Sunday, November 6, 2005

Is Terrorism A Tactic?

his was a good question that MLQ3 posed in Saturday's Daily Dose, in response to my recent post on the Paris riots:
. MLQ3: "Philippine Commentary argues cogently that the Philippines must embark on a genuine War on Terror, because the threat is real. But I recall the remarks Gen. Anthony Zinni, a critic of the Bush war in Iraq, made at a conference I recently attended: “How can you declare war against a tactic?” he asked. One might as well proclaim a Crusade against Outflanking Maneuvers.
The question Is Terrorism a tactic? deserves a careful and thoughtful answer...

MLQ3 may be referring to a speech delivered by General Anthony Zinni (Retired, USMC), as the Carter Lowance Fellow at the William and Mary College’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law, entitled “America’s Role in a Changed World” given at the end of last September, and reported here on the website of said W&M College, in which Gen. Zinni said, apropos of MLQ3's point:
"We’ve declared war on terrorism,” he said. “We now fight a tactic, which means we don’t understand what we’re up against. We measure success in taking down finances, in taking out the leadership, in removing cells. Meanwhile, somebody like Osama bin Laden has an unending flow of angry young men coming in every day to blow themselves up.”
I'm fairly certain this quote from Gen. Zinni, or one very similar to it, is what then inspired MLQ3 to characterize the General's point as a rhetorical criticism of the war on terrorism in the form of a reductio ad absurdum:. just like a "Crusade against Outflanking Maneuvers"--a conceptual absurdity.

But looking again at the entire speech, I am convinced that MLQ3 misinterpreted the General's actual meaning. Gen. Zinni says so himself: "We now fight a tactic, which means we don't understand what we are up against."

Compared to the Soviet Union with which America spent half a century in a long Cold Siege that ended only when the USSR imploded from the sheer unsustainability of the Soviet system, who knows what Al Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiyah are really all about? That is surely what Gen. Zinni was referring to by "...we don't understand what we are up against."

Earlier in the text of the speech, the good General was comparing the current War on Terror with the 20th Century's Cold War between the US and the USSR. Gen. Zinni characterized the difference between the Cold War and the War on Terror in that picturesque way that folksy American Generals like to imitate John Wayne by:
"For 50 years, we slept with a cobra,” Zinni said. “If it bit you, it could kill you. We woke up relieved that the cobra was dead only to find 500 bees around our bed. Not one of those bees can kill us, but 500 bees stinging you will do a lot of damage. Unless we understand now how to deal with bees, to change completely the paradigm we had before, we’re going to continue to suffer this death by a thousand stings,” Zinni concluded.”
It's pretty clear from this that what Gen. Zinni really meant is that the very nature of the conflict is so different from the Cold War that we don't really even fully understand "the enemy"--the "bees". How are they recruited, trained, organized, financed, deployed, coordinated and then sent to Paradise and the promised virgins? What are their ultimate goals, and are there any tactics and methods they would NOT employ to attain them?

Although Gen. Zinni ended up being a critic of the War in Iraq, there is no trivial reductio ad absurdum interpretation that could reasonably be elicited from "We are fighting a tactic." But he would surely agree that at the moment we are fighting the TACTICS of the global terror network, because we have not yet attained a full comprehension of their STRATEGY.

We are exposed to their methods and the horrible human consequences, and mourn them, and curse the poverty and alienation that breed the easy recruits to terrorism. But even in the Philippine Blogosphere, we have not yet become familiar with the grotesque philosophical form into which militant Islam has been transformed by Al Qaeda's actionable program of world conquest or world destruction. It has become as aggressive and supremacist as Nazism ever was, and only in the Soviet Gulag have we seen as much intentional cruelty inflicted by one people upon their own as in the tactics [sic!] of the current day bombardiers that blow up innocent men, women and children on the very last day of their miserable lives. Terrorism has become, like Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, a religion of nihilism with a guaranteed reward built right into the ideology, and a vision of the world that no one reading this could possibly agree with. These aspects of the hidden, unknown enemy are what have caused the global punditocracy, or at least its Right Wing, to invent and use the term "Islamofascism."

(I actually hate the sound of the term "Islamofascism"--its so hoaky--but it has become a global meme and cannot be avoided.)

