30 December, 2008

Playing Into Terrorists' Hands

I've had Thoughts over the past several years. I'd see some group do something outrageously evil, I'd watch leaders get all vengeance-minded on their asses, and I'd think, "That's exactly what the terrorists wanted you to do, dumbshit."

It appears I'm not the only person who's been having such thoughts:

As Stirling pointed out earlier today, Terrorism works. The Mumbai attacks, targeted deliberately at both foreigners, and more importantly, India's own elites, led to an entirely predictable response: India started seriously threatening Pakistan and demanding Pakistani leaders do things (like turn over Pakistanis to the Indian legal system) which no Pakistani politician could do and stay in power. Indeed, it's unlikely they could do such a thing and stay alive.

So Pakistan moved its forces from the tribal areas to the border with India, in response to India's threats, and the terrorists no longer have to deal with the Pakistani military. This is, clearly, what they wanted. Terrorism worked.


Remember that 9/11 was also a great success, not just operationally, but strategically. It accomplished what bin Laden wanted—it got American troops in on the ground where they could be killed and the cost of the war put the American economy under great strain. It continues to pay dividends, as the US army, smarting from what it privately knows was a loss in Iraq (you don't pay people to stop attacking you if you won the war) wants a do-over in Afghanistan, not because it makes sense strategically (it's destabilizing Pakistan, a far more important place than Afghanistan) but becase their pride has been hurt.

Terrorism works. It works not because it can succeed operationally, but because elites play into the hands of terrorists and do strategically stupid and counterproductive things when terrorists prod them hard enough. Both the Mumbai attacks and 9/11 were aimed at people who mattered—wealthy and important people in both countries.

It's incredibly hard not to go screaming for vengeance when a group of evil fucktards with bombs blow apart your citizenry, but governments are going to have to start learning to respond a little less predictably. The solution to terrorism isn't more bombs, more invasions, and more vengeance. As hard as it is to put vengeance on the back burner, we need to do it. Send law enforcement after the fuckers, and work on creating a world where it's harder for them to find desperate, disaffected people to recruit.

Some of our more bloodthirsty chickenhawks see a devastating military response as "education," which is right up there among the dumbest things I've ever heard:

Commenting on Israel’s attack on Gaza, NRO’s Andy McCarthy wonders whether the strikes will “demonstrate that terrorism is a loser for those who vote for it.”

The question is whether the Palestinian people are educable. Which brings me back to the first point: the Palestinians voted to put in power — i.e., vest with the power of a quasi-sovereign government — a terrorist organization which thinks legitimate governing consists of bringing about the annihilation of its sovereign neighbor and, meantime, targeting the said neighbor’s civilian population with bombing attacks. When you do that, you make yourself a target.

It’s one thing to defend Israel’s disproportionate attacks as a legitimate attempt to destroy Hamas’ capacity to launch rockets into Israel, but it’s quite another to defend them as an attempt to “educate” the Palestinian people. The former is debatable, the latter is a forthright embrace of terrorism, the use of force against civilians to achieve a political goal.

McCarthy’s advocacy of violence against people who vote the wrong way raises an obvious question. Granting, for the moment, McCarthy’s simplistic interpretation of Hamas’ election, (which was more a vote against Fatah’s incompetence and corruption than it was for Israel’s destruction) if Palestinian civilians have made themselves targets by voting into power a party that advocates the destruction of Israel, have Israeli civilians made themselves targets by voting into power successive governments that have continued a military occupation while expropriating Palestinian land? Have Americans made themselves targets by voting in governments that support that occupation? According to McCarthy’s reasoning, the answer to both questions is yes.

Matt Duss points out that McCarthy's reasoning is precisely the same as Osama bin Laden's. The fact that one person is an American and the other a terrorist doesn't change the equation one fucking bit.

Our desire to "teach terrorists a lesson" isn't teaching them a damned thing other than how to manipulate our passions more adeptly. We teach them that their actions are justified, because we employ the same reasoning to justify attacking them. It gets us absolutely fucking nowhere, and more innocent people suffer and die.

At some point, we're going to have to break the cycle. That's going to take more self-control and insight than we've been capable of thus far, but it's the only way to even come close to reducing terrorism to managable levels.

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