Where Do Little Terrorists Come From #6 - Changes in Strategy

It's not too late to get our act together.

The first article in this series attempted to kill off the false notion that terrorism is caused by poverty.  The second and third articles gave historical examples and definitions; the fourth and fifth articles discussed terrorism in the American Revolution and in the Middle East while carefully avoiding value judgments except to point out the defects in our definitions of "terrorism."  These observations point towards some strategy changes that would be a lot more effective in combating terrorism than what we've tried heretofore.

There Are Solutions

History makes it clear that there are effective ways to make terrorism less attractive to its practitioners and to deal with those who decide to go ahead anyway.  Unfortunately, as with the War on Drugs, the way our government approaches the "War on Terror" makes the problem worse.

Bureaucrats traditionally try to exacerbate the problem they're supposed to solve as a path to larger budgets.  This may be acceptable in other areas but it's not acceptable when dealing with terrorism.

There are a number of lessons from history.  If we ignore the lessons, we'll have to repeat the course, and we won't enjoy the lesson any better than our forebears enjoyed the lesson the last time.

Terrorists Aren't Warriors, They're Criminals

Our first, and biggest, mistake was to declare that we were fighting a "War on Terror."  Saying that we were in a war legitimized the terrorists, making other nations expect us to treat captured criminals as if they were members of a real army with all the rights and privileges of the Geneva Convention instead of treating them as the criminals they are.

Terrorists know that being shown to be criminals is fatal - most citizens despise criminals and turn them over to law enforcement whenever they can do so safely.  We've written about Bobby Sands, the IRA member who starved himself to death in prison rather than accept being treated as a common criminal.

Being interned without trial meant that the British military was treating civilians unjustly.  Being victims of government-sponsored oppression gained huge support for the IRA members during their hunger strike, as being shown to have been tortured gained sympathy for al Qaeda.  We've seen how protecting a member who'd been shown to be a cowardly murderer overcame all they sympathy the IRA had earned and finally ended its influence.

During Prohibition, did we declare a War on Bootlegging?  Al Capone wasn't an army or a "freedom fighter," he was a murderous criminal who engaged in terroristic acts to intimidate his business competitors.  The government dealt with him according to due process of law.

This point is often confused when discussing the "War in Iraq."  The invasion of Iraq really was a proper war: Iraq had a hostile government, a national leader, and an army in uniform.  Our government made the decision that the sovereign nation of Iraq was a threat that needed to be addressed by invasion.  You can agree or disagree with that decision, but it's appropriate to call what we did a war, at least at first.

After Saddam was captured and Maliki elected, however, the war was over; we are no longer fighting a government.  The elected government of Iraq is our ally (or protectorate, depending on your point of view) but certainly not our enemy.

Our actions since then are more properly actions in support of the Iraqi police and army against criminal insurgents.  If what we do is viewed that way, we're much more likely to be successful.  We turned a corner when Gen. Petraeus was placed in charge, as he seems to clearly understand this and to have communicated his insight to his subordinates.

As of this moment, we are not at war with anybody; saying that we are at war not only serves our nation ill, the lie gives aid and comfort to our enemies.

We were at war when we attacked the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan.  We won both of those wars in short order.  Those governments are no more, so we can't be at war with them, and we have not yet elected to begin a new war against the enemy government of Iran.  Until we do, we need to correctly recognize what we are doing and what we are not doing; if you don't know what you're doing, you probably won't do it very well.

Don't Imitate the Terrorists

The definition of "extortion" includes wresting money from people through the abuse of authority.  We've seen abuse of prosecutorial power become almost routine in America with Spitzer, Nifong, and others abusing their ability to bring charges against whomever they choose and ruin innocent people.  If people are afraid that they might be trashed by their own government, how much cooperation can government expect from them?

The 9-11 terrorists killed more than 3,000 people.  Tragic as that is, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the 40,000 or so who die in traffic accidents every year and the tens of thousands of Americans who encounter law enforcement officials every year.

Given our government's proven willingness to abuse its power, many of my friends think that they're far more likely to be harmed by our own government than by terrorists - in truth, statistically speaking, numbers are on their side.  Those who think that abuse of power is confined to the Republican Bush Administration should remember that Gov. Spitzer, who perfected the techniques of destroying people through abuse of power, was a Democrat.