Globally, the tactics adopted by jihadis are killing human beings at a rate of 100-120 Muslims to 1 Infidel. This means that if the current conflict is to be characterized as a Crusade against Muslims, it is a Crusade by Muslims against Muslims. And, Allah forbid, that the War on Terror should become a Crusade against Islam, which, (it is politically correct to say), is a "religion of peace." And so I have said it. But what should matter most to us as Filipinos and Filipino-Americans is what lies behind the veil of mystery that shrouds "the enemy" so well that even our best thinkers see only their tactics!

We should strive to understand the problem of terrorism without the flippant dismissiveness of Leftists who are only envious they are no longer the baddest boyz on the block except perhaps here in the home of the longest running communist insurgency in history. They are not the baddest boyz anymore because even Filipino communists have not yet devolved to the stage of suicide bombing, and they have no God to send their martyrs to.

The analogy of Gen. Zinni, comparing the Cold War to sleeping with a cobra, and the War on Terror to fighting off a swarm of bees is also valuable in explaining the conecept of ASYMMETRY in the war on terror. The "enemy," unlike every other "war" in history, holds no territory, rules over no cities, has no visible social or administrative infrastructure and whose cells and agents are largely indistinguishable among the populations of the very societies that the global terror network is trying to destroy. The post that MLQ3 reacted to, "Can the Left Please Explain the Parisian Intifada?" is a report on what some are calling the outbreak of a "Eurabian civil war", an insurgency really from within the poor underclass of unassimilated, unemployed immigrant Muslims in France, the capital of appeasement towards militant Islam.

I don't think it can be overemphasized that the enemy is intent on either literal destruction of the West and its allies (in which case it gets a global theocracy or caliphate for a prize; or self-immolation and martyrdom, in which case the brave jihadi gets Paradise and an eternity of heavenly sex. It's this twisted version of Pascal's Wager that is well-spring of that wave of suicidal human bombardiers General Zinni refers to.

But in one important thing I disagree with Gen. Zinni. Even a single bee sting, say a bought or stolen one Megaton thermonuclear device from an ill-guarded Russian or Moldovan stockpile, delivered in a container to the port of Los Angeles or Sydney or Tokyo, such a bee sting could cause a cardiac arrest for the world economy. A second or third bee sting in Paris or London or Frankfurt could be fatal for the entire global economic and political system. Simple as that, this whole modern thingamijig some people think is so indestructible, could go out. Like a punctured lightbulb.

(A lil joke to break the length and seriousness of this post: Bakit may sabaw ang balut? Sirit? Eh saan umiihi ang sisiw? O? Saan? SAAN??)

Some would say these are just scary fairy tales for adults, but to the majority who are honest skeptics of how real the threat is, how does one explain this announcement several months ago in the Manila Bulletin about a very special piece of gear to be installed and operated in the Port of Manila:
The Philippines and the US agreed yesterday to install special equipment at Manila’s port to detect hidden shipments of nuclear and other radioactive materials, the US Embassy said. "The United States and the Philippines both recognize the need to remain vigilant against the threat posed by the trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive materials through the global shipping network," US Charge d’Affaires Joseph Mussomeli said in a statement. The radiation detection technology is part of US security efforts against the proliferation of nuclear weapons material, the embassy said. A similar agreement was signed with Singapore in March. The Philippine secretary for science and technology, Estrella Alabastro, said the agreement was a "big stride in strengthening the world’s nuclear security regime.".
Sounds like serious people think there is a serious threat. But before you raise the inevitable, "Who cares? It's America they are targetting," consider my analogy for the world economy and world polity: All nations (the polity) are aboard the same jet plane (that's the economy). Someone wants to kill the pilots and everyone in First Class by blowing up the engines, so do we say, "Who cares, its the pilots and the folks in First Class they want to kill." I say: what threatens Basilan threatens Davao threatens Cebu threatens Manila threatens San Francisco threatens Washington and vice versa in our interconnected world.

A few years ago I knew next to nothing about Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, the Abu Sayyaf, and all that bundle of bother, which most of Philippine Blogosphere would rather ignore, refusing to see the global context in which our tragedies and comedies are now to be played.

But now I am convinced that Terrorism is the central social, political and intellectual challenge of the 21sth century, and that the War on Terror will transform the face of nations and humanity.

