Countering Ideological Support for Terrorism

Briefly, countering ideological support for terrorism (CIST) is a catch-phrase that predates Dr. Michael Doran’s appointment as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy, as he admits, but he has readily adopted it and is, as far as I can tell, the only person still promoting it "publicly". I put that in quotes because you rarely see his name in print, even if you’re paying attention. However, it’s worthwhile to read what he says, not just because he’s helping to set policy but because he’s got the right ideas. ran an interview last week with Mike. It’s short and worthwhile read.

The GovExec interview was an overview, but this foreign press briefing with Mike a month ago give the details. Time limits any depth, so here is an excerpt:

…I want to put the focus, actually, on al-Qaida itself. Because I think when you look at it closely, you see that the major reason for the successes against al-Qaida are to be found in the nature of al-Qaida’s ideology itself. The ideology contains the seeds of its own destruction and I think that’s true for four major reasons.

The first is that al-Qaida’s global ideology makes it very unresponsive to the local needs of the population in Iraq and anywhere else where we find people adhering to the ideology. The second reason is that it advocates the killing of fellow Sunni Muslims. And the third reason is that it advocates the killing of innocent civilians of all kinds. And the fourth reason is that the teachings of al-Qaida that justify the indiscriminate killing of innocents flies in the face of about a thousand years of traditional Islamic teaching.

Now this was a foreign press briefing. I’ll highlight some of the questions and then I want you to think whether you could imagine an American journalist asking the same question.

Mounzer Sleiman with Lebanon’s Al-Mustaqbal Al-Arabi. The success that you’re mentioning in Iraq, you associated it with the surge, while there was more — it is about local solution than being associated with military operations. That would lead to the narrative that has been used by the administration about waging this ideological warfare, the long war. And I think it needs to be examined if the solution to this is not military. But it’s based on the local intervention, even with the absence of governments. But this danger, if even when government exists, it’s better to be left to the government to deal with it, to the local to deal with it. How about — do you think it’s serving the purpose of throwing words like Islamo-facism and other terms associating with Islam when dealing with ideological warfare against al-Qaida and other extremists?


Hi, my name is Arshad Mahmud and I represent the daily Prothom Alo of Bangladesh. Your title says that you are the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy and I expected you to focus more on how public diplomacy can help the problems related to al-Qaida and other extremist groups. And I agree with this gentleman that you attached more importance to the success of the surge in undercutting al-Qaida.

Do you personally feel — and I also see that you are from the academia, you were a professor at Princeton. Do you sincerely believe that the military might can actually defeat these problems? Because worldwide, the American foreign policy is perceived to be lopsided: It helps the people like Israel, the Government of Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians; and also, it supports the repressive regimes in the Middle East. And that’s how all these al-Qaida and other groups have come up. And if you even — I take for argument’s sake that if you defeat them, there will be another group that will be launched from somewhere else because they are fed up with these kind of policies. And how you do deal with this as a person from public diplomacy? Thank you.

This last question is very good and one that should have been addressed by Karen Hughes and will hopefully be better answered and synchronized with actions under James Glassman.

For Mike’s answers and other questions, read the transcript (PDF).