Political vs. Military Solutions to Terrorism [3 of 4]




by John Maszka


Joeph W. Foxell, Jr. (2004:485, 487-8) suggests that poor planning is at the heart of America’s plight. “For far too long, American counterterrorism planners, FBI agents, and CIA and DOD national security defense analysts have taken as their number one priority the task of refining their incident management techniques for combating today’s terrorism,” not tomorrow’s. By ignoring the “unlikely” scenarios, Foxell insists that policy makers are ignoring the very “security holes” that terrorists look for.

Foxell contends that the war on terror is not really a war on terror at all, it is a war against al-Qaeda, and it is a war against Iraq. “The ‘war on terror’ label is particularly inappropriate for the conflict in Iraq,” as the US is fighting “armies and paramilitaries, not terrorists, in Iraq.” According to Foxell, the terrorist threat “will evolve continually as opportunity permits.” Foxell insists that better intelligence, not more military spending, is what’s needed. Indeed, approving hundreds of billions of dollars in military appropriations to further secure America’s position at the top of an oppressive order only demonstrates that the Bush Administration does not have a clear perspective on the true problem.

The true problem is that America can only maintain its position at the top by maintaining control of the resources. America stands tall and strong, only as long as everyone else is bowing to its demands. America is not a widely-loved nation in today’s world. Nor is America only hated by terrorists and “evil-doers.” The unfortunate reality is that non-state actors are attempting to do through illegitimate means (the only means available to them) what state actors can not do through legitimate means: challenging American military hegemony.

While “illegitimate meanstranslates as criminal activities, Chris Dishman (2001) has taken an interesting look at the relationship between terrorist organizations and criminal organizations. Dishman concludes that while terrorists engage in illegal activities and may even collaborate with criminal organizations, their motives are different than those of ordinary criminals (terrorists are driven by a particular motive, not just the pursuit of profit). This leads back to the ultimate dilemma: What to do when the motives are right, but the means are wrong? The very first thing we should not do is treat terrorism and crime the same. For one thing, there is a huge difference between terrorism (that victimizes innocent people in pursuit of a moral or political objective), and ordinary crime (that victimizes innocent people in pursuit of a profit).[2]

The main difference is that crime is most often caused by human greed, which is far more difficult to address than human need. The West, led by America, has the ability and the resources to eliminate human need if it chose to do so. But it is greed that prevents the West from doing so. (One could easily argue that this makes us the criminals). It is not surprising then, that fate has an ironic sense of humor. America, the leading nation in the West, suffers from astonishing levels of violence and crime: Violence and crime that we as a nation, have more-or-less come to accept. Practically the only time we hear politicians talking about crime is at election time, after which it is quickly forgotten.

 Take for instance, former Mayor of New York, Rudolph W. Guiliani, the “hard-hearted prosecutor” who like all typical politicians, ran for office on an anti-crime platform (Purdum, 1993). Since 9/11, however, Guiliani is much more focused on terrorism than he is on crime. This of course, is because, even though crime is a much more serious problem, 9/11 made Guiliani a star. But we shouldn’t be too hard on old Rudy, this opportunism is fairly typical of your average self-serving politician. The truth is, while it may be good politics, it just doesn’t make sense, because the impact of crime in America is exponentially greater than the impact of terrorism in America.

 Something that truly helps to put the 9/11 attacks in perspective with crime overall is that between 1965 and 2001, 64,246 Americans were murdered by other Americans in New York alone (Disaster Center, 2006). That constitutes an annual average of 2,471 Americans murdered every single year, by other Americans, in New York alone for the 26 years prior to and including 2001. When we compare this to the 2,752 people killed in the 9/11 attacks (Hirschkorn, 2003), it neither justifies nor minimizes the attacks; but it does put them in perspective. One conservative web site reports that “on average-there are close to 20,000 murders of innocent people in America each year” (Boycottliberalism.com, 2005). This may well be an accurate estimation. A more reliable source (U.S. Dept. Of Justice, 2006) reports that in 2005, there were 16,692 murders reported in America. This figure is up 3.4% from 2004. When one accounts for the unreported murders, the actual number may be close to 20,000 per year. The point to be made is that crime is an infinitely greater and more persistent challenge in America than terrorism.[3]

Yet, on August 5, 2004, “President Bush signed a $417.5 billion defense appropriations bill for the fiscal year 2005,” with an additional $82 billion to supplement military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (this is relevant because we are supposedly in Afghanistan and Iraq to fight terrorism). Charles Pena (2005) argues that not only is this vast military spending “unnecessary,” it’s money misspent:
The military’s role in the war on terrorism will mainly involve special operations forces in discrete missions against specific targets, not conventional warfare aimed at overthrowing entire regimes. The rest of the war aimed at dismantling and degrading the Al Qaeda terrorist network will require unprecedented international intelligence and law enforcement cooperation, not expensive new planes, helicopters, and warships.