Abuse of power is part of the human condition and is therefore non-partisan.  Say what you will and believe as you may, all Republicans and all Democrats are human beings who are subject to all the ills to which the flesh is heir.

Unfortunately, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have realized that abusing our own citizens makes them less loyal to the government and less inclined to help the government achieve its goals.

Observe the Rule of Law

The American government tried, convicted, and jailed the terrorists who tried to blow up the World Trade Center garage.  Unfortunately, our loony left judges held the Port Authority partially responsible for their garage being bombed so that lawyers could bring suit against the Port Authority.  Despite such silliness, the criminals who bombed the building were caught, convicted, and jailed through due process of law.

Terrorists thrive when they can claim martyr status for their absent colleagues.  Being shown in open court to be depraved criminals does their movement far more harm than taking out a terrorist or two because it inhibits future recruiting.  Many more people are willing to go though the difficulties of being terrorists if they can earn lofty status and high regard from their peers; it's far less attractive to go through the difficulties and end up being jailed as a common criminal.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind the 9-11 murders who has been imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, repeatedly urges his captors to put him to death so that he can achieve martyr status.  If anyone deserves execution, it's he; but it's essential for it to be performed in as legalistic and non-showy a way as possible, ideally as "just one more" in a string of electric-chair operations with Mohammed standing in line between a child-rapist and a serial murderer.

The last thing we should do is give him a military execution, because as he rightly realizes, the propaganda power of his "martyrdom" far exceeds any actual terrorist attacks he personally will ever be able to carry out in the future.

The US Supreme Court seems to generally agree with our view that treating those who are suspected of terrorism without due process is a bad idea.  Alas, the way they chose to approach it will almost certainly make the problem worse, as John McCain has pointed out; they are disregarding grave constitutional issues and storing up bad trouble for the future.

But if, even by accident, their decision causes terrorists to be tried, convicted, and punished as the criminals they are, it won't have been a complete disaster.  More likely, it will result in terrorists simply being shot dead on the battlefield, but since you rarely hear about those they don't make good martyrs, so that's OK too.

Don't Hassle Our Allies

Mounting the 9-11 attacks and other terrorist operations cost money.  The criminals had to buy IDs by bribing DMV personnel; they took flying lessons; they had travel, living, and even entertainment expenses.

In the wake of 9-11, the government put in place many fiddly regulations asking banks and other financial institutions to report on people moving their own money around.  The stated reason, besides creating jobs for the flocks and herds of bureaucrats who review these reports, was to track money being used for terrorism.

That's silly - the total cost of the London subway bombings was less than the cost of one of the security cameras that captured the images of the terrorists on their way to plant their bombs.  The amounts of money needed for terrorism - Internet connections, a few cell phones, $200-500 worth of common materials to make bombs - are far too small to be found by tracking everybody's transactions in a multi-trillion dollar economy.

And the vast majority of expenses for even real terrorists are perfectly ordinary - rent, food, and so on.  Even if the FBI had received an advance copy of Mohammad Atta's credit-card bill, the charges for plane tickets, box cutters, flight lessons, and - yes - a strip club cover charge would not have rung any alarm bells.

The resulting hassles imposed on good citizens irritate people who should be the government's allies.  Imposing such useless regulations also shows that the government isn't really serious about fighting terrorism, it's just creating paperwork.

Everyone who's read how these regulations were used to harass Rush Limbaugh when he was buying prescribed pain killers and how they were used to help bring down Gov. Spitzer knows that these rules are useless for their stated purpose and that they only give the government more excuses to hassle law-abiding citizens.  No matter what pleasure you might personally feel at those individuals' humiliations, it's frightening to realize that the same thing can happen to anyone including you.

Al Qaeda urges its members to go to Canada and live on welfare while planning their next attacks.  Welfare payments may not be munificent, but they're evidently enough to fund terrorism.

Why hassle people who use the banking system?  It'd make much more sense for us to lean on other countries to stop giving welfare payments to illegal immigrants, but Dennis Kucinich will be calling for us to nuke Tehran long before that will ever happen.

