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July 30, 2006

We Should be Dividers, not Uniters, of Terrorists
Posted by David Shorr

The second item on Suzanne's key questions progressives must figure out was: Is the Fight Against Terror the #1 priority or simply a top priority? I'll offer a positive answer as well as a negative one on the need for a fundamental shift in how we view counterterror efforts.

To respond directly to Suzanne's direct question, I vote for "simply a top priority." Actually, my vote is for: a priority, with others, in need of broader strategic context. It should be possible to take this threat seriously without being consumed by it. Stopping terrorists is a minimum condition for security; taken by itself, it is not a vision worthy of American ambition or international common cause.

The best strategic vision I've heard articulated lately was by a fellow Iowan I met in Dubuque. Putting it in terms of other nations' ordinary citizens, he said our aim should be to: "make people around the world believe they're part of the world and not an ally of the nut down the street," meaning terrorist.

This is a hearts-and-minds approach only in the sense of how you gauge success. The aim is not merely to gain global sympathy for America, but to build a world with the broadest possible sense of shared stake and shared benefit. What we need is a growing law-abiding global majority that deprives warlords, WMD black marketeers, gun-runners, authoritarians, genocide perpetrators, and terrorists of all their oxygen. In other words, as more of the world's nations and their citizens find their voice and their prosperity, malefactors of all kinds will be increasingly hemmed in and under pressure. If this sounds like Richard Haass' The Opportunity, then call me a Haassian.

Now for the negative, what-the-counterterror-fight-isn't response. It is not a global confrontation between two great blocs. Here, again, is the distorting power of a monomaniacal focus on terrorists; frankly, this depiction builds up our opponent. The man in Dubuque had it right -- the terrorist is a nut. And therefore he shouldn't be dignified as a worthy adversary.

Remember the climactic scene of "The Wizard of Oz?" Dorothy and friends are in the wizard's chamber, his giant face staring down at them, while Toto notices someone off to the side. My question is this: is it in America's interests to cast terrorists as "Oz the Great and Powerful" or "the little man behind the curtain?"

The point is often made that terror is a tactic rather than a cohesive force, and scholars have analyzed the relationship of terrorism to different political, ideological, and religious objectives, but we are a long way from integrating this point into our strategy. The fight against terrorism is not actually a fight against terrorISM, but against terrorISTS. We should be driving wedges between terrorists rather than pushing them together.

Lorelei Kelly highlighted a relevant West Point study for us in a post last winter. The military academy's Combating Terrorism Center has done major empirical studies of terrorist organizations revealing frequent internal divisions over operational and political decisions. I'm just civilian policy wonk, but to me, that looks like an opportunity to divide and conquer. Or, to pick up where Heather left off with analogies from Soviet Communism, we should be using "salami tactics."


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I agree.

The current strategy attempts to view the "problem" through an outdated paradigm, inhereted from the 1940s and 1950s. In reality, the neo-conservatives are simply still fighting the Cold War. You see in their rhetoric constantly, which is all drawn from WWII, its run up, and the Cold War, especially the earlier Cold War. Rice models herself after Acheson, after all.

But the days of massed armies, MAD, and arms races are over. We're in a new era of warfare, with new technological, social, and political considerations. Its essentially global counterinurgency.

And until our leaders figure this out, we're going to be spinning our wheels for years to come - if not going dangerously backward.

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