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Terror
Posted by: Bryan Pick on Friday, July 04, 2008

In a discussion of torture, Radley Balko on terrorism:
“Terrorism” by definition is an effort to use a few attacks to induce unwarranted and irrational fear across an entire population. The aim is get the terrorist’s target to alter its policies, waste its resources, and change its way of life in an irrational response to an enemy without the resources for a more traditional war.
Surprisingly, it’s not just the anti-war crowd that has been using this definition with some regularity since 9/11 and especially since the Coalition went to war in Iraq; even some who agree with our war aims have agreed with this idea of the terrorists’ aims. But it’s natural that anti-war individuals would accept that definition more often, since it’s complementary with the opinions that (a) the threat of terrorism has been overinflated, so (b) the response is bound to be irrational. It seems like cold calculation on the part of the terrorists to perform spectacular attacks with the intent of drawing an expensive overreaction, and this throws a particularly bad light on those who are perceived to be cynically exploiting the natural fear of violence to push a pro-war agenda, which of course would play right into the hands of the terrorists. (As an aside, I would argue that we should not confuse achieving our aims with preventing the enemy from achieving his. Sometimes the enemy achieves a tactical goal to his strategic detriment.)

I won’t argue against the proposition that al Qaeda wanted to draw the United States into an expensive and bloody war. I won’t argue that the responses to terrorism, both by individuals and by all levels of government in the US, have all been rational and warranted. They haven’t, and what’s more, that fact shouldn’t surprise anyone. And I agree wholeheartedly that al Qaeda intended to alter US (and Spanish, and British, etc.) government policies; they have repeatedly stated as much.

But is Balko giving us a good working definition of terrorism? I think not. In some places, it’s sloppy; in other places, it’s simply wrong.
  • When — not if — fear of terrorism becomes rational and warranted, will it still be terrorism to perform the next attack? I would submit that it is. Terror is the goal, whether rational or irrational.
  • Does terrorism require “a few” attacks? History shows that it does not, although that does amplify the signal. Tim McVeigh was a terrorist after one spectacular attack. And I would suggest that the credible threat of violence can substitute for an actual attack.
  • Is terrorism defined by attempts to change government policy? I would submit that it is not; al Qaeda, in addition to its attempts to change state policies, has also used terror as an instrument of its own governance, to change personal behavior and to destroy Western values. Other, more established states have instituted programs of terror against their own people — terror as policy, rather than as an attempt to change policy.
  • Is terrorism defined by attempts to get its target to waste resources? I would say not. The Madrid train bombings were not designed to draw Spain further into the war, but to dissuade them from continuing their support of the war. The same goes for the London tube train bombings. Many of the responses to terrorism thus far have been wasteful, and because it is strategically convenient in the current context it was part of the intent of al Qaeda, but this fact does not define terrorism. Does anyone doubt that if al Qaeda had the capability to inflict another attack on the United States, more spectacular than 9/11, whether or not it caused us to waste more resources, they would do it?
  • Is it necessary that terrorism be carried out by the more poorly-funded party to a conflict? To agree would be to argue that states do not make use of terror, or that it isn’t terrorism if the victim has fewer resources than the attacker. Though the overwhelming economic and conventional military dominance of the United States (and its allies) has contributed to the rise of modern, international terrorism — by funneling would-be violent challengers into unconventional violence and particularly against noncombatants, whose security is vital to the legitimacy of our states — that is a circumstance and not a necessarily defining aspect of terrorism. The better-funded can engage in terrorism too.
  • Is terrorism defined by attempts to get the target to change their way of life? This hits closest to the mark.

Back in April March, I recommended the book Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century by Philip Bobbitt. Bobbitt is all about the intersection of law and strategy, and he has a more compelling definition of terrorism than any other I’ve seen:
Terrorism is the pursuit of political goals through the use of violence against noncombatants in order to dissuade them from doing what they have a lawful right to do [Emphasis his]. This definition puts the goals of terrorism back into the picture by linking strategic means (attacks on civilians) with legal ends (the deterrence of lawful action). (p. 352)

I would add the credible threat of violence rather than just the use of violence, but I think Bobbitt’s definition has much greater clarity and thereby much greater practical value than Balko’s. Using Bobbitt’s proposed definition, if Balko and I basically agree on rights, my terrorist will not be his freedom fighter, so to speak. And while Bobbitt’s definition must be understood as extremely broad — I don’t doubt for a minute that Balko would apply this definition to certain American institutions — it is nonetheless useful. Over the course of 546 pages and almost 100 pages of notes, Bobbitt explains in great detail why this understanding of terrorism will be crucial to the legitimacy of our states, our institutions, and our way of life (so to speak). He explains why the concept of a “war against terror” is a perfectly legitimate one.