And let's not start discussing all the reasons why TSA's preflight passenger searches are an utter farce.  How long did it take Senator Ted Kennedy to get himself off the "no fly" list?  What chance has a mere citizen who's been wrongly trashed by any one of our many bureaucracies?

After the 9-11 attacks, President Bush issued a clear warning to the international community: "If you're not with us, you're against us."  That might, possibly, make some sense at the national level, but it makes no sense at all at the individual level.  Unfortunately, that's the level at which it seems to be most commonly applied.

Go Back To Probable Cause

In point of fact, there is a distinction between what the laws passed by our representatives and senators authorize and what is done in the trenches, but from the point of view of an abused citizen, it makes very little difference whether a particular bureaucrat was acting outside the law or not.  We've pointed out how the US Attorney in Los Angeles is claiming that violating a web site's terms of use is a criminal offense.  This naked abuse of power clearly stems from the bureaucracy; the decades-old law they're citing deals with computer crime of a fundamentally different sort.

Very few people have read the Patriot Act and even fewer understand it.  Based on what newspaper accounts say about it, a citizen can be forgiven for believing that the Patriot Act authorizes the government to gather all kinds of information about the activities of any US citizen even if there's no reason to suspect anything nefarious.

Whether the Patriot Act authorizes such widespread information collection or not, the media have not only given the impression that it does, they have accused government agencies of going far beyond the few limits remaining in the law.  Regardless of what the Act actually says, there are two main difficulties with such blanket authorizations:

  1. They make ordinary people nervous.  Everybody I know who is at all aware of the Patriot Act believes that the government is reading all our email, tracking our phone calls, listing all the videos we rent, and looking at books we check out of the library.  Everybody knows that the FBI can't get its computers to share information properly; any citizen can be caught up in a spurious investigation at any moment if only by reason of bureaucratic bungling.
  2. Being given the right to look at anything overwhelms government with irrelevant trivia.  Without having to have probable cause to investigate someone, law enforcement doesn't know where to look. Understanding my email takes some knowledge of what I'm talking about, for example.  Without gathering enough solid information about me to have probable cause to investigate further, government can waste a lot of time with my writings. Oh, well, any reader is a good reader as they say in the news biz.

Our Supreme Court has defined "probable cause":

Just the amount of information necessary, under the totality of the circumstances, to convince a reasonable person of the fair probability that a crime occurred and that the evidence sought is in a particular place.

- Illinois v. Gates, 426 U.S. 213 (1983).

That is not a particularly hard standard to meet if the government is tracking an actual miscreant.  One of the practical reasons we don't let cops kick down just any door they want is that they'll waste all their time kicking down doors without finding anything; there are too many doors to properly search behind them all.  Better to investigate, find probable cause, and then go after someone's correspondence, finances, or habitation based on a warrant issued by a neutral observer.

That said, the intelligence community argues quite rightly that tracking who calls whom, listing words that are used in general emails, and finding out what words are used in emails that deal with nefarious activities can help to gather information which leads to probable cause to investigate a specific person.  Finding the proper balance between fishing in the ocean and investigating a specific individual after finding probable cause is very difficult.

Unfortunately, our toxic partisan politics are not an effective way of dispassionately weighing the pros and cons of a given course of action and determining the right balance between the rights of citizens to be let alone and the right of society to protect itself.

Regardless of what the law says, what's important is the public perception of what government agencies do:

Treating our citizens as if they were our enemies drives them to join our enemies.

We see the down side of the public perceiving government as acting badly in the recent Irish referendum on expanding the European Community.  The bureaucrats had drafted the Lisbon Treaty, "a painstakingly negotiated blueprint for consolidating the European Union's power and streamlining its increasingly unwieldy bureaucracy."  The Irish voters rejected the treaty 53% or 46%.

Why?  Because "many people in Ireland and in Europe feel that the union is remote, undemocratic and ever more inclined to strip its smaller members of the right to make their own laws and decide their own futures," which was one of the American complaints about British rule in America before the American revolution.  Next to nobody in Ireland had actually read the treaty, including their own politicians - but they had a very strong feeling that the EU did not care in the least what they thought, and they let that feeling be made very clear.

