Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Part One: How To Fight Islamic Terrorism

We fight Islamic terrorism the wrong way. Yeah, this is one of those posts. Our leaders don’t understand the nature of terrorism, nor do they understand what motivates these terrorists. Thus, they don’t know how to fight them. In fact, they keep doing things that only make the problem worse. This is a two part post. In this part, we’ll talk about the three biggest myths we buy into that keep us from fighting Islamic terrorism effectively. In part two, I’ll offer some suggestions on new policies.


Myth No. 1: There Is A Military Solution To Islamic Terrorism
I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this, but there simply is no military solution to Islamic terrorism. In fact, using the military will be counter-productive in most instances.

Here’s the crux of the problem. Terrorists are not military forces. They do not fight on battlefields. (We’ll get to Afghanistan in a moment.) They do not hold territory, they do not occupy positions, and their goals are not to overcome your armed forces -- their goals are to cause your society enough terror and pain that you give in to their demands. Thus, they rarely present targets for the military to attack. Without targets, all the planes, tanks and troops in the world mean nothing.

Indeed, history is full of examples of governments trying to use their militaries to stop terrorists. But none of them succeeded. . . not honorable armies like ours that play by the rules of international law, not colonial armies that played by few rules, not even brutal, genocidal armies like the Nazis in the Balkans or the Russians in Chechnya who felt little guilt about wiping out population centers. They could all kill terrorists whenever the terrorists exposed themselves, but they just couldn’t stop the terror no matter how much force they used.

Why? Because terrorists have the ability to mask their identifies and to blend into civilian populations. This is the proverbial needle in a haystack problem. Worse, it is the needle in a stack of needles problem because terrorists can make themselves indistinguishable from the surrounding populations. Moreover, they choose the populations in which they will hide, which means you can't even narrow down the area you need to search.

Consider this. During the past ten years, Islamic terrorists have committed major acts of terror in each of the following countries: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, Egypt, Algeria, Israel, Nairobi, Indonesia, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Chechnya, Russia, Spain, the Philippines, China and even the United States, among others. In most of these instances, it was a small cell of five to ten terrorists who pulled off these terroristic acts, and they struck without warning -- without anyone even knowing they were there. How could they pull that off? Because, until they acted, they were indistinguishable from the local populations. Thus, there was nothing military action could have done to stop them because it simply is not possible to kill what you cannot find or what you do not know exists.

Some argue that we can defeat terrorism by killing their leaders. But how do you find the leaders when you do not know who they are and they could be hidden anywhere on the planet? We've been trying to kill Al Qaeda's leaders for ten years and we haven't succeeded -- and we even know who many of those are. Arab states have been trying to kill the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood since 1928 and haven't succeeded. The British were never able to eliminate the IRA's leaders, and so on and so on.

And what’s to keep the terrorists from simply finding new leaders? Or what do you do about cells that work without direction from a leadership? To stop terrorism, you need to stop every terrorist, not merely rough up their network. Yet there just isn’t any way to do that with military action, no matter how strong your military is, because you just can't find them all.

Moreover, the danger of using the military to fight terrorism is that you may feed the fires of hatred that send people running into the arms of the terrorists. This is particularly true with Islamic terrorism, where every government in the Arab world (friend or foe) and every Imam from Detroit to Riyadh to Jakarta has used the United States as a scapegoat for so long that the United States has become the boogeyman for every single failure suffered by anyone in the Muslim world.

Further, the entire concept of Islamic terrorism has its roots in the idea that the West is seeking to dominate the Muslim world and is occupying Muslim lands. Sending the military to fight in those lands simply plays into that storyline and incites more young Muslims to join the cause.

Our leaders are kidding themselves when they claim that there is a military solution to Islamic terrorism.

NOTE: This is not to say that there aren’t moments when the use of military force isn’t appropriate or effective. Afghanistan was one such example (though I would suggest that we are now at a point where the costs of staying far outweigh the benefits). In Afghanistan, Al Qaeda aligned themselves with one side in what was essentially an Afghan civil war. In so doing, they exposed many of their leaders and followers in ways that let the U.S. military inflict damage on their network. However, while this might lead to a defeat for Taliban forces in their civil war, this cannot lead to the defeat of Al Qaeda, much less Islamic terrorism. Al Qaeda currently operates in as many as 65 countries. Thus, even if every single Al Qaeda member in Afghanistan could be killed, the rest of the network would continue. Not to mention that Al Qaeda is just one of hundreds of Islamic terrorist groups.

