terrorism

How the Terrorists Won

And Other Uplifting Stories from the 21st Century

Hello, Internet. It’s been a while.

Well, let’s get to it.


So, let’s indulge certain world leaders and acknowledge at face value that there is a literal “war” on “terror.” Terror, of course, being a poetic substitution for “terrorism.”

In 2003 the US government released its “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism.” In it is outlined the national strategy for “victory” against terrorism. The primary goal is stated as this:

“to stop terrorist attacks against the United States, its citizens, its interests, and our friends and allies around the world and ultimately, to create an international environment inhospitable to terrorists and all those who support them”

According to the report, there are four intermediate objectives required in order to accomplish this.
1. Defeat terrorists
2. Deny them sponsorship and support
3. Diminish the conditions which engender terrorism
4. Defend the security of our interests at home and abroad

Now aside from the clear hard-on for ‘D’s here alliterated, what do you notice 12 years later?
1. Terrorists are more proliferated now than when we invaded Iraq in 2003.
2. Terrorists enjoy increased support from around the world, including from our own alleged allies like Kuwait, as well as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China.
3. The Middle east has become exponentially more unstable, with civil conflict among many states creating prime conditions for breeding more extremism.
4. We have suffered through the Boston Bombing, the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, and numerous terrorist attacks upon our allies in the Middle East and the European Union.

In other words, every single objective of this strategy has failed. I’ve talked previously about how the attack on Iraq itself counter-intuitively encouraged this failure. But Al Queda, too, had a strategy, although of course it was for the advancement of terrorism.

In 2005, Saif al-Adel, al Qaeda’s military commander at the time, revealed Al Queda’s 7-point strategy for the 21st century.
1. “The awakening,” 2000-2003, in which the 9/11 attacks were the first wave. The purpose of this phase was to provoke the US into declaring war on the Muslim world.
2. “Opening Eyes,” 2004-2006, in which Iraq is converted into a hotbed for terrorist activity and an active way-station and base for recruits.
3. “Arising and Standing Up,” 2007-2010, plans for an increase in terrorist activities, especially attacks against more stable Middle eastern nations like Israel and Jordan, with a particular emphasis on Syria.
4. For the years of 2010-2013, Al Queda planned to bring about the end of dictatorial governments in the Middle East, like those of Syria and Egypt, as well as undermining the US economy using cyber-terrorism.
5. Between 2013-2016, Al Queda hopes for a literal establishment of the “Islamic State,” or caliphate, wherein the Western image will be weakened so much that support for Islamic fundamentalism will rise exponentially.
6. From 2016 onwards, the new “Islamic State” will provoke or inflict national violence against “non-believers” in the pursuit of enforcing Muslim beliefs on the entire region.
7. Al Queda foresees victory in 2020, after a two-year war in which the Western world finally admits defeat by the Muslims of the Middle East and, presumably, withdraws totally from both overt and covert capacities.

It’s sobering to remember that this was released in 2005, and had probably been in the works for at least half a decade. While some objectives are, generously, a pipe dream by terrorism defined as Al Queda alone, expanding the objectives to encompass all terrorist activity shows where the organization possessed startling prescience.
1. It goes without saying that the 9/11 attacks worked. The US invaded Afghanistan, and then Iraq, with the predictable result of getting stuck there for more than ten years.
2. Iraq has been completely destabilized, and Al Queda in Iraq, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations which were nonexistent under Saddam’s regime now flourish.
3.-4. Al Queda’s third and fourth phases eerily predict the Arab Spring and ensuing end to, or challenge of, dictatorial regimes in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen, as well as their emphasized focus on Syria, where Al Nusra Front and ISIS (both local outgrowths of Al Queda)  have made significant, well-publicized gains since 2010. The economic defeat of the United States precluded any need for cyber-terrorism, as its own military adventure served the same objective, and with little need for effort on the part of Al Queda.
5. The name of “ISIS”, or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is predicted. While the group exists more as a guerrilla force than a government entity, it’s startling to realize that its existence is owed in no small part to the plans and predictions of Al Queda ten years prior. The US’s predictions for Iraq and Afghanistan ten years ago were significantly less astute.
6. Although this phase is planned for the future, there’s already evidence that ISIS’s designs include such activities, and has begun to encourage them.
7. It’s hard to say what exactly will be the case in 2020, but the future isn’t looking particularly bright.