This is leading to serious problems with EU governance; the EU would have been far better served to take the trouble of winning hearts and minds among its citizenry, rather than just telling them to suck it up and take their medicine.  Normal people, and particularly Americans, do not like feeling powerless before the all-consuming maw of a vast, overweening government.

Stay with Probable Cause and the Rule of Law

Probable cause is so important that it's worth a second heading.  Remember, one of the main goals of committing messy acts of terrorism is to provoke a response that forces people to join the terrorists.

When the British army was sent to Northern Ireland, the troops decided to intern people who were suspected of being connected with the IRA. This is no surprise - an army simply isn't trained in the subtleties of law enforcement.  Interning potential enemies without being concerned with actual guilt is standard practice in wartime so it's no surprise that the army decided to give it a try.

In an operation named "Demetrius," the army locked up almost 350 Catholics without charging them with any crimes.  The unjust internment triggered rioting which left 21 people dead; this was not exactly what the army had expected.  It got worse:

"During the pre-internment period of 1971, (up to 9 August), the Provisionals killed two British soldiers; during the remaining months of the year, they killed thirty. ... One Belfast woman, explaining why she joined the IRA, referred to having experienced loyalist intimidation, then British Army raids - and then to having witnessed internment: 'I felt I'd no other option but to join after that. That's when it became crystal clear to me that the Brits were here to suppress the Catholic minority and for no other reason.'" Armed Struggle, by Richard English, p. 141.

The Army raids convinced a Belfast housewife that the British were her enemy and that her only chance of safety lay in joining the terrorists.  Unarmed people who feel threatened and helpless will ally themselves with whomever appears to offer the most protection.

Our founders recognized that guaranteeing Americans the right to arm themselves would make them less likely to feel helpless enough to submit to criminal gangs.  Where are violent criminal gangs most common in America: in rural areas, where gun ownership is generally allowed, or in cities where it's generally banned?

As police crack down on gangs in our inner cities, any shortcuts they take which bypass due process and make ordinary citizens believe (rightly or wrongly) that the cops are worse than the crooks undermines society and helps crooks recruit.

History shows that the IRA was not defeated by the British army. The IRA did not lose public influence until their shielding a murderer revealed their criminality.  The British could have probably brought the IRA campaign to an end much earlier by simply following their own rules of evidence and publicly convicting IRA members of violent crimes.

Learn From Our Own History

America was founded on a successful campaign of terrorism and guerrilla warfare.  Historians have felled forests documenting the mistakes made by the British government in coping with the Minutemen, who today would be called terrorists, insurgents, guerrillas, or perhaps something less printable.  Even if we're reluctant to learn from other history, we should surely learn from our own.

The men who founded our country knew that they had no military resources to speak of and that the main battle would be for the hearts and minds of the American population and for the hearts and minds of British citizens in Britain.  Not wanting their fellow Americans to think of them as criminals the way the British rulers would perceive them, they wrote the Declaration of Independence to list the wrongs of the British government.  They wanted to show that what they were doing was not only right, it was required.

First, they said they weren't doing this casually:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. [emphasis added]

Mr. bin Laden has expressed essentially identical concepts.  He said that he was not killing Americans for casual reasons, he killed them because they repeatedly violated the Holy Places of Islam in spite of his telling them that Allah required that the Holy Places be cleansed.

He, too, realized that the real battle was for the hearts and minds of the "Muslim in the street", and, regarding violence, for American voters who distrusted their government.  His religious reasoning is nonsense to Western minds, but that's not the audience he is playing to; to a devout Muslim, invoking the holy name of Allah and citing the same passages in the Koran that he's heard from his local imam is deeply compelling.  The obvious fact that a great many Muslims accept his basic premise should be enough to deeply concern Westerners.

The bulk of the Declaration of Independence is a list of grievances.  We'll discuss only a few, but it's worth reading them all.  You'll see a great many parallels between the behavior of the British King and the recent behavior of the Federal Government regardless of the party in power.

Abusing citizens is political, bureaucratic, and non-partisan.  Bureaucrats say they are responding to the laws passed by their political masters, politicians say they are responding to the will of the people; nobody criticizes either politicians or bureaucrats when someone is treated unjustly.  The illegal removal of more than 460 children from their homes by the Texas Child Protection bureaucracy after what appears to have been a malicious false phone call comes to mind as a recent example.

