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Review of “Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War” by Dr. Sevastian Gorka


Some authors are self-important and overly wordy. Their books or articles could make a point succinctly, but instead spend far too long delving into minutiae that do little to advance the point being made. Books about foreign policy, in particular, tend to be like that.

The Great War for Civilization is an excellent example; it’s a good book, but overly long. Exercise of Power is another; full of useful information, but also overly long and written by a self-important author (Robert Gates).

Fortunately, some authors buck that trend. Dr. Sebastion Gorka, in his 2016 book, Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War succinctly explains the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism, how that threat is similar and dissimilar to the threat we faced during the Cold War, and how radical Islamic terrorism could be defeated.

It’s a book that synthesizes a heavy dose of history, a dash of personal experience, and a few succinct but well thought out policy recommendations into a useful handbook on why the jihadists are waging their war on the West, how they are doing so, the level of threat that they pose, and how that threat could be crushed. For anyone interested in American foreign policy, specifically foreign policy in the Middle East, it’s a must read.

In this review of Defeating Jihad, I will give a brief summary of the book and an analysis of the points Dr. Gorka makes and how he makes them.

Summary of Defeating Jihad by Dr. Sebastian Gorka

Jihadism’s Similarity to Communism

Defeating Jihad is a book rooted in both an understanding of Cold War history and the threat posed by jihadism. In Gorka’s view, both are totalitarian ideologies that either posed or pose significant, perhaps existential, threats to the United States and its interests.

Although there are differences, especially in terms of whether the proponents of said ideology are willing to die for what they believe, Gorka presents the two threats as being similar, and thus deserving of similar treatment.

To advance that view, he presents Defeating Jihad as a combination of two famous Cold War documents- the Kennan Long Telegram and NSC 68.

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For those that don’t know, Kennan’s telegram was a document sent from our ambassador in the Soviet Union (Kennan) that was published in Foreign Affairs magazine, in which Kennan expounded on the ideology of the Soviet Union and the threat posed by it. In the telegram, Kennan also advocated for a policy of “containment,” a strategy that the US largely adopted during the Cold War. That telegram, along with Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, is largely considered the beginning of the Cold War.

NSC 68 is the document that lays out the strategy of the US in the Cold War. It analyzed the capabilities of both the USA and USSR from almost every perspective and advocated for dramatic peacetime military spending meant to deter the Soviet Union from starting a full-scale war and to make the rollback of the Soviet Union a real possibility. The document also referenced US values and advocated making the defense of those values and our unique national character.

Part II of Defeating Jihad: The History of Jihad and How It Became a Global Call to Violence

After introducing those documents and how they shaped US Cold War strategy, Gorka spends the next section of Defeating Jihad explaining the history of jihad and the modern threat posed by it. This section is the “Kennan Telegram” part of Defeating Jihad, in which he gives a deep but succinct analysis of the ideology behind Islamic terrorism and the threat posed by it.

In his view, jihad has taken seven different historical forms. They are, in chronological order:

  1. Empire Building
  2. The Suppression of Apostates
  3. Revolutions against False Muslim Leaders
  4. The Anticolonial Struggle and the “Purification” of the [Islamic] Religion
  5. Countering Wester Influence and Jahiliyyah, or Pagan Ignorance of Allah
  6. Guerilla Warfare against Infidel Invaders
  7. The Direct Targeting of Civilians in Terrorist Attacks

Those different forms evolved depending on the situation. When Mohammed was alive, building the Islamic Empire was the goal. That largely ended in 1453, when the Ottomans seized Constantinople. Although they fought more wars of expansion afterward, their expansion gradually ground to a halt as Christendom united against the Ottoman threat. Then, Muslims struggled for centuries to install “true believers” as leaders. Afterward, with the end of the Great War and the resulting colonial takeover of the Middle East, jihad became a tool to fight against the French and British Empires. That fight transitioned to one against the Soviets when they invaded and finally morphed into one against US forces and their allies.

Two elements of that narrative about the history of jihad are crucial.

The first, which Gorka takes pains to draw attention to in Defeating Jihad, is that jihad has never meant an inner struggle to be better. Many apologists for Islam claim that jihad is not meant to be violent, but is rather a way of struggling against sin to be a better Muslim. The history of Islamic theology and calls to jihad show that to be patently false; Islam means submission, not peace, and jihad is about violence against non-believers, a view that the Koran itself confirms.

The second important element is that it shows the totalitarian, expansionist nature of Islam. From its beginning, the religion has been one of violent conquest and internal purges, which makes it quite similar to communism in that regard. That expansionist, totalitarian ideology is what makes it dangerous to the West.

How Radical Islamic Terrorism Can Be Defeated

Gorka then, after describing the thinkers and theologians behind the modern interpretation of jihad, gives his view on how radical Islamic terrorism could be defeated.

To him, our view of Islamic terrorism must be shaped by NSC 68. In that document, our military leaders outlined the nature of both the US and the USSR. Terms were discussed in an intellectually honest manner and the threat was described realistically, not behind a barrier of PC language.