There’s a lot more implied by “lawful right” than I can do justice to here, but suffice it to say,
In the case of al Qaeda, the goal of the terror network is the destruction of Western values in any area where these can have an impact on Muslims. Rendering persons too frightened to act lawfully on their basic values is both a means and an end, for such a situation of terror, of terrified people in a terrified society too fearful to freely choose their actions (and thus manifest their values) is an end roughly equivalent to the total destruction of Western values. (p. 357)
There’s a strong flavor of negative rights, of creating a civic peace with political freedom, in Bobbitt’s argument.

And I should point out that far from being an enthusiastic apologist for the Bush administration and its prosecution of the war thus far, Bobbitt takes plenty of opportunities to rake the Bush administration over the coals — on everything from Iraq to Katrina to, yes, torture — but he’s able to do so without falling victim to conveniently complementary ideas of just what it is we’re facing.
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
That Balko definition is preposterous. It seems like he tried to tailor that definition to our response to 9/11 by going to Iraq.

The Bobbitt definition is almost exactly my definition, which is: specifically targeting civilians in order to coerce a society to submit to the terrorists’ political or social goals.
 
Written By: Captain Obviousness
URL: http://
"I won’t argue against the proposition that al Qaeda wanted to draw the United States into an expensive and bloody war."

I am not sure that was the plan. I think they thought that if they kept attacking us, we would simply leave the region ala Somalia.

"I won’t argue that the responses to terrorism, both by individuals and by all levels of government in the US, have all been rational and warranted."

I think you could make a very good case that in many conventional wars our response was not always rational or warranted. For example, blacking out cities on the west coast of the USA when Japan could not conceivable bomb them. Or school board plans to issue I.D. tags to 100,000 school children, fearing Japanese attack. Or interning the Japanese-Americans.

http://www.sfmuseum.org/war/42.html

Lost of doozies at the link.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
I’m reading John Robb’s Global Guerillas. I think he has a good handle on the terrorists.
 
Written By: Eric Chen
URL: http://
Eric, thanks for the tip on Global Guerillas. I bookmarked his blog.
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
Threat of terror eases in Canada ...
TORONTO, July 4, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Canadian Human Rights Commission has dropped a complaint by a homosexual activist against Catholic Insight a Toronto-based national Catholic news magazine. A year and a half - and many thousands of dollars in legal fees - after a nine-point human rights complaint was filed by Edmonton-based homosexual activist Rob Wells, Catholic Insight has been informed that the case has been dropped. However, a judicial review before the Federal Court is still possible should the complainant pursue that avenue.

In a letter the Commission noted that it decided "to dismiss the complaint because the material (produced by Catholic Insight) is not likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt based on sexual orientation." It added that "the file on this matter has now been closed."
They don’t want to ruin their 100% record, I suppose.
 
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
Iran’s top diplomat condemned recent moves in the West to undermine Islamic values and said that these initiatives are intolerable for Muslim nations.

He also urged Muslim countries to support Iran’s bid to hold a seat at the UN Security Council and noted that Iran is the only Muslim candidate from Asia eligible to join the UN Secutiry Council this year.
Making the Security Council as useless as the UN Human Rights.
 
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
Harun -
I won’t argue against the proposition that al Qaeda wanted to draw the United States into an expensive and bloody war.
I am not sure that was the plan. I think they thought that if they kept attacking us, we would simply leave the region ala Somalia.
Their actions immediately preceding the 9/11 attacks — and here I’m thinking of the assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood — say something different to me. I think they expected an attack in Afghanistan; I think they expected that they would bloody the American force as the Soviets were bloodied; I think they viewed the US as casualty-averse and so as a result of our bloodying, we would back out; and I think they were surprised at our success.
I won’t argue that the responses to terrorism, both by individuals and by all levels of government in the US, have all been rational and warranted.
I think you could make a very good case that in many conventional wars our response was not always rational or warranted.
Oh, I absolutely agree. The US has seen its fair share of fiascoes both in-theater and at home during wartime.
 
