The Global War on Terror: Mistaking Ideology as the Center of Gravity

  • July 15, 2005
  • LTC Cheryl L Smart

The Cold War was portrayed as an epic clash of two ideologies – Western Democracy versus Communism. Section IV of the defining cold war document, National Security Council 68 (NSC 68), was entitled "The Underlying Conflict in the Realm of Ideas and Values between the U.S. Purpose and the Kremlin Design," and it argued that the basic conflict was between ideas – "the idea of freedom under a government of laws, and the idea of slavery under the grim oligarchy of the Kremlin."1 The adversary resided in the Soviet Union and violence in other regions in the world – including terrorist violence – was exported from or used by this center of Communism. Today, the war of ideas is Western Democracy versus Salafi Islam. Al Qaeda is the main enemy, with our main effort targeted to a particular geographic region – the Middle East, where undemocratic, repressive regimes represent the center of the opposing ideology. This is oversimplified, but there is some merit in such a mental picture.