Myth No. 2: Terrorists Need Vast Sums of Money
This one frustrates me to no end. Every time a government intercepts money headed to some terrorist organization, they hail this as a huge victory. They rush to the nearest podium to describe this “significant blow to terror” and then assure us that without hundreds of millions of dollars, terrorists cannot function. What scares me is that they actually seem to believe this.

I don’t want to get into handing out of ideas, but with a $40 sledgehammer and a train schedule, an intelligent terrorist could reign havoc on any country with a rail system without ever getting caught. Look what Timothy McVeigh did with a rented truck and some fertilizer. The 9/11 hijackers spent a few dollars for knives and could have bought their airline tickets on credit cards. The DC sniper needed only an old, beat-up truck, a drill and a rifle. So don’t tell me that it takes money to be an effective terrorist. All it takes is creative thinking.

Depriving terrorist groups of money is a good idea, but we are again kidding ourselves if we think that can stop them.

Myth No. 3: We Can Defeat Islamic Terrorism Without Addressing Its Root Causes
I hate the phrase "root causes," but it is appropriate here. If you don’t understand what motivates your opponent, then you cannot understand how to defeat them. Sadly, our leaders have shown repeatedly that they don’t want to understand Islamic terrorism.

Islamic terrorism is motivated by religion, and fueled by a perception that we are the cause of all their problems. But our leaders don’t want to hear that.

Take the issue of religion. Until we are willing to admit that there is a problem with fundamentalist Islam, we will not be able to solve the problem of Islamic terrorism. Why? Because fundamentalist Islam is teaching vast numbers of Muslim children to hate westerners, to blame westerners for their problems, and that killing westerners is the pathway to eternal glory. These beliefs are wrong, but that doesn’t matter -- they are believed. With over a billion Muslims on Earth, it only takes a miniscule percentage of them accepting these beliefs to create a massive terrorist movement.

Yet, our left doesn’t want to believe that people can be truly motivated by religion, and they don’t want to tarnish "Muslims," who they view as allies against the religious right and against a Western culture the left despises. They don’t grasp that their willful blindness prevents them from undertaking the very policies that are needed to stem the flow of angry Muslims into these terrorist movements.

But the right isn’t much better. They don’t want to understand Islamic terrorism either because they don’t want the nuances interfering with the narrative that “Islam” is a unified enemy that needs to be “defeated.” They don’t grasp that there is a true civil war going on between modern Islam and fundamental Islam -- a slow-motion civil war being fought throughout the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia -- and that lumping them together has only made us an enemy of both sides.

Secondly, take the issue of perception. The United States has gone from being perceived as the beacon of freedom from colonial oppression to being seen as the new master and as the cause of all that is wrong in the Muslim world. Why? Two reasons. First, because of our support for oppressive regimes, we have come to be seen as imposing rotten government on Arab nations and, therefore, are seen as responsible for their actions. This has been made worse by the penchant of our “friends” in the region to use us as scapegoats. Secondly, maintaining a visible American military presence in Muslim countries feeds the argument that we are crusaders looking to occupy their lands, or that we have simply replaced the old colonial powers. All of this leads to a sense of outrage on the "Arab street" and makes it very easy for terrorist groups to recruit.

If we don't understand this, then we cannot come up with policies that let us defuse the hatred that drives these people to terror. If we can't stop them wanting to become terrorists, then we simply can't stop Islamic terrorism. Not only will they have an unending supply of volunteers, but we won't be able to get the kind of help from these communities that we need to locate and eliminate the terrorists.

Unfortunately, our leaders don’t want to hear this because it is very convenient for them to leave things as they are in the Middle East.

That's the problem.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll present some solutions.


Unknown said...