Written By: Bryan Pick
URL: http://www.qando.net
Personally I view "terrorism" as the Poor Man’s Equivalent to Terror Bombing...The terrorist is seeking to bypass the military and attack the "soft" civilian centres of resistance, in order to affect the target’s will...The IRA was attempting to do to the British what Goering had tried and what the British attempted with RAF Bomber Command. All three failed...

As to AQ I’d say they were waging a Global Guerilla War...their attacks were designed as Phase I Operations, "Armed Propaganda". We are here, this is what we can do, YOU should join us...

They had achieved Phase III conditions in Afghanistan, they had a haven were their forces go about openly carrying arms. I believe they wished to expand those havens...

I don’t think AQ/Taliban wanted to provoke anything...They didn’t think we WOLD do anything, beyond start an FBI investigation and launch a few cruise missiles. From the 1980’s on that’s all we’d done. They figured they’d hunker down in Afghanistan, ride out a few missile strikes that killed a few grunts and lose a few operatives to the US Court System, that’s it...the US wasn’t going to "come to Afghanistan" because the US was casualty averse and because they believed as did the Media that what happened to the Soviets would happen to the US forces.

Radley Balko is just a smelly hippie who doesn’t like high taxes, so he’s looking for reasons to not only end the War on Drugs, but the War on Terror...he’ll say anything if he thinks it would advance that agenda.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
The aim is get the terrorist’s target to alter its policies, waste its resources, and change its way of life in an irrational response to an enemy without the resources for a more traditional war.
emphasis mine

I’ve encountered this ’all part of his Cunning Plan’ formulation a lot with regard to bin Laden. Sometimes it seems to spring from a desire/need to believe that the Bush administration is Just That Stupid — that any and all action it takes must by definition be ill-conceived, incompetent, and foolish.* Sometimes it seems to spring from a desire/need to believe that bin Laden is Just That Smart. Why, I don’t know. Maybe there’s some need to think that someone who could cause the murder of 3,000 Americans at one go simply must be superhuman.

I really do get tired of seeing attempts to shoehorn it into definitions of terrorism.

*insert standard strawman-b-gone disclaimer regarding Bush administration im/perfection here
 
Written By: Achillea
URL: http://
And then you see articles like this, and we’re back to square one. There are threats out there, and over here. And sometimes we get lucky.

http://www.nypost.com/seven/07042008/news/regionalnews/samaritan_thief_alerts_cops_to_terror_va_118416.htm
At about 5 p.m. yesterday, an unidentified thief with a police record broke into a red van that had been parked at 53rd Street and Second Avenue in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park for about a month, a source told The Post.

He was stunned when he looked inside - it was filled with gas cans and Styrofoam cups containing a mysterious white substance with protruding wires and switches.

The street is lined with brownstones, and there’s a ballet studio and a small Muslim school. So he drove the van 15 blocks to 37th Street and parked it at a desolate waterfront location behind the Costco store and next to some little-used piers.

Then he got out and called a cop he knows from his run-ins with the law.

“He did the right thing,” a high-ranking officer said. “And he possibly saved a lot of people’s lives.”
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25550354

In the six-and-a-half years that the U.S. government has been fingerprinting insurgents, detainees and ordinary people in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, hundreds have turned out to share an unexpected background, FBI and military officials said. They have criminal arrest records in the United States.

There was the suspected militant fleeing Somalia who had been arrested on a drug charge in New Jersey. And the man stopped at a checkpoint in Tikrit who claimed to be a dirt farmer but had 11 felony charges in the United States, including assault with a deadly weapon.

The records suggest that potential enemies abroad know a great deal about the United States because many of them have lived here, officials said. The matches also reflect the power of sharing data across agencies and even countries, data that links an identity to a distinguishing human characteristic such as a fingerprint.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com

 
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