It takes more than decapitation strikes to defeat a network

Niall Ferguson:
It takes a network to defeat a network

The president is so proud of his achievement in authorizing the assassination of Osama bin Laden that he thinks he can decapitate ISIS by the same means. But the point about a network is that you cannot easily decapitate it. It is not a hierarchical structure, with an all-powerful leader at the top.
Think of ISIS as the Facebook of Islamic extremism. When it started out in 2004, Facebook was just a bunch of nerdy Harvard undergraduates. Today it has more than 1.5 billion users. When ISIS started out in 2006, it was just a bunch of Iraqi jihadists. Today, according to data from the Pew Research Center, ISIS has a minimum of 63 million supporters — and that is based on opinion polls in just 11 countries.

Only a very small minority of members of the ISIS network need to carry out acts of violence to kill a very large number of people indeed. Naively, the US government talks about “countering violent extremism.” But what makes the network so deadly is precisely the non-violent extremism of the majority of its members. Some preach jihad: they are the hubs around which clusters of support form. Some tweet jihad, with each tweet acting as a link to multiple others nodes. Non-violently, the network grows.
To destroy the network will require greater resources than governments have been willing to commit to date.   Just as counterinsurgency requires a large force to space ratio to protect the people and cut off the movement to contact of the enemy, dealing with the network of the jihadis is going to take the serious work that Ted Cruz outlined in his proposal for dealing with Islamic terrorism.  So far much of the liberal establishment seems blind to what is necessary to deal with the threat.


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