Andrew: You'll be happy to know that I have little to add (so far). I have no quibble at all, and would just add that there is not just a civil war between "modern" and fundamentalist Islam, but also one between competing fundamentalists. All of which works to our advantage, if we handle it right. I look forward to your proposed solutions.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I'll glad to hear that you agree. I hate thinking that I'm out in crazytown! LOL!

What troubles me is that our leaders don't seem to agree. They keeping wanting to sell us on the idea that "we can win this if we just kill a couple more terrorists or intercept a few million dollars more. . . pay no attention to the religious motivation." That just won't work.

Unknown said...

Andrew: The current opposing views are "be nice to them" and "kill them all." Being nice doesn't work, and we can't kill them all. Simplistic solutions rarely work. A combination of military action with realistic alternate routes can work. I suspect that's what you'll be addressing in your "solutions" blog.

AndrewPrice said...

Agreed -- this calls for a much more thoughtful strategy than we keep being offered. Either our leaders are too dumb to recognize this, or they just aren't willing to make hard choices.

The solutions will be interesting. I can't wait to see what people think!

Anonymous said...

You have addressed the worlds problem reasonably accurately.
The problem can be mitigated by accepting reality in the method of addressing it.
Our society will not allow the proper addressing of the Islam problem.
This is a problem that unless the mid-stream member of Islam can be convinced the aggressive militant branch is going to cause them major pain they will support the militant actions as reasonable.
You can train a dog to fight or to be a reliable devoted companion.
Once he is a fighter it is not sweetness or trust that will convert him. Only forcing submission works coupled with an understanding of real fear.Our political and well meaning bleeding hearts will never alow the creation the bridge to span this chasm we are faced with.
Fear and submission to a greater force or power is the ONLY way.
I leave you to ponder the methods that will work. Do not seek council with any of the so called civilized world as they will not be capable of really helping you.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Thanks for the comment. I fear that you are right that we will never do the things that need to be done, that we basically need to wait for the more moderate forces of Islam to step up their game.

Still, I think it's important that we begin to analyze this problem realistically and that we start talking about the necessary solutions openly. Right now, our government does nothing that will work but tries to convince us that it's solving the problem by frisking the elderly as they get on airplanes. We need to let them know that we don’t buy that anymore.

Maybe if we start talking about this more openly, it will trigger our government to do what is necessary or it might get moderate Islam to begin to act -- right now, they get a pass from us.

I look forward to seeing what you think of the solutions that I’ll offer tomorrow (would have been too long as one post). I think we could get our government to do some, but not the important one.

Tennessee Jed said...

All points well taken, Andrew--am anxiously awaiting your solutions, although naturally,they will not be easy.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Jed! I think they're interesting solutions. I think they would work. I'll be curious to see what everyone thinks.

Writer X said...

Andrew, look forward to your solutions. Unfortunately, we have an administration that can barely acknowledge that terrorists exist.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, That is a problem. I think Bush made a lot of mistakes, but at least he recognized that the problem existed. The current guy won't even do that -- can't solve a problem you won't admit exists. . .

StanH said...

Asymmetrical warfare is very tuff business and has to be handled by able tacticians. It’s to me more, of an idea of keeping the Islamogoons on their heels, off balance if you will. I think “W” understood that, and had to make tough choices in hard spots. Good article.

There’s always grid bombing…kidding!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Stan, glad you enjoyed it. I think keeping them off balance is certain part of an effective strategy. But that's just a temporary solution.

MegaTroll said...

Interesting article. You really don't hear this kind of analysis coming from anyone, but it makes a lot of sense.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Mega. We do try to provide content that you won't find anywhere else.

CrispyRice said...

Good analysis, as ever, Andrew.

'Course I'm all depressed now, too. Thanks. I'm off to read part II!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks CrispyRice! Sorry to depress you. This isn't the happiest topic, but at least there are good answers.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know this is an old post. I agree with what Andrew said, and awaited the follow up which never came so here is my opinion.

This is a battle for minds, we need books, movies, education. We need people going to the mosques and talking to people.

This is dangerous by the way, because this is a capital offense in many places and jail time in many countries. Not to mention the brain dead rag-heads who will want to kill you summarily.

This is a topic that is important as it may well define the future of humanity. If we let the stupid intolerant people win, life will suck for most people.

So drop your sword and grab your pens, and watch your back.

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