The King's Offenses

This is part of the list of abuses that Thomas Jefferson said that he and his fellow citizens had suffered:

He [the British King] has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

The feds establish New Offices all the time - EPA, FDA, Homeland Security, Department of Education - whose officers harass us, take power away from our local representatives, eat out our substance, and make us pad through airports in our stocking feet.  What's the difference between the feds and King George?

OK, we do still have the right to elect Congressmen whereas colonial Americans did not have Members of Parliament; that has perhaps saved us from a second revolution, but do our Congressmen actually represent their constituents?  Last year's immigration debate, where it took the enraged opposition of over 80% of the voters to kill an amnesty bill beloved of almost the entire political class, does not give cause for confidence.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

Our courts are citing the decisions of judges in other countries in making their decisions.  What's the difference between internationally-minded judges overruling local laws and what King George did?

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

Our founders knew that reminding their fellow citizens that they were at risk of being treated unjustly would lead them to join the rebellion or at least tolerate it.  What is Guantanamo Bay but "transporting us beyond the Seas"?

The problem with Guantanamo is not necessarily that "illegal combatants" are being stored there; captives overseas or in a war can be stored anywhere convenient and have been for centuries.  When the government starts shipping U.S. citizens offshore for cold storage, though, we should all be concerned, and in several cases, that's exactly what's taken place.  How is this systematic abuse of due process any different from what King George did?

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

The Supreme Court, in its infamous Kelo decision, ruled that the government can take anyone's private property and give it to anyone else for no public purpose beyond increasing tax revenue.  Unelected judges routinely force new "rights" upon the populace that are nauseating to many.

Our state legislatures have not been completely suspended, but the federal government continually takes authority away from the states.  To name but one example, the feds have claimed the right to decree that California may not legalize marijuana despite the fact that regulating drugs is not mentioned in the US Constitution and is therefore a power "reserved to the several states, and to the people."

Based on the power clearly delegated to them in the US Constitution, the California legislature has declared marijuana to be legal throughout their jurisdiction.  Whether this is a good idea or not is utterly irrelevant; the point is, the powers of the California legislature have effectively been suspended by federal bureaucrats aided and abetted by the US Supreme Court.

The founders also reminded everyone that they'd asked the British government to stop doing all these things:

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

In his "Letter to the American People," Mr. bin Laden explained that Americans were desecrating his Holy Places and he asked them to please knock it off.

Our founders invoked the power and blessing of God to justify and to certify the rightness of what they were about to do:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, ... [emphasis added]

They claimed the authority of a newly-formed government and they claimed the blessing of God on their rebellion just as bin Laden claimed the blessing of Allah on what he was about to do.

It was a major step forward for the rebellion when the French recognized the rebels as a government.  Being perceived as a government took our founders out of the "criminal" category and turned what they were doing from terrorism into a legitimate act of war.

As we've noted earlier, bin Laden didn't claim governmental authority, but our government legitimized al Qaeda and took them out of the criminal category by declaring the "War on Terrorism."

Get Back to the Constitution

The people who founded America were perhaps the most successful and most famous terrorist group in history.  Fortunately for us, they were all too aware of why they had rebelled against the British government and did not want a new generation of terrorists to attack them.

They weren't Confucians, but they knew that governments always try to get more and more power and that people who have power tend to abuse it.  They tried very hard to set up a new government so that it could not commit the abuses which had led them to rebel against the British government.

These men were not only successful at bringing about regime change, they were highly literate and self-aware.  The Constitution which they wrote is perhaps the most effective anti-terrorism manifesto ever written.

Here's the point - when people are let alone, very few become terrorists; terrorists gain recruits by forcing the powers that be to abuse people.  When people feel powerless and abused, they are much more willing to join gangs, terrorists, or anyone else who might be able to protect them from their perceived enemies.

The most potent anti-terrorism strategy ever written is this:

Never abuse anyone, for any reason.  Abused people have no stake in the system and will try to burn it down.  People who fear abuse are driven to support terrorists.

