- When terrorists flew our airplanes into our World Trade
Center and our Pentagon on September 11, 2001, they both unnerved us and
confused us. Even with earlier warnings such as the first attempt on the
World Trade Center, we did not really expect this kind of violence on our
soil. Thus we were much relieved when the Bush Administration moved quickly
and, it seemed, decisively to pursue the perpetrators and win the war against
terrorism. The popularity of that response is still largely with us, but
a growing number of questions arise about the utility of our efforts. More
than that, there are major questions about the appropriateness and the
completeness of our national approach. It is not at all clear at this time
what actions the Administration might take to win this war, but there are
several indicators of what it is doing to lose the war. A partial but
growing list of potential war-losing gambits follows:
- Go on calling it a war. Terrorist attacks in general
are a vivid reminder that on-going political, social, economic, and religious
disputes between groups in numerous societies remain unresolved. Terrorism
is among the leading indicators that a number of nation states, some say
40 or more, are failing or have failed. The age and experience of many
of the groups tells us how enduring and intractable the issues are. That
also tells us that leadership and mainstream elements of the troubled societies
have been unsuccessful, unresponsive, unsympathetic, even uninterested
or repressive in dealing with the complaints of their out groups. The war
on terrorism really addresses only the members of those groups who are
angry enough to do violence. There should be no doubt, however, that killing
those members will give rise to the next generation of terrorists. War
alone, therefore, is a losing strategy, even though it may be immediately
satisfying to war fighters. Coping with the present generation of terrorists
is only the beginning.
- Don'tthink about the terrorist constituencies as people.
As vividly demonstrated in the Palestine case for the past several months,
virtually no attention is paid in US policy to the reasons why a 17-year-old
girl becomes a suicide bomber. But the extremity of those circumstances
must be appreciated, and the Israeli actions that provoke the suicide response
must be recognized for what they are. In varying degrees, those provocations
exist in virtually all of the failed and failing states, as well as in
many others today. The failures of leadership and communities to respond
keep the groups alive, lend them added cohesiveness, and promote sympathy
within their communities for violence. Even though few of the problems
are easily solved, a demonstrated willingness on our part to try, and the
application of some resources would go a long way. Our willingness would
not only defuse local situations, it would also improve the image of the
United States. Under present policy, we are doing virtually nothing on
- Ignore human rights. A central issue in the failed and
failing states, as well as others where out groups are restless, is the
failure of leadership and mainstream groups to protect human rights, or
even to recognize the rights of minority groups. In the Philippines, for
example, where the US is aiding the campaign against the Muslim Abu Sayyaf
Group, mainstream Philippine society has excluded the Muslims (Moros) for
generations. The problem in failed and failing states generally is a version
of such exclusion, unwillingness to accommodate, lack of opportunity to
participate, and the growing frustration and anger of those on the receiving
end. It is inconsistent with our values for the United States to ignore
all of these violations of human rights. The result is that in those states
generally we are seen to be allied with national leaders, and for most
if not all of the world s dissident groups we look like the enemy.
- Continue to cede the moral high ground to the Israelis.
Smart people pretty much anywhere can see that the Israelis are under
considerable pressure, but they can also see that much of their problem
with the Palestinians is self made. There is no way other large and well-armed
military organization could deal with basically unarmed refugees in the
manner of the Israelis without inviting virtually total world condemnation.
For US leaders to fail to recognize that and back away from uncritical
support for Israeli leadership and its misdeeds amounts to US sponsorship
of state terrorism. This is not about anti-Semitism. It s about not condoning
unrestrained arrogance and stupidity.
- Suspend due process at home. The whole argument about
what to do with captured terrorists and their sponsors has gotten entirely
out of hand. For years the FBI has taken the position that all crimes likely
ever to be committed by terrorists are covered by Title 18 of the United
States Code. Therefore, we needed no other legal framework for dealing
with terrorist crimes. It was also recognized generally in the counter-terrorism
community that dealing with terrorism as anything other than crime raised
wholly unwanted questions about the status of terrorist groups and their
movements. Recognizing the terrorists as insurgents was thought to convey
an order of legitimacy and thus should rarely be done. The notion that
we need to deal with terrorists now as some gray- scale version of military
combatants is a backward step. Without intending to, it says that Al Qaida
is an insurgency with at least quasi-political credentials. That notion
in turn moves at least some of our officials and members of Congress away
from a proper focus on the rights of the accused.
- Ignore the groups and causes that were here before Osama
Bin Laden. The State Department s Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001, the
congressionally mandated annual report, covers terrorism activities in
at least 75 named countries. The great majority of these groups are not
Islamic, their causes tend to be local or regional to the country or countries
in which they operate, many are ethnic groups, and the policies and practices
of the failed and failing states keep most of them alive. If we really
were conducting a war against terrorism, we would recognize, as did Clausewitz,
that war is diplomacy by other means. Thus we would make it a central tenet
of American policy to work with all nations that have out groups to deal
with the grievances of those groups at the same time that those governments
attempt to deal with the active terrorist elements. For example, we knew
for decades that the Moro problem in the Philippines was a festering sore,
but we neither did anything about it nor urged Philippine leadership to
do so until recently. Only one result of that neglect is the Abu Sayyaf
Group we are now helping the Philippines to curb.