Strategy, independent of tactics, determines the victor in war. Strategy is more than a simple prediction of victory, but a description of the means to achieve victory in terms which can be interpreted broadly, but implemented specifically. As such, there is some leeway in judging the success or failure of each strategy in the Middle East, and around the world.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to say that the strategy of defeating terrorism has had any success. If anything, the US’s means of achieving that goal has actually contributed to its own defeat. Invasions and military actions in the Middle East have inflamed an already unstable region, united opinion against us, and crippled our own economy, which has resulted in an unprecedented rise in terrorism around the world.

For terrorism, US activity has been a boon, as has been the growing animosity to Muslims around the world. Western reactions and backlashes to these activities, exhibited in the rise of right-wing ideology engendered by terrorist activities, increasingly isolates and radicalizes Muslims domestically and abroad. This leads to greater recruitment of terrorists, as more Muslims see solidarity in joining with those who oppose increasingly reactionary Western governments and populations.

This, like the US and the Middle East, like Israel and Palestine, is yet another recursive loop of foreign policy, where so-called enlightened powers play into the most bold-faced and basic guerrilla strategies of extremists without recourse to real international political or economic pressure. Throughout the course of the war on terror, we have framed victory as a mere matter of search-and-destroy, and of exporting our ideas to other countries in an attempt to stabilize in one lifetime what centuries have wrought, as though those countries could not survive without our wisdom or guidance.

The truth that has emerged is that these very strategies bring about more terrorism. And if our war on terror has simply sewn more terror, what can be done? Clearly we need a new strategy. I am sick and tired of seeing these same strategies, the same tactics, used again and again by the United States, in the name of high-minded ideals like freedom and democracy, when in actuality our actions serve only to engender further animosity abroad by representing us in the most myopic and unenlightened possible light.

I have an alternative strategy to propose. It’s not a simple fix, and it is unlikely ever to be implemented, but I believe if we do not significantly change the course of this country, it will be a footnote before long, a tragic tale of the rise and fall of the first, and last, global democracy.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Today, I’d like to weigh in on a matter that isn’t much discussed lately: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

(“Oh, really? How original!” All three of you might be saying.)

It took me an entire month to figure out how to approach this subject. It would be utterly redundant to belabor the complexity of the issues involved, especially when the emotions invested in this particular conflict are so intense. I acknowledge these feelings, and the degree to which they are often felt ensures that I’m unlikely to change anyone’s mind on this issue.

So, then, Hamas vs. the IDF. Who is in the right, and who is in the wrong? I see this most frequently posed question as fundamentally flawed.

I look at Hamas and I see a terrorist organization that literally wants to wipe out the Jews. I look at the IDF and I see one of (if not the most) advanced militaries in the world which relentlessly pounds a tiny speck of land full of civilians, willing to justify the killing of hundreds of children in one month over strategic goals that are themselves self-defeating.

The analogy of David and Goliath invoked not infrequently (with the central irony of a Palestinian David and Israeli Goliath) has some basis in reality. However, it would be much more accurate to have Li’l Hitler playing the part of David, hopping from beside one Palestinian bassinet to another throwing rocks at an Israeli Jaeger which then tries to smack Li’l Hitler with its fist, as if playing a perverse game of whack-a-mole. The more innocents get smacked, the more willing grieving Palestinian parents are to provide Li’l hitler with rocks, even if they don’t particularly like him.

It is said that in war no one wins, and everyone loses. Often that’s true; at the very least, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not an exception. One can argue that the IDF can win militarily by destroying secret tunnels or killing what they deem to be a “sufficient” number of rocket launch sites. However, the conduct of their operations in Gaza are inseparable from the killing of innocent civilians. One can then argue Hamas needs only to survive in order to win, for Israeli operations, while destructive, only increase support for Hamas and other militant groups. This is, most likely, one of the major reasons Hamas has for firing rockets from civilian centers, drawing fire from the IDF to rally more anti-Israeli sentiment. Ultimately Israel will declare an end to the conflict on some sort of arbitrary basis, as they always do, and withdraw. Yet, the rockets will keep coming, if not now, then later; Hamas will certainly fight on.

