Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Question

He hath loos'd the fateful lightning
Of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

--Battle Hymn of the Republic


A Wall Street Journal Op-Ed by Bret Stephens (former Jerusalem Post editor) shows that seven years one, we still can't understand that terrorists are not necessarily insurgents. In "There Is a Military Solution to Terror," Mr. Stephens offers the revolutionary tautological advice that the "best way to end an insurgency is, quite simply, to beat it." Nu?

You know you are in for a sad read when the writer declares confidently, "Al Qaeda [In Iraq] has been crushed by a combination of U.S. arms and Sunni tribal resistance," when you know there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. entered the picture.

When you also know that the calm in Baghdad is the fact that sectors have been ethnically cleansed. If you eradicate opposing groups,
voilĂ  -- no reconciliation is needed. There are no attacks, because there is nobody left to do the attacks.

Using the recent situation in Columbia with the rebel group FARC and the Sri Lankan government's vis a vis the Tamil Tigers he reckons, "it explodes the mindless shibboleth that there is 'no military solution' when it comes to dealing with insurgencies." Problem is, he is conflating terrorism (his title) with insurgency. While those executing the latter may incorporate terrorist tactics, they are discrete phenomena.

In the spectrum of war, terrorism is the lowest level of threat posed to a nation-state or society.
Terrorism is neither a credible threat to survival, nor has it ever toppled an existing government, a fact the fear-mongerers conveniently ignore.

As terrorists grow more sophisticated, attracting a larger following, they may become insurgent movements. Insurgents intend to replace the legitimate (or not) government. Insurgents
are credible threats to a nation's identity and can frequently tumble states into failed state status and achieve an overthrow.

But democracies do not experience insurgencies, so why does the U.S. concern itself with counterinsurgency in foreign locales? Insurgents present legitimate complaints, for if they didn't, they couldn't gain popular support.

If an insurgency is viable it will progress through UW / GW phases and evolve into a conventional type confrontation between indigenous contending forces. Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong exemplify the etiology.

In the spectrum of conflict,
it is correct to use police and intelligence to counter the terrorist threat. However, applying military force is a misapplication of resources that only serves to enhance a terrorist group's claims to legitimacy against a corrupt government. A government's goal is to maintain a pacific or at least neutral population, and wholesale application of military force versus the citizenry is seriously counterproductive.

Torture, round-ups and arbitrary and capricious imprisonment are not legitimate counter-terrorist strategies. Effective counter-terrorism must be based in a legal approach.

Terrorist and insurgent tactics offend the
WSJ crowd as they view all government activity as legitimate, something which is demonstrably not the case. Even their own are beginning to jump ship on that presumption. Among Mr. Stephen's examples of government successes, all have acted with criminal violence against their insurgent populations. It is instructive to remember that a civil society must emerge from these struggles, regardless of which side wins.

Mr. Stephens pooh-poohs the idea of political reconciliation as a precondition of military success; he thinks the former flows from the latter. However, without a political basis there will never be a national identity that can be called a "state."

When he says, "
The failure to defeat these insurgencies thus becomes the primary obstacle to achieving a reasonable political settlement acceptable to both sides," he is presuming there exists one national impulse to Iraqi statehood. That would be wrong.

"Failure to defeat" implies the possibility of a win, but how do you win when major portions of your society are disaffected to the point of organized violence? Adding more government-sanctioned violence to the mix is theater of the absurd.

Violence is the hallmark or repressive regimes worldwide.
Turning an Army upon one's citizens rather than against external threats is an illegitimate use of force. This government repression and violation of civil rights is financed in Iraq and Columbia with U.S. tax dollars.

It is irrelevant that the U.S. can pound into dog meat those opposed to the externally-imposed Iraqi government. Force is not the basis of a free and democratic society. Stephens concludes in an Old Testament way:

[B]eating an insurgency allows a genuine process of reconciliation and redress to take place, and in a spirit of malice toward none. But those are words best spoken after the terrible swift sword has done its work.

Mr. Stephens should be aware that ethnic cleansing is not a legitimate tool in addressing insurgent activities.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that terrorism in a modern sense has not effected any real overthrow of government. But I think if you consider in a historical sense the French Revolution and the American War for Independence and Civil War, there was terrorism. Against the aristocracy in France, and against the Tories and Confederates in the U.S. I think of terrorism as asymmetric use of deadly force against civilians with political ends, as opposed to total war, which comprises use of force against civlians as an official policy in wartime. Perhaps this is an overly broad characterization, but I don't know how a distinction can be made that excludes events like the persecution of the Tories. I think the history of terrorism has been whitewashed with the purpose of singling out groups like the I.R.A. and Al Qaeda as the exemplars of terrorism. And a lot of that has to do with simple racism in the case of Islamist groups, as though they invented terrorism.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 8:54:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 11:52:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


There were no acts of terrorism in the either the American or French Revolutions. Terrorism is the use of violence to reach an audience beyond the target.

The American and French, even the French Reign of Terror, did not go beyond the target. They simply wanted to cut off heads to end a political system. This is a straightforward objective, even though the means may be unsavory.

Flying airplanes into the Twin Towers went beyond the objective of the destruction of a building. It made a statement.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 11:59:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:14:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous mike said...

In the American War of Independence, the use of some of the unsavory tactics, or terror, or hideous killings of non-combatants, or burning alive of women and children was done both by some Tories and some Brit regulars. To our shame lots of those horrendous acts were also done by some Patriots.