Our founders knew that government was the most likely source of abuse of power because government would always have more power than anyone else.

A nation guided by the principles of the US Constitution, particularly with the Bill or Rights is included, is not going to be subject to massive terrorism because there's no reason for people to turn to terrorism as long as government carefully follows the Constitution.  Small terrorist movements such as the Weather Underground, White Supremacists, and the KKK can be infiltrated and disrupted using normal law enforcement procedures.  The perpetrators can then be tried in open court where their criminality becomes evident to the public.

The most important reason to follow due process in dealing with terrorists is that due process and open trials deprive terrorists of support.  Secret detentions, torture, and other illegal mistreatment gain sympathy for terrorists and make people think that such abuse could happen to them.  Whether, in fact, it can or is likely to, is not the point: all that is necessary is for normal citizens to believe that they might be next.

With respect to the Middle East, bin Laden is acting like our founders and we've been all too prone to acting like King George.  Regardless of the value of information gained by torture, the fact that we torture anyone repels our allies.

People know that torture, like chopping people's heads off, is uncivilized.  They may be appalled when al Qaeda kidnaps people and murders them by chopping their heads off on TV, but when we torture people, we demonstrate for all to see that we're no better.

Any thinking person realizes that there are tremendous differences between what we do and what al Qaeda does, and even greater differences concerning to whom it is done, but that doesn't matter: in the places where bin Laden gets his recruits, they haven't been taught to think analytically, much less to place themselves in anyone else's shoes.  All they see is the fact that US operatives torture their heroes, which makes the terrorists even more heroic in the public eye.

What To Do

Thomas Jefferson realized that government would be tempted to suspend the Constitution and would always offer the excuse that the Constitution was in the way of getting the job done.  In this case, however, the Constitution is not in the way of fighting terrorism, it's our best weapon and our only hope.

Here's what we have to do:

1. Admit we made a mistake in calling for a "War on Terror."  Admit that al Qaeda is not an army, it's not a government, it's a criminal gang which deserves to be pursued by law enforcement, not by the military.  This change will require that the media recognize that terrorists are criminals, not a government.  They habitually use the word "execute" when they announce that the terrorists have hacked the head off yet another helpless kidnap victim.

By definition, "execution" means "the infliction of capital punishment or, formerly, of any legal punishment."  Use of the term elevates the terrorists to the status of a legal government which, among other things, helps them in their propaganda and gives aid and comfort to our enemies.

Terrorists do not perform executions; they commit murder.  The "suicide" aspect of suicide bombings is irrelevant; they're actually homicide bombings and should be called such.  Terrorist groups do not have "leaders," "officers," or "commanders;" they have bosses, henchmen, and ganglords.

2. Admit that the TSA has nothing to do with why airplanes aren't being hijacked.  Advertise the fact that we're arming pilots, do more of it, and make sure that passengers are in the mood to mob anyone who messes with their plane; we know that approach inhibits terrorist success because aroused passengers took down a hijacked aircraft.  Quit hassling people who're only trying to fly!

3. Recognize that our law enforcement agencies are broken.  After 9-11, the biggest intelligence failure in our history, we rewarded the agencies by giving them more money.  That's like rewarding teachers by giving them extra money to teach summer school when they failed to teach their students during the school year - oh, wait, we do that too.

4. Have an open, factual, and non-partisan discussion of intelligence gathering, telephone tapping, snooping on email, etc.  Given the current political climate, this may be very difficult, but intelligence gathering is the only way to prevent terrorism.

Law enforcement waits for a crime to be committed and tracks down the perpetrators.  Law enforcement may deter crime by raising the possibility of being caught afterward, but it can not and does not prevent crime.  This difference must be explained clearly to the American people.

5. Admit that much if not all of the Patriot Act was a mistake, restore the Constitution, and stop hassling our own people.  Giving our citizens back the protections they're entitled to under our Constitution will eliminate any reason most people might have to give aid and comfort to our enemies.  Our current treatment of our own people will have the opposite effect over the long term.  However, as the next point makes clear, we do have to clearly distinguish who "our own people" are.

6. Place a much more effective watch on people who are not citizens.  This certainly doesn't mean undignified treatment at airports or elsewhere; but, for starters, we need to know who is here, why we allowed them in, what they're doing, and when they're supposed to leave.

