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The Generational War 2.0

Americans, by their nature, are a driven, impatient people. We are people who accomplish things and then move on.

In May 2013, President Obama gave a speech at our National Defense University that fed into that narrative by declaring the war on Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorism essentially over. We had defeated them on the ground. We had killed or were killing their leadership on a continuous basis. Time to head home from Iraq and Afghanistan. We’d done our job. And a war weary and impatient people welcomed the news. Sadly, the guys wanting to fight us did not get the word.

ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is the new generation of aggressor in what is a long-standing and deep-seated conflict with Western modernism and Islamic “apostasy.” They believe in the Caliphate of Islam dominating the world. They have followed the pattern of their ancestors by quickly and violently taking over swaths of territories. ISIS are also adept at using modern technology on the Internet to recruit from around the world. They think Al Qaeda is too old and too soft. They are the Generational War 2.0. And ISIS, leading the way in the 2.0 fights, is going nowhere and is willing to engage worldwide and on our soil.

So last night, America engaged in quintessential nation state war behavior, we hit their “sites” in Iraq and Syria with cruise missiles and jet bombing rates. Leaders were no doubt killed. And soon ISIS will find what AQ did – you can’t beat the Americans and whatever coalition they gather on the ground. But, that’s not going to be the only field of battle.

Make no mistake; ISIS is coming to Europe and the U.S. Like AQ in the 1990’s, they have recruits from both places fighting on the battlefield. And like AQ, they are perfectly willing to turn them around to inflict damage overseas. This time, however, they have learned the lessons of the past. There will be no 9/11’s, however. No mass efforts to hijack planes and kill on a mass level. Their lesson is Boston, London and India. Small, pinpoint raids killing people on subways and in public spaces. All connected by the Internet with locally based fighters trained overseas and returning to nations who cannot possibly keep track of all of them. And recruiting the willing among those 20 years olds – men and women — in the U.S. and Western Europe who believe in radical Islam or want the thrill of joining a cause.

So, what do we do about this Generation 2.0 of Islamic terrorism? First, we are going to have to understand the war is not over. This is a war of a generation, maybe 50 years or more. And maybe the term war needs to be changed. This is not war, this is about low intensity conflict – a fancy military term for the reality of never-ending, small-scale conflict.

Second, American politicians must explain to its citizens that this is the case. We are a resilient people. Despite the complaints about surveillance and Snowden leaks, what were once extraordinary levels are going to be permanent. We are going to have to counter the narrative of ISIS. The world is not better off with them. Anyone of another religion and women are considered a threat. The West represents hope, not oppression.

Generation 2.0 will be cleverer and run “deeper” on the net than AQ ever did. They will and are countering our narrative. Our intelligence and policy work will need to be more “granular” than ever before; more assertive than ever before.

As the baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “it ain’t over til it’s over.” And sadly, as this new Generation 2.0 of ISIS clearly indicates, the fight is not over nor will it be for many years to come.

Ronald Marks is an HSPI Senior Fellow. His full biography is here.