Dr. Gorka’s position in Defeating Jihad is that the US must address the Islamic terrorism threat through the same lens. We need to call our fight against it a war on radical Islamic terrorism, not a “Global War on Terror.” The fight is neither global nor against all terrorism, so that name is misleading and intellectually dishonest. We don’t care about the IRA or Basque separatists, war has not been declared; we are instead fighting a police action against Islamic terrorists in the West, North Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Being specific and defining the actual fight we are in is important.

Gorka then ends Defeating Jihad with a brief outline of the strategy the US should adopt to fight that undeclared war. In his view, we should throw out colonialism-influenced “counter-insurgency” campaigns and instead fight in a way that leverages US strengths and our national character. In other words, we should throw out the way of fighting that General Petraeus popularized and should instead use intelligence services, allies, military aid, psychological warfare, and special forces to create international forces composed primarily of local (Afghani, Iraqi, Kurdish) forces that can be supported by the US military to destroy terrorist groups like ISIS and weaken the support those groups have both at home and abroad.

That strategy would make the US the military and financial backbone, but would rely on partner forces to do most of the fighting and would avoid placing the US in any neo-colonialist situations that would go against our national character.

As Gorka says in Defeating Jihad, America should rely on partner forces like this Afghani soldier.
As Gorka says in Defeating Jihad, America should rely on partner forces like this Afghani soldier.

My Take on Defeating Jihad by Sebastian Gorka

I found Defeating Jihad interesting, even if I didn’t agree with all of it.

On one hand, I found it much more convincing that Colossus by Niall Ferguson in terms of how it proposed handling the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism. The US is not and should not become a colonial or imperial power. Our national character does not allow it.

For that reason, I heartily agreed with his view on how to approach Islamic terrorism from a military standpoint. Partner forces should do most of the fighting, not the US. The reason we are tired of fighting the battles described in Hunting in the Shadows is that Americans are not used to or accepting of the sort of COIN war McChrystal describes in My Share of the Task. Army troopers and Marine grunts should not be patrolling Ramadi or Helmand Province; partner forces should be defending their own territory.

Additionally, I think his assertion that the US needs to be intellectually honest about the battle we are fighting is the correct view. We have been unable to defeat Islamic terrorism because we are playing whack-a-mole with terrorist leaders rather than working to convince non-combatants with psyops to not join or support the other side and then using overwhelming force to crush our enemies. If we were to do so, we would likely be in a better strategic situation.

Viewed through the lens of Vietnam, past experience holds that to be true. The Phoenix Program, which used psyops, special forces, and partner forces, as is described in Blackjack-33 and Stalking the Vietcong, was much better able to defeat the VC than conventional US forces were. It was better suited to both the task and our national character and there is no reason to believe the same holds true for the fight against radical Islamic terrorism that is described in Defeating Jihad.

And that leads into my criticism of Defeating Jihad, which is that I don’t think Gorka viewed the problem through a wide-enough lens.

For one, despite framing it as a fight not dissimilar to the one faced in the Cold War, he doesn’t relate it to any Cold War fights. Vietnam and the lessons learned from it are not described, nor are the “dirty war” battles in Central America.

Additionally, I took issue with Gorka’s assertion in Defeating Jihad that radical Islamic terrorism is the only existential threat to the US. Yes, it is probably an existential fight. Were we to ignore ISIS or its ilk, we would face a steady stream of attacks on both our homeland and interests abroad. Jihadism is an expansionist ideology with a totalitarian outlook, after all. Neither dissent nor resistance is allowed under it.

However, we face other existential threats, namely the threat posed by the Chinese Dragon. China has bought off many politicians, is ripping off our companies, is evil, and is diametrically opposed to US interests. We are facing a new Cold War with it and I disagreed with how Gorka dismissed it as merely being a “cyber competitor.”

Overall, however, Defeating Jihad is worth reading. In terms of a historical work, it is partly useful. In that respect, its succinct nature is both its greatest asset and a weakness; it is a terrific book about the specific historical threat posed by jihadism, but is not particularly useful as a work on what specific tactics and strategies have worked in the past.

But in terms of a wake-up call about the jihadist threat, Defeating Jihad is excellent. Gorka arrays a bevy of evidence that shows why radical Islamic terrorism, especially in the form of the ISIS caliphate, is an existential threat to the US and must be treated as such. For that alone, it is worth reading.


Although I disagreed with some aspects of Defeating Jihad, those were mainly related to what Gorka left out than what he included. Other than a brief mention of China that I thought was incorrect, the information presented within it is excellent. Perhaps an expanded version could rectify those problematic exclusions of information.

However, Defeating Jihad is not a book that should be ignored because of its issues. It, in a better way than any book I have yet read, describes why radical Islamic terrorism is a threat and how we could defeat it. If that is a subject you are interested in, then it is a book you should read.

By: Gen Z Conservative