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December 03, 2010

Feeding Extremism
Posted by James Lamond

Much of what has come out of the WikiLeaks release can be filed under “confirming what we already knew.”  But some there has been some interesting data revealed that supports what a lot of what public qualitative analyses have already been saying for a while.  In that category is the impact that torture, abuses, Guantanamo and  Abu Ghraib have had on recruitment. 

We have heard for years from terrorism experts, interrogators, Bush administration investigators  and military leaders about the how these “nonbiodegrabales” -to use General Petraeus's term - hurt America’s interests and effect recruitment for terrorism.  One of the WikiLeaks cable confirms this, with a suprising statistic on arrests made around the release of the Abu Ghraib photos.  According to the cable, “following publication of the first Abu Ghraib photos, Saudi authorities had arrested 250 individuals trying to leave Saudi Arabia to join extremist groups in Afghanistan.” That seems to be a failry high number. 

On a similar note, Peter Bergen outlines in the upcoming edition of Vanity Fair, just how important it is in the overall strategy to combat terrorism abroad:

“the United States and its allies must bear in mind the Hippocratic injunction to do no harm. Al-Qaeda and similar groups will, in time, collapse from irrelevance and non-support unless continually given new life by outside events. The war in Iraq was one such event. Guantánamo was another gift. Episodes such as the 'Ground Zero mosque' controversy and the threatened burning of Korans by a church in Florida receive front-page treatment in the Muslim world—and are profoundly counterproductive. Raising the temperature only delays the day of reckoning; indeed, the temperature should be lowered as much as possible. This means pressing as best we can in an evenhanded way for a settlement of the conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians and between India and Pakistan—both of which inflame Muslim passions. We should also uphold American values about human rights and the rule of law. Some will loudly brand any effort to lower the temperature as 'appeasement.' It is not. It is wisdom.”

Bergen, highlights one of the fundamental flaws of how many in the debate perceive counterterrorism approaches: if it sounds tougher it is better.  But not only is this not the case in actual efficiency of policies (see military commissions vs. civilian trials) but it is also specifically counterproductive when combating terrorist.  As Bergen writes:

“citizens in the West must come to understand—and their leaders must drive the point home—that although terrorist attacks, including attacks by al-Qaeda, will continue to happen, the real damage is done by the panic and lashing out that follows. This is the reaction that al-Qaeda craves—and it is why terrorism works...  Rare is the threat that can be defeated in large measure simply by deciding that we will not unduly fear it. Terrorism is one such threat."

Because terrorism is such a unique tactic, America's reaction defines so much.  It defines if a plot - success or failure - is a success and it defines who we are to ourselves, our friends, our enemies, and everyone in between.

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An excellent article about the issue. As further evidence, one could look at what happened under Sadat and Nasser when they tried to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood. Both times a relatively moderate large political force was broken up leaving behind an small extremist militant force. When driven underground, these extremist forces began to the government as something to be destroyed rather than taken control of leading to unsuccessful assassination attempts on Nasser and a successful one on Sadat.

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Do you think perhaps that the reason for these sort of reactions to terrorism is because the US saw them as a grouped together Other. Rather than understand the various dichotomies between the cells within the radical Islamist movement, they lumped them together as one big "enemy." Perhaps how different these groups look resulted in this grouping. This would explain why Bush included Iran in the "Axes of Evil" - one Islamist is as good as another. We assumed that in all instances that their objectives would come into conflict with ours and therefore, anything we did to hurt them would help us. However, if in the future we took the time to examine their individual objectives and see how to best counteract those that come into conflict with ours we would find much better ways to respond.

The person responsible behind this WikiLeaks should have thought about what he had to do before he executed something that changed everything now.

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Maybe you should have Michael Cohen take a look at this. It surprises me he's so anti-WikiLeaks when he's such a vociferous critic of American military involvement abroad - something WikiLeaks seems to be undermining in small ways every day.

This is a good example of the discursive benefit WikiLeaks brings to our foreign policy: Now the argument about military involvement only spurring terrorist recruiting has some interesting evidence behind it. Thank you again, WikiLeaks!

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