Sunday, September 12, 2004

That's What I Said: Creating Terrorists Through the War on Terrorism

In a previous post, I suggested that the U.S. and its war on "terrorism" could be compared to Russia, and its war against Chechen seperatists. The most important comparison, I argued, lies between the way Russia has dealt with the insurgents, and the way the U.S. is handling terrorism. This comparison is important because Russia's brutal treatment of Chechens has been a direct cause of terrorist attacks, some devestating, within Russia. The fact that violence against terrorists does little more than create new terrorists is a lesson Israel knows quite well, too. In a lengthy post, Jessica Wilson, guest blogging for Brian Leiter, argues for the same point. She puts it this way:

These sorts of offensive and defensive responses are so uniformly the government response to terrorism that it might be easy to miss the fact that they do effectively nothing to discourage terrorism, and on the contrary, do a great deal to encourage it. Israel’s violent responses to Palestinian terrorism have not been effective in stopping this, and nor have been the violent U.S. responses to Iraqi terrorism. Apparently nothing could have been better for Al Qaeda recruitment than the U.S.’s brutal invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. And of course we all know how well Russia's strategies for preventing Chechen terrorism is working.

Obviously, Wilson and I are in agreement about the basics. Violence begets violence. We do, however, disagree about one thing. Wilson writes:

If the responses are directed against a relatively contained population, and are conducted with such brutality that the population is effectively destroyed (or forced to emigrate in order to survive), then it may be possible to prevent future terrorist attacks coming from that particular population in that particular place. Of course, this approach requires destroying the entire community, which might seem unfair, given that the vast majority of persons in any of the communities we have been discussing are not terrorists. But it appears to be a price some are willing to pay.

This may be true short term, as Chechen attacks on Russian civilians were limited for the first few years of that "civil" war, but even this does not accord with the reality on the ground in the middle east. Despite brutal military repraisals by Israel within the Palestinian territories, and the almost complete destruction of the Palestinian economy, the West Bank and Gaza have continued to produce a steady stream of terrorists. This may be true of Afghanistan, where the U.S.'s continued attempts to destroy the Taliban and Al Qaeda in that country may serve to prevent future attacks from terrorist groups based or trained there. However, I'm not sure that will be the case in Iraq. Currently, Iraqi insurgents focus their attacks on Americans currently in Iraq, along with attacks against locations important to the U.S.-constructed Iraqi government. However, if the U.S. occupation lasts several more years, as it appears it may (particularly if we re-elect our current president), we may begin to see effects similar to those of the Russian occupation of Chechnya. Attacks by Iraqi insurgents within the U.S., or on U.S. civilian or military targets outside of Iraq, might not be outside of the realm of possibility. The more brutal we are in cities like Fallujah and Najaf, the more, not less, likely such attacks will become.

In the interest of "fair and balanced" coverage of analogies, I think I should note that there are some disanalogies between both the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the Russian war in Chechnya, and the U.S.'s war on terrorism. In both of those cases, the brutal reprisals have been against terrorist-producing populations within close proximity (in fact, both the Palestinians and Chechnyans share a border with their antagonists). The U.S.'s war on terrorism takes place thousands of miles away, for the most part, with entire oceans seperating most of the terrorists and the majority of American citizens. This will make it more difficult for Iraqis, Afghanis, and other terrorist groups to bring the fight to American soil as often and consistently as the Palestinian terrorist groups have done in Israel, and the Chechens are now doing in Russia. However, the attacks of September 11 clearly demonstrate that attacks on American soil are not impossible, and if sufficiently motivated, terrorists can produce devestating carnage here. So, while there may be disanalogies that exist, and the U.S. may never see terrorist attacks at home with the frequency that the Israelis and Russians do, we should be well aware of the effectiveness of violence in stemming the tide of terrrorism in these two countries.

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