WILLIAM McCANTS, program manager for Department of Defense’s Minerva Initiative, delivered a talk entitled “U.S. Power in Jihadi Strategic Thought” on Nov. 4 at NYU Wagner, explaining how the Internet provides a window on the beliefs and suppositions of major jihadi thinkers.
McCants said that terrorists think deeply about the uses for violence in the pursuit of their objectives. Analysts such as McCants seek insights into the thoughts, beliefs and motivations of jihadis by examining information that jihadis post online to inspire their fellows and exchange ideas.
Among three jihadi thinkers cited by McCants, he finds commonalities. Each believes that the United States has a finite amount of money it can spend on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially given the recent U.S. economic downturn. This limitation, they believe, constrains America’s ability to address other countries where terror threats exist. They believe that the U.S. military is spread too thin and that public opinion will not abide years-long wars.
These jihadists also identify the media as a primary avenue by which the U.S. projects its power internationally.
While McCants stressed that footsoldiers in the jihadi movement rarely think strategically, the information gleaned from the postings of jihadi thinkers is invaluable, in that it helps the U.S. gain a better understanding of jihadi motivations and it can assist in the development of counter-terrorism programs.