Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

An Expert’s Take On Terrorism

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy by Dan on April 26, 2010

When Dr. Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University talks about terrorism, I tend to listen.  But when he talks about what the U.S. Government is doing wrong in the War on Terrorism, then I jump up and print his article for future reference.

Hoffman’s new piece in this month’s National Interest is just the latest in a string of papers worth reading for anyone intrigued by the topic of terrorism.  The surprising thing is that Hoffman does not reveal anything that isn’t already known in the intelligence community; he only reiterates a point he’s been making time and again in his work for the past some-odd years.  But it’s an enlightening point nonetheless, and one that I’m afraid the White House has yet to embrace.

And the point is this: killing or capturing terrorist leaders will not solve the problem of terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic, and no matter how hard a country tries, destroying a tactic of war is a virtually impossible endeavor.  Unfortunately, judging from Obama’s new order to kill Yemeni cleric and AQ sympathizer Anwar al-Awlaki, targeted assassination is still America’s number one counterterrorism strategy.

Much to the dismay of the United States, the War on Terrorism is not a war in the traditional sense (I hope politicians inside the Beltway understand this, considering that we have now spent a decade on fighting Islamic terrorism overseas). Much like the “war on drugs,” or the “war on crime,” or the “war on poverty,” the war on terrorism is an endless battle. Thinking otherwise is just plain foolish, and depending on drone strikes and assassination attempts against individual terrorists is not going to solve the problem in the long run.

I’m glad Hoffman recognizes this, and I’m glad that other people are starting to follow in his footsteps. Rather than relying exclusively on conventional tools of war, like bombers, troops, and tanks, the United States needs to start shifting and utilizing tools in their soft-power arsenal. This means expanding economic aid to areas that are prone to terrorist activity, like societies that cannot sustain a decent level of economic activity for their citizens. This means ensuring that authoritarian governments in the Middle East, like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and members of the GCC start opening up their political systems and introducing a certain level of transparency in their government. This means easing restrictions on education so more foreign students (particularly in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa) can experience how Americans truly live and how much the United States has to offer.

But most importantly, using soft-power means improving the American image. A big reason why Al’Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban have a steady stream of young recruits is because they claim to defend Muslims against an ignorant and hypocritical superpower. Undercutting their ability to exploit falsities is logically the best course of action.

It’s not going to defeat terrorism outright. But it would at least limit its appeal.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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One Response

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  1. anan said, on April 27, 2010 at 8:36 am

    “A big reason why Al’Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban have a steady stream of young recruits is because they claim to defend Muslims against an ignorant and hypocritical superpower.”

    You exaggerate America’s role in all this.

    The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and AQ are not primarily fighting against America. They are fighting the Shiites, Iranians, Russians, Americans, Europeans, Indians, Pakistanis, GIRoA, ANSF, Sufis. They have a global agenda and global aims.

    Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Algeria, are not primarily being targeted because of “America.”

    Hard though it might be to understand; the Takfiri genuinely believe they are fighting for God to advance His will. They believe in the establishment of global righteousness where righteousness is defined and enforced by them.

    Hamas openly calls for negotiations and good relations with America. Hamas has on several occasions fought with Al Qaeda. I mean actual gun battles. OBL and Zawahiri hate Hamas and have said terrible things about them. In fact; we Americans should consider an alliance with Hamas against AQ.

    Hezbollah is well Hezbollah.

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