However, every rocket fired into Israel risks prompting a response from the IDF. This leads to blockades and sanctions (necessitating secret tunnels in order to sustain survivability for those in the affected area), and what seems to be an almost seasonal offensive from Israel. Hamas’s stated intent to, among other things, gain Palestinian independence is seriously undermined by the measures taken by its far more powerful neighbors. A successful fighting force needs a powerful logistical supply chain and an infrastructure effective enough to supply healthy recruits and auxiliary aid. With each war in the Gaza strip, provoked or not, Gaza’s capability to provide for those basic necessities collapses even further.

So, to recap: provoked by rocket fire against Israel, the IDF attacks Palestine, causing civilian casualties that incite more people to join militant groups, which fire rockets at Israel.

Insanity.

There’s something missing from this recursive loop of an equation, however, and it is the side I ultimately choose to sympathize with. The Palestinian civilians in Gaza suffer disproportionately by a far more powerful aggressor for the actions of a few, with whom they have little to no affiliation or allegiance. I think it’s entirely fair to call the Palestinians victims in all of this.

But that’s only half of the remainder. The IDF, drawn from citizen soldiers, requires public support in order to commit to risky campaigns. Somehow, a war which has killed hundreds of civilians, including many children, and for the mere sake of vague objectives, has a 95% approval rating among Israeli Jews. To put that in perspective, American support for the Iraq war, a similarly muddy Faustian bargain, peaked at 72% in its first months and soon dropped very sharply. Polls show that a significant percentage of Israeli non-Arabs hold racial contempt against Arabs, even those who are citizens of Israel. Although government and media propaganda play a heavy hand in this, the daily threat of Palestinian rockets hitting Israelis, though substantially mitigated by Iron Dome, is very real. There’s also the matter of antisemitism, which is on the rise.

Modern Israel’s history is deeply rooted in the Holocaust. It is a fact that there was a point in history where one zealous group of people with national power determined unilaterally that Jews should all be destroyed. Modern Israel was founded by many survivors of that genocide. It is understandable that, in the interest of preventing another Holocaust, Jews in Israel would react quickly, and violently, to any antisemitism from its neighbors. By all means, a second Holocaust should be averted, if it is a threat.

However, if it is a threat today, it is remote. As stated earlier, Israel, though tiny, is an incredibly powerful country. It also continues to enjoy what has amounted to billions of dollars in aid from its allies. Sorry, ally. Israel is not a Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw, it is a modern democracy, and very much representative of the Western world’s monopoly on what is currently defined as “first world” civilization. This forms a significant portion of Israel’s self-identified moral superiority over its neighbors. Most Israelis have access to books, to libraries, to the internet. They are every bit as capable of assimilating the concepts of basic human rights and opposing government policy as any other citizen of the West, and many do.

The fact that Israel, a country that drinks so liberally from the cup of Western ideals, clings to such an archaic form of militant nationalism, speaks to a deeper problem. Hamas commits Palestinians to a war with Israel without their consent; it victimizes its own people. So too does Israel’s government turn its own citizens into pawns, provoking attacks by Hamas to fuel anti-Palestinian sentiment that then charges national politics and ensures continued military aid. I would not go so far as to invoke the idea of a devious, long-term conspiracy on the part of Israeli politicians, but they certainly seem to know how to push the right buttons.

And so, finally, my conclusion: the populations of both Israel and Palestine are being held hostage by their own governments. One is subject to military reprisals due to provocations made by its own leaders precisely to cause civilian casualties, while the other is subject to radicalizing nationalistic pressure from a government that refuses to deviate from policies that provoke threatening attacks and prolong political and military tensions.

What can be done?

I don’t know. Smarter and more talented people than myself have tried and failed to come up with a solution to this tragic and constant problem.

However, the US sends aid to both sides of this conflict. We cannot justifiably tell other nations how to conduct their affairs, especially as a nation with such a dirty track record of its own. The provision of foreign aid, especially military aid, is undeniably a tacit attempt to influence, if not destabilize, another nation’s political climate with volatile capital.

Is it really the place of the United states to decide that either government in this case, when both are ultimately responsible for human rights abuses, deserve approval in the form of our money?