The same could be said for both sides in the American Civil War.

Cousin's wars are horrible things.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:42:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

Mike, my point is that Terrorism is SYMBOLIC VIOLENCE that goes beyond the immediate victims. The violence you discuss from the American Rev. was clear, objective violence. The purpose was to defeat the enemy by direct application of violence.

Generally, terrorism is a byproduct of mass media, as messages can be carried far and wide, and cheaply, via this medium.--jim

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 1:00:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Rick98c said...

If it's all so simple Mr Stephens then I can't understand why Israel hasn't been a haven of peace and tranquility for years.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 1:39:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

terrorism, in the modern sense is a totally different animal. yes, there were atrocities on all sides in our revolution. the french revolution was incredibly brutal. what was different, is things like taking a tax collector, or crown representative and the mob tarring and feathering (which usually resulted in a lingering and painful death) or pouring an entire pot of boiling tea down their throats (which usually resulted in a lingering and painful death) or the burning of a southern village by cavalry (although if you're citing the mel gibson revolutionary war movie about the slaughter of whole towns, the brits were bastard enough, but they never went that far) it is still different. oddly enough the difference is the concept of nation/states. boston was damned near athenian in its political importance. when the british closed the port of boston, they galvanized the entire region of new england. the port of charlston was as important to the economy and vitality of the south.

usually before shutting down a port, or torching a city, the protocol of the day (which was almost always followed to the letter) meant that there would be a grace period for all non-combatants to flee. honor dictated that those fleeing not be chased.

when al-queda struck across new york, washington d.c. with three co-ordinated hijackings there was no nation to strike back against. there still isn't. although there isn't anything like a politically or ethnicly viable nation in afghanistan for us to deal with, it's not fucking news. alexander had the same problems. same same with darius, kublai khan, kitchener, gordon, and just about every other foreign power which has tried to accomplish a lasting presence there. the only thing that the afghans hate more than each other is everybody else.

saddam hussain didn't so much represent a nation as the iron fisted brutal authority of one man, one clan, one tribe over all the others. it was convenient for us to pretend along with him when he was providing us with a proxy to bedevil the iranians. now, iraq has simply reverted to its historic role of political and ethnic clusterfuck and thorn in the sides of any invaders. george w. bush shouldn't feel all that special about failing there. the ottoman empire, attaturk, and t.e. lawrence failed miserably too.

what makes terrorism today different is absence of a nation or coherent political entity that would enable a negotiation or detente to be reached.

how is one supposed to negotiate with a clusterfuck?

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 1:46:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


Thank you for this fine distinction that Ranger missed. He says he is a broadsword, and your comment was more rapier.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 2:39:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing people don't realize is that the Treaty of Paris that ended the War for Independence stipulated that the the newly independent U.S. would compensate the Tories for their losses. The Americans never did this, and so they really got off to a bad start with treaties, and with Britain in general, so that just a couple of decades later, there was an element of revenge by Britain in the War of 1812. They burned down the White House, etc. And then of course came the treaties with the Native Americans, which they thought were binding but turned out to be worthless.

So these days when the U.S. violates international agreements like the Geneva Convention and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, it's part of a long tradition of the U.S. abrogating such agreements when we find it expedient.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 4:22:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger BadTux said...

But of course ethnic cleansing is a way to deal with insurgencies. As Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said, "no people, no problem". Of course, nobody ever accused Joseph Stalin of being a moral, just, or democratic leader, but if we want to emulate, say, Stalin's treatment of the Chechnyans (faced with an insurgency there, he simply deported the entire population to Siberia in one gigantic act of ethnic cleansing where 90% of the population died in the gulag), why, let's hop to it, hmm?

Of course, only vile and evil people do this kind of stuff, but surely little things like "moral scruples" are too good for us. Besides, it's not like we're talking about people. Them thare Eye-rack-ees ain't people, they's be *DARKIES*, and thus untermenschen, subhuman, and it's okay to exterminate them, yessiree!

Oh what morals we have in these here United States of America these days, where ethnic cleansing and genocide are viewed as, well, no problem, in a major national newspaper. Aye yes, American civilization. It would be a good idea, yes?

- Badtux the Sardonic Penguin

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 9:03:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

But you know, badtux, we're atoning as Michael Moore suggested by nominating latte-toned Obama as a candidate. So history really IS like the football stadium wave. Sometimes you're up, sometimes down.

Hell really is other people, isn't it, b.t.?

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 10:09:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of Stalin, I recently read both volumes of Simon Montefiore's biography of Stalin, newly researched from previously inaccessible archives. What really struck me about young Stalin is that he was so different from Hitler: Stalin was an admired poet, bank robber, terrorist, revolutionary theorist, and a ladies' man with many girlfriends along the way. Hitler was a starving artist who probably was a virgin until he met Eva Braun while in power.

Then, during Stalin's actual reign, what astounded me was the way his "worker's paradise" seemed to declare war on the peasants, to such an extent that there were quotas for how many thousands of peasants should be killed in each republic for being "traitors" or some other such trumped-up charge.

Young Stalin

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 10:59:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

MB, there are so many nuances to the concept of Terrorism BUT the administration want it to be unidimensional with one size fitting all. jim

Friday, June 6, 2008 at 2:59:00 PM GMT-5  

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