Fighting terrorism

(I’m going to do something a little different here. Usually, I put forth what I consider to be “complete thoughts” and then sit back and wait for people to point out just what’s wrong with them. This time, I actually know up front that this is a “work in progress” and see what the readers have to say about it.)

With the recent suicide bombings in London, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the war on terror, how it might be won, and how future terrorist attacks might be prevented. And two previous ideas of mine are jelling into a single overall picture in my mind.

The first was that terrorists are not criminals or soldiers, but fall into a nebulous category in between. To treat them as strictly one or the other is to invite defeat.

The second was related: that the war on terror could not be fought simply as a law-enforcement exercise, as that was doomed to failure — as exceptionally well proven by the Clinton administration.

A third idea that I had read but hadn’t gotten around to writing about was a definition of defeating an enemy in war: discover what his goal is, then act to deny him that goal.

But now, after reading a bit on past wars and military thought, I think I am developing a notion on a new way of dealing with the problem of terrorism.

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Military planning is traditionally divided into two categories: strategy and tactics. Strategy is the big picture; tactics are the details. Armies have strategies; smaller units have tactics. I’ve always liked to think of strategy as “what,” while tactics cover the “how.”

Speaking tactically, I think we can adopt something from law enforcement to help fight terrorism. The three elements of any crime are usually defined as “motive, means and opportunity.” Those are the three elements that are usually cited as needed to be proven to convict someone: one needs to show that they WOULD do such a thing, that they COULD do such a thing, and HAD THE CHANCE to do it. Absent eyewitnesses or unshakeable physical evidence, that’s what detectives use to help solve cases.

So let’s look at those three elements.

Motive. This is a tough one. They always seem to have their cause du jour to rationalize their actions, and it usually involves some perceived insult to Islam. Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan are popular right now. But that’s not motive, that’s rationale. What prompts them to carry out that particular atrocity, at that particular time and place? Usually it’s that they’ve been persuaded that they can “strike a great blow against the enemy” and garner their “rewards” in the afterlife.

So, to tackle the “motive” part of the equation, we need to start going after those people who encourage, aid, plan, and abet the terrorists. This, not things like “poverty” or “injustice,” are the true root causes of terrorism.

Means. This is what the Department of Homeland Security is largely about. The security screenings at airports, for example, are designed to deny terrorists the tools they need to carry out their acts of terrorism. Weapons screenings, bomb tests, and the like are all targeted towards depriving terrorists of the devices they need to carry out their attacks.

Opportunity. This one is the one that tends to get the liberals in a tizzy. This is where “profiling” comes into play. As is commonly tossed around, the vast majority of terrorist acts have been committed by Islamic men between the ages of 18 and 40. And the vast majority of terrorist acts have been committed by groups of these men, not individuals. But the art of profiling has been given a huge black eye by the ACLU, certain civil rights groups, and a few jackasses who have extended it to “racial profiling” and allowed racist conduct to taint the entire field. The 9/11 hijackers SHOULD have set off all sorts of warning bells, but they didn’t. And I hear that the FAA STILL threatens airlines with fines if they screen Muslims too closely.

Enough of the details. Let’s move on from fighting battles to fighting wars. It’s time to look at the strategy.

It’s been said that there are only two ways of clearly winning a war: destroy your enemy’s ability to fight, or destroy his will to fight.

Historically, the former has been relatively easy. Just kill enough of his soldiers and people, destroy enough of his economy, capture enough of his territory, and eventually your enemy will simply be unable to pose a credible threat any longer. That’s how we defeated Germany in World War II: we killed their soldiers by the hundreds of thousands, levelled most of their industrial base, destroyed whole cities, and eventually conquered the entire nation.

But that only works when you have a clearly defined opponent. There is no “Terroristan” we can bomb and invade. There are no ambassadors we can negotiate with. The enemy is essentially invisible and intangible on the world stage — until he changes that, in times and places of his choosing. And his “weapons factories” are not huge, sprawling industrial complexes. They’re homes and offices and rented storage spaces. We can make strides towards that, and we have — since early 2003 three countries that used to give shelter and sponsorship to terrorists now no longer do so, and several others are no longer quite so hospitable as they once were. But in the end, it simply can’t work.

So, with that out, we are left with the other tactic: go after his morale. Destroy his will to keep fighting.

That’s largely what happened in Viet Nam. The enemy had absolutely no way of destroying our ability to wage war, so he focused on our will to do so. And, eventually and at tremendous cost, it worked.

But how do we do that? How do we convince the terrorists that they simply cannot achieve their goals by their current means?

This is where the third idea comes into play. What is the ultimate goal of the terrorists? At what point would they consider the war “won?”

That, as I said above, is the real gray area. Their “goal,” as best as I can figure out (after wading through the numerous excuses and rationales and feigned concerns), is the global triumph of their particularly brutal and savage form of Islam, the destruction of Israel, and the fall of all non-Islamic faiths (including those other strains of Islam that they don’t approve of).

But simply stopping it won’t be enough. To them, Islam is like a shark. It must keep growing, or it will die. For them to acknowledge that there are people and places in the world that will never embrace their strain of Islam would be heresy and blasphemy to them.

I think the only long-term solution would be for Islam to undergo its own “Reformation,” where those who truly believe and practice the faith as a “religion of peace” need to take their faith from the extremists who currently are the face of modern Islam. They need to confront them, say “this is NOT acceptable,” and either bring them to heel or cast them out.

And, sadly, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

The USA Today Gets a Clue... A Year Later
Ham, Signing Off


  1. arb July 15, 2005
  2. John Burgess July 15, 2005
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