When one compares the $499.5 billion that Bush applies toward fighting terrorism with the $3.3 billion annual budget of the struggling New York City Police Department (NYPD), one sees a serious imbalance (Weissenstein, 2003). As we’ve already addressed, fighting crime in this country is an infinitely greater and persistent challenge than fighting terrorism is. Yet President Bush’s strategy is to spend a tremendous amount more on terrorism. But, is President Bush’s $500 billion solution working?

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Published in: on 27/08/2008 at 9:50 pm  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] This cup of tea was served by: Wonders of Pakistan […]

  2. Hello John
    Some of what you say makes a little sense, but you are off the track generally, please review this important part of your augument:

    [While “illegitimate means” translates as criminal activities, Chris Dishman (2001) has taken an interesting look at the relationship between terrorist organizations and criminal organizations. Dishman concludes that while terrorists engage in illegal activities and may even collaborate with criminal organizations, their motives are different than those of ordinary criminals (terrorists are driven by a particular motive, not just the pursuit of profit). This leads back to the ultimate dilemma: What to do when the motives are right, but the means are wrong? The very first thing we should not do is treat terrorism and crime the same. For one thing, there is a huge difference between terrorism (that victimizes innocent people in pursuit of a moral or political objective), and ordinary crime (that victimizes innocent people in pursuit of a profit).[2]]

    “Terrorism” and “crime” have the same inpact, that is, innocent people become victims. A victim in any ‘Western’ country will always say “it does not matter if the motive for the crime was moral/political or for profit, ‘the act of (for example) blowing up my sister,’ or ‘shooting me in my bank’ or ‘crashing a plane into my office building’ is a crime under law, it’s illegal.”

    When the IRA shot 2 young Australian men in a third country (in a car on a busy European street) some years ago, they said “that was a mistake, we were under the impression that they were British soldiers on holidays, so we were doing something legitimate (it was just the unfortunate fog of war), and our people are therefore innocent of a crime.” If the law says that robbing or killing (for example) is a crime, using your faith in a supreme being (again, for example) or some ‘moral’ principal as justification will be unacceptable under any ‘Western’ jurisdiction.

    Faith based moral action is often in conflict with the law in the ‘West,’ but there is NO “dilemma” if you act within the democratically determined law -international or local. That is why the IRA has desisted in their terror campaign in the UK and Northern Ireland, they were being increasingly considered as international pariahs because “you can’t deal with potential states who kill indiscriminately, no matter what the motives or what their ‘gods say.”

    The ‘East’ is a little different, in Islamic states the law is the law of a god, Sharia, and we find a history of 14 odd centuries of separation (the East/West divide) through incommensurate basic law systems.

    I hope I have cleared things up a bit with our little Philosophy 101, but please let me know if there is a problem.

  3. Hi David,

    I have your comments to on John’s post. Whereas John might address to your comments in due course, I would say one thing.

    If bombing, attacking, assaulting an innocent person / persons in the name of someone’s belief is wrong (this is what they are said to believe, but as a Muslim who does not believe in Islam’s interpretation by these self styled Mujahideen, it is equally wrong to attack and kill innocent people in the name of a war on terror. Just yesterday what has been done by western dominated force in Afghanistan whereby more than 20 innocent children, women and men lost their lives, and these people had nothing to do with any politics, any particular belief, they were just ordinary civilians in Waziristan Agency of Pakistan’s northern tribal belt.

    Under what law would you or anyone else condone, approve or accredit such acts. To me it’s only the law of brute force, the law that might is right. And David, these acts are not going to curb the activities of people who believe in extreme version of Islam whom every sane Muslim despises as much as any body else but indirectly such hot pursuits and drone bombings are going to exacerbate terrorism because these acts draw even the neutral and innocent civilians also to the extremist’s camps.

  4. Hello Nayar
    Thanks. You are quite right in your condemnation of the War on Terror. The laws relating to states and individuals differ however, and I will try to articulate some of the practical difference (from a traditional western point of view). I would argue that Mr Bush and Mr Rudd are killing indiscriminately in the middle east, and if they behaved in that way in the west they would be guilty of war crimes if beaten.