For much of this century, we had a system which worked very well; foreigners inside the United States registered with their local post office so we knew where we could find them if we had to, and we defended our borders so relatively few people were sneaking in.  If a police officer encountered an alien in the normal course of duty, he checked the situation to make sure things were in order.

We're slowly getting back to something along these lines as local jurisdictions take action against the illegal immigrants in their areas, but it really needs to be done comprehensively throughout all levels of government.  As we've noted before, if you aren't a citizen, being here is a privilege, not a right.

Even then, whatever actions we take should be done in a transparent, predictable, evenhanded way, so that everybody knows what the rules are and what to expect.  This need not always mean a court; no judge has to rule that an illegal alien has no business being here and should be sent home.  But it must always be shown to be done decently and in order, with humane dignity all around.

Knock Off The Offensive Propaganda

Indiscriminately demonizing those who oppose us turns them into demons.  As Mike German put it on p. 199 of his book Thinking Like A Terrorist, Potomac Books, 2007:

We can't survive as a nation committed to the rule of law if we divide the world into 'us' and 'them.'  We know what kind of thinking that is.  That's thinking like a terrorist.

There are people who will be our enemies no matter what.  There are people who will be our friends no matter what.  And there are people who we aren't sure, but whom it would be just as well if we kept them on their side of the ocean.

But the vast majority of people in this world can be persuaded one way or the other.  If the Sunni sheiks in Iraq could be persuaded by the barbarity of al Qaeda and the dignity of American troops that they should side with the American invaders, surely we ought to be able to bring round most everybody else if we show a little empathy.

Must We Continue on a Course of Insanity?

Benjamin Franklin defined insanity as doing the same thing over again and expecting the results to be different.  As with the War on Drugs, we've institutionalized an approach to the so-called War on Terror which cannot possibly succeed.

So long as al Qaeda continues with the tactics of simultaneous propaganda, terrorism, and guerrilla war that led Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and their colleagues to victory; as long as we stick with the tactics of King George III which led the reigning superpower of the day to ignominious defeat; even though the underlying moral issues are exactly reversed, we'll lose not only the war, but also our souls as a freedom-loving people.

There have been recent signs that al Qaeda has forgotten the need to keep local populace on its side.  The Sunni Awakening in Iraq was triggered, in large part, because of the depravities of al Qaeda terrorists - not against American soldiers, but against local Iraqis and fellow-Muslims.  As a result, the local sheiks decided they'd rather be allied with Gen. Petraeus, and the terrorists lost their places to hide.

This is good news, and a sign that we may be turning on to the right path.  Perhaps the greatest thing about the United States is our ability to learn from our mistakes, to stand back up again when we've been knocked down, and to carry through to success.

One of the most fundamental mistakes we've made is in the definition of what we're talking about because of defects in our definitions of terrorism.  If we don't know what we're talking about, it's hard to communicate, much less to figure out what we ought to be doing about it.

The word "terrorism" has become completely muddled, incompetently defined, and stretched for political purposes so as to become all but meaningless.  If it's not only possible but routine to say "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," then it's time to go back to first principles so as to nail down exactly what we're trying to stop.  That's the subject of the next and final article.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
Great article, very well written and right on the money. I never really thought about the use of the word 'execute' but it really does make a huge difference in how the action is perceived.

I do have one point of contention. If people believe that at any point they may be subjected to ill treatment then they are more likely to join criminal organizations. Whether the treatment is right and proper or not. This would also be true of illegal immigrants. If they believe that the American government is hostile towards them then they would also be more likely to join criminal organizations and engage in criminal activity.
July 1, 2008 6:03 PM
Coming to the United States illegally makes them criminals from the get-go.

By hiring coyotes to get them over the border, they've ALREADY joined up with one criminal organization, by buying fake IDs, they join yet another. They're already criminals.

What part of "illegal" do our media elites not understand? Do we call people who steal from stores "shoplifters" or do we call them "undocumented customers"?

What does not enforcing our existing laws against illegals teach children about the necessity of THEIR obeying the law when they grow up?
July 3, 2008 9:38 AM
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