As more than 60 nations gather to discuss the threats of violent extremists, the Defense Department is taking a backseat.
While a handful military personnel and DoD officials are attending the White House summit on countering violent extremism, these officials are "not actively participating," according to a defense official.
The official said that while DoD has played an important role in battling extremists as shown by actions in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and around the world, the department's main role is on the front lines where "extremism becomes terrorism."
The summit, being held in Washington, D.C., is more about planning, the official said: "Kind of a 'how do we combat extremism around the world, and how do we get to these people before they become terrorists?' "
The summit underscores the idea that the correct approach to extremist organizations must be broader than just military tactics. But the "soft power approach" — to counter the ideology without a direct kinetic movement — has officials and the media speculating about whether the long-awaited summit is just for show.
The talks, which conclude Thursday, should provide an opportunity for service members — who have been fighting terrorism for more than a decade — to weigh in on how the U.S. should confront extremism.
"The military has a big role to play in countering violent extremism that goes far beyond hard power," said retired Adm. James Stavridis, NATO's former Supreme Allied Commander-Europe.
Stavridis, dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, told Military Times in an email that the military brings knowledge and "huge resources in logistics, training, medical, and transportation that can be harnessed in everything from disaster relief to building schools, from digging wells to constructing clinics."
Other experts agree. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says that the White House is correct that there is no sole military solution to violent extremism — but there's also no solution without a military component, either.
"Having a military perspective is quite important in this set of discussions if you want to discuss a broad-based and comprehensive solution, which is what [the summit] seems designed to do," Gartenstein-Ross told Military Times.
Yet there's still value in having service members, foreign dignitaries and educators in the same room, he said. "This is much more about having a meeting and getting people talking — the purpose is the meeting itself, and the discussions and the connections that will be established and sustained by something like this."
Aside from establishing relationships, Gartenstein-Ross expressed skepticism that any innovative policy will emerge from these talks.
The wide range of topics under discussion — from the attacks in Paris to the murder of three Muslim students near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — is tough to approach and narrow down answers, Gartenstein-Ross said.
The examples of explosive growth in jihadism over the last four years do not mean the summit will develop targeted solutions.
"I'm not sure if you were to ask the people organizing this summit, 'Why has this happened,' I'm not sure you'd get a satisfactory answer and if you can't answer the question, how do you develop a framework for addressing it?" Gartenstein-Ross said.
That doesn't mean pinpointing one group or event will counter radicalization, either. In a recent remarks submitted to the House Armed Services Committee, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, called out the White House for not doing enough to combat the Islamic State.
"We are at war with violent and extreme Islamists (both Sunni and Shiite) and we must accept and face this reality," Flynn said in remarks obtained by The Daily Beast. "We must engage the violent Islamists wherever they are, drive them from their safe havens and kill them," he said. "There can be no quarter and no accommodation."
The White House rejected Flynn's remarks.
While acknowledging the long-term nature of the search for effective counters to violent extremism, Stavridis said the military's capabilities "are significant and should be on the table both for soft power and for hard power."
"The two together are 'smart power,' which is truly the coin of the realm."