    The average secular western person does not like the war on terror, and cannot justify our forces killing the innocent people you noted who were killed two days ago. Nor can we justify the indiscriminate killing of people in Baghdad by Blackwater Security and the Royal Australian Air Force, or any of the other countless acts of “war” perpetrated. Like you say, Muslims will fight back, and may be branded terrorists for doing so. I don’t see a lot of criticism of these people fighting back against the invaders, this being usually considered a right of an invaded people.

    My criticism (in the previous post)is based on the western philosophy of international morality, whereby a handfull of basic morals are needed for an individual state or society to function as part of ‘western’ society. Examples of these morals include: murder, head-hunting, suicide and paedophillia being illegal, as well as discrimination on the basis of gender.

    Capital punishment by states is not however included here, and neither is a propensity to make war.

    Untill the 11th of September 2001 in the west, terrorism was treated as a crime by the US Government, and under International law, on the basis that killing people (murder) here is not OK. We watched a group of international criminals acting for themselves kill almost 3,000 people minding their own business in New York. I acknowledge that they felt driven to do so because of American injusticises that they had suffered, but under US and International Law, the acts committed were a crime.

    But, (it seems) Mr Bush decided that it would make a good excuse to invade Afghanistan and Iraq as a response to an “act of war!.”

    Now, this is where it becomes complicated due to the East/ West divide. Mr Bush and Mr Howard appear to have decided that because the war is being prosecuted against Islamic peoples, in their own homelands, that the rules of war previously held to be so important when fighting against organised armies in the West such as say Germany, Italy or Serbia, no longer apply. That specifically includes the rights of combatants under the Geneva Convention (that covers these things). But, it isn’t as if this type of situation has not existed since Islam first appeared (so as to form a balance against the christians).

    Now, having said all that I wish to finish by saying that I am a seculaist, a person who respects the laws of our state as formulated by democratic processes based on the best evidence available. Apart from the the handfull of International “morals” that allow our western society to interact with each other, I am happy with basing my “morality” on the local laws of my country. If any person comes into Australia, or goes into England, Bali, Spain or America and for political reasons breaks the law, their motives are irrelivant because their act is illegal. They should be treated as a criminal, just as the killers of the 11th of September 2001 should be.

    As a post-script, Nayer, I would genuinely like to thank you for our correspondence, and advise that I would love to work in the middle-east at some time in my future. If the law of my hosts is Sharia, I am fully obligated and happy to respect it while there.

  5. Nayyar
    I hope you could please excuse my (unintentional) rudeness in accidentially miss-spelling your name.

  6. Dear David,

    I can understand your feelings. In principle I think we are on the same chord, only difference is about the mode of conducting war, and when I say a war, then it’s not only a war fought with weapons of mass or minor destruction, it is a war of ideas, war of good over evil forces, war of sanity versus insanity, war of rights of people, communities and groups over injustices, maltreatments and deprivations and these phenomena as you know are not restricted to a war between the jihadis and neocons, this is a war between different strata of the society, between different classes, communities and countries. I firmly believe, wars on moral grounds should continue but the decision to decide the grounds of morality should not be left to a handful of individuals be they the extremists of al-Qaeda, the Taliban or for that matter in the extremist groups in any other part of the Muslim world or be they the neoconservatives sitting in Pentagon who think perhaps they have been ordained by God to set the world right in the way they think.

  7. Hello Nayyar
    I also, generally agree with your, observations. I like your phrase:

    ‘wars on moral grounds should continue but the decision to decide the grounds of morality should not be left to a handful of individuals,’

    – this is like my ‘international morals’ argument in that a democratically agreed basis for interaction pushes agendas and excludes abhorrent behaviour through the might of moral agreement – expressed by laws.

    I am a harsh critic of these nasty Neocons (‘judeo – christians’), and cannot be as kind as you when discussing them. I think this is a war of Imperialist conquest by a bunch of adolescent bullies that use the supernatural as an excuse to undermine countries in the middle east whose improving infrastructures constitute a threat to Israels regional and economic dominance, and physical expansion.

    When the jewish diaspora decides that they do not require that Israel be physically large enough to accommodate the worlds entire jewish population in the event of an emergency, the inhumane war on terror will end, and the detente between the east and west can possibly again come about.

    I will always argue that a supernatural “belief” driving a moral conviction is simply a political argument designed to prevent those who enjoy existential freedom from having a democratic voice – in the east and in the west, in the home, or in public forums.

    Cheers to you and thank you for the challenge that your posts have brought me – I am a long-hour shift-working health clinician usually devoid of such opportunities. May I ask (roughly) where you are located? I am in the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra).


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