I am convinced that the "Nationalism" which animated so much of the 20th Century for the Philippines and every other country that freed itself of colonialism, must be supplanted by a greater virtue and a grander ideal than nationalism if it is to survive in a conflict with a foe that doesn't recognize nations or national borders, nor guard and maintain any!

I believe that "Globalism" is that new value that will inspire the next stage of humanity's march to a free and secure future. I like to think of Globalism as the patriotism that the human race should feel for itself as a species and for its members as individuals, and for the planet Earth--its home for the foreseeable future. And I don't mean just environmental globalism, I mean social, political, economic and intellectual globalism. A point of view that places people, human beings, humanity itself, above the usual categories that divide them into religions, races and nationalities.

It is not such a weird idea, (though John Lennon sang of it.) And hardly original. But just as I cannot imagine anyone calling for a return to Tagalog or Pampango or Ilocano tribalism to supplant the nation, the next stage of evolution, seems clearly to be in the direction of an obsolescence for nations and the evolution of a single human republic under a universal human consitution. (I mean, I would love it if the American Constitution were adapted and ratified by all nations and all peoples, though some might prefer the French Constitution or a mixture...)

Terrorism is just the catalyst for such a grand historical development. If these ideas sounds crazy to you, you must be crazy to get this far into the post. But I have not provided any links because it is wholly my own expression of something that seems to be a common thought occuring to many fine thinkers across the Left-Right spectrum of the global blogosphere.

I also believe that the Philippines, as the First Iraq, and the Filipinos, as its hapless but not wholly unfortunate citizens, have a unique role to play in the global transformation that may be complete perhaps, only a century hence.

There shall be plenty about terrorism to blog about than mere tactics.


john marzan said...

from newt gingrich:

The Long War is 90% intellectual, communications, political, economic, diplomacy, and intelligence focused. It is at most 10% military. We have not yet developed the doctrine or structure capable of thinking through and implementing a Long War (30 to 70 years if we are lucky) on a societal scale. This challenge is compounded because it is fundamentally different from waging the Cold War against the Soviet Union. The Cold War was essentially a grand siege in which a defensive alliance could contain the Soviet Union until it collapsed.

Amadeo said...

To the present Frenchman terrorism may simply be an arm that wants to spite the nose. As early as the 80's a transplanted Frenchman who was a co-employee had intimated that the almost unhampered entry of emigrees from the old colonies was rapidly changing the country's landscape from politics to social issues.

He had counted this as one of his primary reasons for leaving the old homeland.

Thus, unlike the enemies of old, present cadres of terrorists are invariably part of the population they have vowed to exterminate.

Rizalist said...

is there anything in common among: france, denmark and mindanao?

Rizalist said...

Here is some really interesting reporting from Amir Taheri writing for the New York Post Online
November 4, 2005 -- AS THE night falls, the "troubles" start — and the pattern is always the same.

Bands of youths in balaclavas start by setting fire to parked cars, break shop windows with baseball bats, wreck public telephones and ransack cinemas, libraries and schools. When the police arrive on the scene, the rioters attack them with stones, knives and baseball bats.

The police respond by firing tear-gas grenades and, on occasions, blank shots in the air. Sometimes the youths fire back — with real bullets.

These scenes are not from the West Bank but from 20 French cities, mostly close to Paris, that have been plunged into a European version of the intifada that at the time of writing appears beyond control.

The troubles first began in Clichy-sous-Bois, an underprivileged suburb east of Paris, a week ago. France's bombastic interior minister, Nicholas Sarkozy, responded by sending over 400 heavily armed policemen to "impose the laws of the republic," and promised to crush "the louts and hooligans" within the day. Within a few days, however, it had dawned on anyone who wanted to know that this was no "outburst by criminal elements" that could be handled with a mixture of braggadocio and batons.

By Monday, everyone in Paris was speaking of "an unprecedented crisis." Both Sarkozy and his boss, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, had to cancel foreign trips to deal with the riots.

How did it all start? The accepted account is that sometime last week, a group of young boys in Clichy engaged in one of their favorite sports: stealing parts of parked cars.

Normally, nothing dramatic would have happened, as the police have not been present in that suburb for years.

The problem came when one of the inhabitants, a female busybody, telephoned the police and reported the thieving spree taking place just opposite her building. The police were thus obliged to do something — which meant entering a city that, as noted, had been a no-go area for them.

