America has long needed either a new law or new program for 21st century warfare: either non-military US officials must be barred from giving their military opinion, or their freedom to express opinions should be conditional on undergoing specialized military theory and training.
Today this need is especially apparent.
“In the event of any foreign party insisting on hostilities against, an assault on, or military or security intervention in Yemen, then Islam requires all its followers to pursue jihad,” the Yemeni Clerics Association announced in a statement signed by 150 clerics.
While it’s unclear whether the clerics directly responded to Senator Carl Levin’s remarks that “almost all options are on the table,” the probability is high. The process behind the statement was certainly in motion before Levin’s overt militarism, but like a missile already built, now was the time to fire.
Actions like Levin’s are, in no understatement, one of the US military’s most glaring weaknesses.
The age of full-spectrum warfare is in full effect. This definition doesn’t apply to land, sea, and air, but the merging of traditional and non-traditional battlefields. Levin launched an attack on the information battlefield, and Yemeni clerics retaliated in kind. This is information warfare.
The difference between their two attacks is substantial though. Simply put, a more educated person in counterinsurgency wouldn’t have made Levin’s statement. His information attack was loaded purely with militarism and, since his opinion is already in operation, it missed the target anyway. Drones are already bombing the country and US and UK Special-Ops teams are close behind (or in front of) Yemeni forces.
In contrast, the clerics utilized a mixture of military and social explosives for a more devastating attack. Levin provided the perfect opportunity to capitalize on anti-Western sentiment, allowing them to hit back on a number of levels.
First they know Western forces are already in the country; their preparing the ground, spreading awareness, stirring up hype. Their effectiveness would likely be diminished without Levin’s remarks, but instead have been certified. Most Yemenis are unlikely to favor jihad, but mobilizing is easier with Yemen’s main religious body out in front.
Full-spectrum counterinsurgency would have tried to prevent this outcome at all cost, not speed up the process.
The second and more integral component in the cleric’s attack is the social aspect. While Levin is merely fighting military with military, the clerics are mixing military means (jihad) with political and social elements. We’re assuming that Levin would target and kill any “terrorist” or al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, including Sheikh Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, the former spiritual adviser to Osama bin Laden deemed a “specially-designated global terrorist” by America.
al-Zindani is also the head of the Yemeni Clerics Association, founder of Iman University in Saan’a, and leading member of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, Yemen’s main opposition party, who won 22% of the vote in Yemen’s 2003 legislative elections.
So popular is he that Yemen’s government denies he’s a terrorist or that he’s done anything wrong. What a great man for America to automatically target.
Now because of the brilliant (redundant) advice that America use almost any military means available in Yemen, Sheikh al-Zindani is Carl Levin’s new enemy. One sentence in the media - about 10 words - can wreck havoc on America’s ability to wage war, specifically counterinsurgency where impressions are critical.
And what did America gain by Levin’s remarks? Absolutely nothing.
So again one of two courses is necessary: either US officials like Senator Levin don’t open their mouths, or they know what to say when they do. Otherwise America will keep finding its military capabilities damaged by random acts of information warfare.