April 2, 2010
A few thoughts on the state of the art
Over the past several years, both through this blog and my books, I have attempted to stress that there is far more to terrorism than a few individuals laying mines and arranging the detonation of IED's. Acts of terrorism have several attributes that are important to recognize so that steps can be taken to mitigate the risks involved.
First, there is the nature of terrorism itself. The definition in Webster says, "The systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion." That means terrorism occurs in many places beyond established battlefields--in fact, it clearly can make the traditional battlefield an obsolete anachronism of the past.
Second, the asnychronous character of terrorism needs to be considered. There are no 'rules' to terrorism. of course, there are many books from mostly weekend and armchair warriors that propose to 'teach' people terrorism--many call it 'urban warfare' or some other glorifc term that still means the same thing--injure and kill as many innocent people as possible.
Third, the sense that terrorism can be practiced by anyone, in any given circumstance, and under any conditions needs to be examined. We have seen too many highly educated people turning to terrorist activities to disregard this aspect of the problem.
My first book, Minihan's Dilemma, sets the tone for my thoughts on terrorism as it is practiced--not as it is publicized in the media. I see the conflict among parties as one of two intelligent and dedicated groups (or more in some cases) who have what they perceive to be urgent needs and complaints that require some solution. I also see a number of highly intelligent people on both sides applying their skills to defeat the other. This is certainly true of the American--Bernie Minihan-- and is equally true of his protagonist Fatool. Each has been schooled and gained experience in their 'brand' of terrorist/anti-terrorism actions. Both believe they are right; both believe they know the other's game plan; both believe they will win over time. yet, the best they can do is essentially a draw. Why?
Looking back to the Minihan-Fatool duels, it is clear that both rely on rules of engagement--but that those rules are vastly different. Minihan relies on established practice of an organized agency--bending them as he chooses, but keeping those rules as the central pole of his actions. Fatool, conversely, has the zeal of his religious beliefs, which are often contradictory, and is limited only by his ability to construct scenarios and actions that meet his purpose--for Fatool there are 'rules' unless he creates them.
What allows the success that Minihan achieves--however fleeting--is his ability to try to put himself in Fatool's head and see what Fatool sees, think like Fatool thinks, and move to counteract what he perceives might be Fatool's course of action. As they act and react against each other, they learn from each other, respect each other, and continue to operate. neither becomes complacent--instead, they adapt and change into new ansychronous behaviors that require constant rethinking by the other.
Applying my views on Minihan to the more general view of terrorism described above, it is clear to me that much of our policy to date has been to try to establish parameters within which we expect terrorist activities to be bounded, and we are not being successful in that endeavor. For that matter, nor are the Europeans, the Israeli's or anyone else who claim to have a handle on this issues involved. Instead, we apply palliatives to the problem to make it look less dangerous, such as reacting to specific situations (We take off shoes in airports because of Reed, etc.) instead of doing the harder work of looking at broader trends and trying to gain an undestanding of how the Arab mind (or any other mindset which spawns terrorists in any country, including some of our own allies) acts and reacts when stimulated.
One final point is that terrorism is generally a cycle. One action produces a reaction, and another action and another reaction--until people have forgotton the origin of the conflict. Most of the time, such as the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza this morning, we simply start the cycle moving again without regard to consequences. In other instances, we try to apply other pressures, such as sanctions, to force a change in attitude or action. In still others, we think that reliance on International bodies, such as the UN, will, by their nature, force change. Witness only the reaction of Iran to UN and US threats to see the wisdom of that approach.
Breaking the cycle is the way to stop terrorism. That requires some honest broker(s) who will listen to the parties with respect and not condescension; have the ability to put the parties together in discussion, and not in other rooms or other cities; and who will listen to ALL of the issues in trying to fashion a solution. Real solutions take time and until they are apparent, terrorism will continue to be a useful way to bring issues to the public. it will go away in the mainstream when its value as a method declines.