Once the police arrived on the scene, the youths — who had been reigning over Clichy pretty unmolested for years — got really angry. A brief chase took place in the street, and two of the youths, who were not actually chased by the police, sought refuge in a cordoned-off area housing a power pylon. Both were electrocuted.

Once news of their deaths was out, Clichy was all up in arms.

With cries of "God is great," bands of youths armed with whatever they could get hold of went on a rampage and forced the police to flee.

The French authorities could not allow a band of youths to expel the police from French territory. So they hit back — sending in Special Forces, known as the CRS, with armored cars and tough rules of engagement.

Within hours, the original cause of the incidents was forgotten and the issue jelled around a demand by the representatives of the rioters that the French police leave the "occupied territories." By midweek, the riots had spread to three of the provinces neighboring Paris, with a population of 5.5 million.

But who lives in the affected areas? In Clichy itself, more than 80 percent of the inhabitants are Muslim immigrants or their children, mostly from Arab and black Africa. In other affected towns, the Muslim immigrant community accounts for 30 percent to 60 percent of the population. But these are not the only figures that matter. Average unemployment in the affected areas is estimated at around 30 percent and, when it comes to young would-be workers, reaches 60 percent.

In these suburban towns, built in the 1950s in imitation of the Soviet social housing of the Stalinist era, people live in crammed conditions, sometimes several generations in a tiny apartment, and see "real French life" only on television.

The French used to flatter themselves for the success of their policy of assimilation, which was supposed to turn immigrants from any background into "proper Frenchmen" within a generation at most.

That policy worked as long as immigrants came to France in drips and drops and thus could merge into a much larger mainstream. Assimilation, however, cannot work when in most schools in the affected areas, fewer than 20 percent of the pupils are native French speakers.

France has also lost another powerful mechanism for assimilation: the obligatory military service abolished in the 1990s.

As the number of immigrants and their descendants increases in a particular locality, more and more of its native French inhabitants leave for "calmer places," thus making assimilation still more difficult.

In some areas, it is possible for an immigrant or his descendants to spend a whole life without ever encountering the need to speak French, let alone familiarize himself with any aspect of the famous French culture.

The result is often alienation. And that, in turn, gives radical Islamists an opportunity to propagate their message of religious and cultural apartheid.

Some are even calling for the areas where Muslims form a majority of the population to be reorganized on the basis of the "millet" system of the Ottoman Empire: Each religious community (millet) would enjoy the right to organize its social, cultural and educational life in accordance with its religious beliefs.

In parts of France, a de facto millet system is already in place. In these areas, all women are obliged to wear the standardized Islamist "hijab" while most men grow their beards to the length prescribed by the sheiks.

The radicals have managed to chase away French shopkeepers selling alcohol and pork products, forced "places of sin," such as dancing halls, cinemas and theaters, to close down, and seized control of much of the local administration.

A reporter who spent last weekend in Clichy and its neighboring towns of Bondy, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Bobigny heard a single overarching message: The French authorities should keep out.

"All we demand is to be left alone," said Mouloud Dahmani, one of the local "emirs" engaged in negotiations to persuade the French to withdraw the police and allow a committee of sheiks, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, to negotiate an end to the hostilities.

President Jacques Chirac and Premier de Villepin are especially sore because they had believed that their opposition to the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 would give France a heroic image in the Muslim community.

That illusion has now been shattered — and the Chirac administration, already passing through a deepening political crisis, appears to be clueless about how to cope with what the Parisian daily France Soir has called a "ticking time bomb."

It is now clear that a good portion of France's Muslims not only refuse to assimilate into "the superior French culture," but firmly believe that Islam offers the highest forms of life to which all mankind should aspire.

So what is the solution? One solution, offered by Gilles Kepel, an adviser to Chirac on Islamic affairs, is the creation of "a new Andalusia" in which Christians and Muslims would live side by side and cooperate to create a new cultural synthesis.

The problem with Kepel's vision, however, is that it does not address the important issue of political power. Who will rule this new Andalusia: Muslims or the largely secularist Frenchmen?

Suddenly, French politics has become worth watching again, even though for the wrong reasons.

Amir Taheri, editor of the French quarterly "Politique internationale," is a member of Benador Associates.

Das said...

I like your thoughts and writing style - keep it going!