however, will have minimal effect on those who are already radicalized. The only thing that can affect (and defeat) those who are already radicalized or those who are flirting with radicalism is the use of a truly powerful deterrent. Such deterrents do exist, but they are far beyond the imagination of Western minds.
The writer is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and a one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of the terrorist organization JI with Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later became the second-in-command of al-Qaida. He is currently a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.