Friday, July 28, 2006

The War On Terror

The invasion of Iraq. The war in Afghanistan. The Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza.

All these point out one glaring problem: The Global War on Terrorism is failing.

It's clear that wiping out civilians wholesale in order to deter terrorist activities, much less capture terrorists, is simply the wrong tack to take. Fighting them there does not prevent us from fighting them here. In fact, terrorist plots have been uncovered in three separate instances in 2006 alone.

There's a clue there that I'll get to in a minute, but I want to establish this theme that unfettered and brute military action is not going to stop Al Qaeda or Hizbollah or Hamas or Basque seperatists from planning and implementing attacks. Period.

We need a new strategy, and fast.

I have, as they say, a plan:

1) John Kerry was roundly mocked by President Bush and his minions for treating the Global War On Terrorism as a "police matter." Sadly, Kerry was right: fighting them there has not stopped them from trying to attack us here, and if so much of our attention is distracted with beating them in Iraq and Afghanistan, it makes it that much easier for them to succeed in an attack here.

A tortured sports analogy: imagine the war on terrorists as one giant game of "capture the flag." Only, we're the only team with a flag. That frees up the terrorists to attack only. With nothing to defend (more on this later), they have nothing to lose, and they can send wave upon wave of bombers, assassins and all manner of attacker.

By sending out our troops to "capture their flag," we're committing to a goal that simply doesn't exist. (Presumably, capturing their flag means instilling democracy by force, in this instance.)

We ought to be beefing up our defenses, and remaining alert to threats closer to us. Yes, to some degree, this means more border patrols, but it also means much better detective work on the ground, not only in America, but in cooperation with countries worldwide.

Our most recent terror attack arrests came from the hands of the Lebanese government, the same thin shell that's barely holding up under the cracking weight of the bombings and invasions by Israel. French, Spanish, German, and English authorities have fed us information in the past that has prevented terror attacks within the United States. Good solid police work did the rest.

It's not a good thing that the FBI has been bleeding agents, particularly mid-level agents who have trained in anti-terror tactics. These are also the agents who have the backchannel communications with similar agencies like Interpol and Scotland Yard, to pick up unofficial tips and targets.

We need to beef up our domestic criminal investigation units. By this, I don't mean that we should creat jobs or worse, create new laws allowing for broader powers within our borders. We had eight years of no terror attacks within the United States under Bill Clinton, without a Patriot Act, precisely because Clinton focused on the problem. He had to. The first Trade Center attack occured a month after he took the Oath.

2) Admittedly the weakest leg of this entire plan, and yet a critical one, is education.

Right now, terrorists are being indoctrinated with "America is the great Zionist Satan." A tactic of all warriors is to dehumanize your victims, your enemy, to justify to your God that you are right and your enemy is evil. Further, there is a vast swatch of Muslim society that simply doesn't appreciate how the world works, particularly in terms of scientific achievement (sounds like the Religious Right in this country). Ironic, considering that our greatest scientific achievements have been on the shoulders of ancient Arabic scientists: astronomy, algebra, physics, architecture.

Which brings me to this part of the solution: we in America ought to be spending some time reminding ourselves (and the Muslim community of the world) of their contributions to knowledge. This will benefit us here with greater comprehension and understanding of our antagonists, but will also serve to remind the Arabic world that they, too, were capable of being world powers and can be again, through a commitment to education and technological advances.

We don't have to focus on the terrorists: they live for the ignorance that is inherent in the madrassahs. We have to focus on the ordinary Jafar in the street. Ethnic pride can help us overcome resistance to defeating the forces of ignorance, and the person who cowers and cringes with each terrorist bomb will be more likely to do something, anything, to stop them if they are reminded that there is a history and an heritage of peace and knowledge behind them.

And more, if they see that WE see this, they'll be more likely to turn to us. The assassination of Zarqawi came about because a neighbor saw him and told someone who told us and we were able to pinpoint him and attack. How much quicker would that have happened if we had shown the respect and understanding of the citizens of Iraq-- part of Persia, if you will-- than it did? Imagine that kind of quick cooperation worldwide in rooting out Al Qaeda.

3) There is an old saying: "Give a man a fish, and you've fed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you've fed him for life."

The third and most important part of this solution deals with the one tool we have yet to fully employ in the global war on terror, and yet it is our most powerful weapon.

Economic development. Specifically, jobs. Handouts won't work. Charity is resented even as it is accepted. We need to develop a jobs program, not just for Iraq or Afganistan, but for Iran and Syria and Lebanon and the Sudan and Somalia.

I don't have a full answer here, because I can't take enough time to examine the economies of these nations, but here's a clue: in Iraq, there's a reason the terrorists have taken great pains to blow up oil pipelines. They know that poverty breeds anger and anger breeds terrorists. Similarly, infrastructure destruction and terror has been high on the terrorists list in Iraq: IED don't just blow up American military vehicles. Car bombs are strategically placed where people gather for work or shopping. In other words, it's an assault on any economic development.

We in America and in Europe can't begin to wrap our minds around the concept of abject poverty and starvation. Even the worst off among us have it lightyears better than the average person in Baghdad or Riyadh (despite the sheiks lavish palaces and public works).

Mohammad Atta, one of the nineteen 9-11 attackers, had degrees in architectural & urban design and by all accounts was an intelligent man who could have had a job in any firm (so long as it wasn't American or Jewish, I suppose). He was middle class Egyptian and clearly understood the concepts of wealth and money. Hell, he gave a friend $25,000 to start a business in Germany. He had money.

What would cause a man like this to join Al Qaeda? He clearly stood no personal advantage, so there must be some external justification. He must have looked around him, and saw the suffering of people, suffering he placed firmly in the hands of the Americans and Israelis.

Imagine if those friends and family members had jobs, and incomes, and food on the table. Does anyone think a well-educated urbane man who wanted to design and build things would have flown a plane into a building to destroy it and hopefully the country it represented?

I sure don't. He held two notions in his head, and rather than be able to balance them, he went mad. How many more bombings and attacks can we prevent without digging out the root cause and fixing it: dignity, respect, and a job well-done.

My solution is to turn this over to the private sector, and I don't mean Halliburton (altho that would be better than nothing). Give incentives to American and European and Asian companies to camp out in endangered nations, and build jobs there.

We did it here in America, during the Great Depression. We ought to be able to do it there. If we get people jobs, they'll have a stake in their homes. And with a stake in their homes, they'll want a say in their community. And with a say in their community, terrorists will have fewer and fewer hiding places.

4) Finally, military action. Yes, I know, I said it was a failure, and for the most part it is.

But the killing of Zarqawi points out the value of precision, small-scale military involvement. Fast moving, moment's notice task forces sent out with the specific information on how to stop a terrorist in his tracks will be what is needed to finally bring the bombings to an end.

I would argue that the elephantine way we fight wars (and Israel is proving this right alongside us) is an abject failure. We need to retrain our forces to act more independently of central command while keeping in mind their overall objectives. Businesses in America have worked for decades pushing authority down the chain of command to conform to the responsibility for the job. The army ought to be taking notes, because it's worked.

You might also notice that this is precisely the tactic that allows terror groups to function so effectively.

You can see there's a flow to this overall solution that requires us to regain respect (but not fear) of people who will then turn in, for reasons that the economic aspect make apparent (now they actually HAVE something to lose) terrorists to forces that will move swiftly to secure the evil without excising the good along with it.

The war on terror will not be won on grains of sand, but on grains of wheat.

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