- Insist on unreal processes of political change. Recent
US publicized policy is that the Palestinians should reform a government
the Israelis have virtually destroyed, get rid of the leaders they selected
by free and fair election, create a democracy, and behave like a well-run
state before we will permit them even to begin. In the annals of diplomacy
this may not be without precedent, but it is novel. More than that, however,
it plays to the obvious desire of the Israelis to keep the Palestinians
from effectively organizing to run a state as long as possible. That leaves
the door open for more settlements, each of which results in the destruction
of Palestinian homes and the displacement of more Palestinians. Those outcomes
in turn raise the anger and frustration of the Palestinians, the terrorist
elements recruit more suicide bombers that being one of the more effective
tools available to a militarily unarmed society and the cycle of violence-provocation-violence
- Ignore Israeli excesses. If our leadership is doing
anything at all to rein in the Israeli military and intelligence assault
on the Palestinians, it is certainly not visible or obvious. Even though
it is obvious that the Israelis have conducted a deliberate campaign of
assassinations against Palestinians all alleged to be terrorists---and
Israeli military moves in Jenin and most other towns have been deliberately
destructive of business and infrastructure, the view from Washington appears
to be that the Israelis can do no wrong. Aside from getting our country
labeled as a sponsor of Israeli terrorism, the lack of even-handedness
on our part is a significant barrier to any dialogue about peace. The Palestinians
are disgusted by our lack of fairness, and the Israeli leadership not all
Israelis by any means---is delighted by our lack of interference. There
is little if any diplomatic mileage in this posture for us.
- Live on the defensive. One of the great military adages
is that the best defense is a good offense. As suggested above, we do not
have a good offense because it is too narrowly focused on one enemy, and
it is not sufficiently attentive, on its face at least, to the rest of
a broad terrorist risk environment. That environment threatens our people
mostly abroad. Thus, zeroing in on a fortress America strategy doesn'tsolve
a lot of our problem, while at the same time expensive and intensive measures
at home are likely to be overkill. The largest cost of a defensive outlook,
however, is that it causes us not to look attentively at all the places
in the world where terrorists are being spawned by patterns of repression,
neglect or inattention. Our whole program, not alone our diplomatic efforts,
should focus on this global set of problems.
- Pursue only a reactive policy. Our whole national terrorism
policy is narrowly reactive. That policy, in a nutshell, consists of four
(1) Don't make any concessions to terrorists.
(2) Catch, confine and/or kill them if possible.
(3) Work with and help the governments that help you do those things.
(4) Variously punish the governments that do not help.
This largely confines our counter-terrorism endeavor to confronting the
current generation of terrorists. The focus is on here now. There is
no long run. All the nasty processes of repression, neglect and exclusion
of out groups go on unimpeded in the failed and failing states and elsewhere.
The net effect of this policy will be perpetual conflict. Each year the
terrorism generator we have ignored will deliver us the next batch of people
angry enough to kill. We are growing future wars with this.
- Exaggerate terrorism as a threat to humanity. There
are numerous man-made happenings on our planet that cause more annual harm
than terrorism. World hunger, bad hospital care decisions, drunk driving,
teenage suicide, smoking, highway accidents, drug abuse, each individually
take a larger human toll than worldwide terrorist attacks combined. To
be sure, we have a special risk that a rogue state or group would detonate
a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon. For that we need to keep all
investigative capabilities on high alert and get and stay fully prepared
for response and recovery in case one or the other happens. That should
be our prudent defense posture, but it should not take our focus off the
long-standing causes of death and disability that year to year are far
more serious than terrorism.
- The Bottom Line
- This picture is pretty depressing, but the most encouraging
feature of it is that in time a great deal of the picture can be fixed
with some fairly straightforward adjustments in national policy and posture.
The elements are already reasonably well identified.
- For example, it is not really in US national interest
to be narrowly associated with what the Israeli leadership is doing to
the Palestinian people, nor, as many Israelis know very well, is it truly
in the interests of Israel. The climate of world support for a Jewish
National Home has been tragically damaged by recent excesses. That will
take large scale, careful diplomatic undoing, assuming Israeli leadership
catches on and the Israeli lobbies in this country and elsewhere stop messing
with our heads, trying to persuade us that they are merely victims.
- Attention to that larger terrorism environment mentioned
above will take a sea change in our attitudes toward and approaches to
the failed and failing states. We must also recognize that much of the
problem lies in generally successful states with discontented minorities,
and we must find ways at least to focus attention on the needs of those
- The first step is to stop being passive about those patterns
of repression and neglect. We really cannot continue to look diplomatically
at the ceiling while the rights of large numbers of people are abused or
ignored. The best efforts of the UN and all advanced nations must be directed
to turning this long standing habit of diplomacy around.
- The second step is to stop turning a deaf ear to the
cries of distress and misery that are often only slightly buried in a terrorist
event. We need to hear and somehow to address legitimate grievances. Osama
Bin Laden and other terrorist leaders use those grievances to recruit.
We can'tcompete with Osama or his counterparts in non-Islamic groups unless
we are prepared to listen and work to correct abuses.
- The most important step is to take a long view of the
problem. A reactive stance toward only the current group of terrorists
is a bit like swatting flies in summer. Unless you do much more than just
waiting for the next attack, or prosecuting the terrorists you catch, you
cannot win. No amount of defensive effort will assure prevention of a random
attack by a determined enemy. It is prudent therefore to find out what
bothers people and make a determined effort to fix it. Even that will
not assure perfect protection, but it will give us the best offense we
can muster against people who fight back because they have no hope.