Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

May 21, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE SEA IN WHICH THEY SWIM....The chart on the right, from Human Security Brief 2007, is simple: it shows that as terrorist incidents have risen in Pakistan, opposition to terrorism has also risen. Dan Drezner is right to say that this is hardly surprising, but its obvious corollary — even seven years after 9/11 — is still not widely enough appreciated. From the text of the report:

The historical evidence [] suggests that terror campaigns that lose public support will eventually be abandoned, even if the terrorists themselves remain undefeated. As [Audrey Kurth] Cronin puts it, "Terrorist groups generally cannot survive without either active or passive support from the surrounding population."

In a nutshell, this is why a primarily militaristic approach to terrorism is foolish. Killing terrorists is a useful thing to do, but even the most determined military assault is unlikely to work as long as terrorists retain public support. Until and unless that support is undermined, eliminating a terrorist threat is almost impossible.

Both the Sunni Awakening in Iraq and the recent experience of Pakistan demonstrate that terrorists are often their own worst enemies in this regard. The more they target civilians, the less support they have in the surrounding population. In Iraq we used that to our advantage to co-opt Sunni tribal leaders who had gotten tired of the violence and theocratic tyranny introduced into their communities by al-Qaeda in Iraq, and we should be doing the same in Pakistan.

In the long term, public support for terrorism is a far more important target than terrorism itself. It may not make as good a soundbite as a promise to follow Osama Bin Laden "to the gates of hell," but figuring out how to get the Muslim public to turn against al-Qaeda and other likeminded jihadist groups ought to be Job 1 for any incoming administration.

Kevin Drum 8:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Will someone please tell me if we're still doing Frist Post?

Posted by: absent observer on May 21, 2008 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

Job 1:1

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

Posted by: Pat on May 21, 2008 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

Both the Sunni Awakening in Iraq and the recent experience of Pakistan demonstrate that terrorists are often their own worst enemies in this regard. The more they target civilians, the less support they have in the surrounding population.

As another example, al-Jihad's violent campaign of terrorism virtually collapsed overnight after the Luxor Temple massacre in the late 90s. The Egyptian public was so repulsed by the slaughter that the movement never recovered.

Posted by: Stefan on May 21, 2008 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK


So people don't like terrorist attacks against themselves. Well duh, what a shocker.

Show us some evidence that terrorist attacks against foreign infidels causes them to oppose terrorist attacks against infidels and you might have something interesting.

Nobody could be as stupid as Kevin pretends to be in this posting. It just is not physically possible.

Posted by: a on May 21, 2008 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

Pat: This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

And God decided to torture him. Nice religion you got there. But what's that got to do with the subject?

Posted by: thersites on May 21, 2008 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

The Bush Administration has never had any credibility in fighting terrorism for several reasons, including, (1) Bush did nothing, absolutely nothing to thwart the September 11th attacks, despite being warned repeatedly before 9-11 and (2) Halliburton sold nuclear technology to Iran. Of course there are other reasons as well. Facts are stubborn things.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 21, 2008 at 10:28 PM | PERMALINK

In Iraq we used that to our advantage to co-opt Sunni tribal leaders who had gotten tired of the violence and theocratic tyranny introduced into their communities by al-Qaeda in Iraq, and we should be doing the same in Pakistan.

Kevin, I generally agree with your analysis in your post, but when you get to this spot you screw up. We don't occupy Pakistan. Big difference. Watch the "should" statements in this regard.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 21, 2008 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

a, what Kevin, as usual, is too shy to say is that the US's military response, and continued use of military force in seeking a solution to any terrorist problem -- here, in the world, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan -- is basically counterproductive.

As it has proved to be.

This administration still hasn't learned that lesson. Nor has the Pentagon.

It's pretty darned stuipid, and basic counter-terrorism and insurgency 101. Even wunderkind Patraeus still hasn't learnt it.

Thought about putting your own butt out there in this senseless and misdirected "war"?

Posted by: notthere on May 21, 2008 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

Jeebus. There are thersiteses everywhere.

http://vichydems.blogspot.com/

I never googled my handle before.

Posted by: thersites on May 21, 2008 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

oops -- wrong thread.

Posted by: thersites on May 21, 2008 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote:

Both the Sunni Awakening in Iraq and the recent experience of Pakistan demonstrate that terrorists are often their own worst enemies in this regard. The more they target civilians, the less support they have in the surrounding population.

But the Sunni Awakening is more of a western sound bite than it is an encouraging reality, as I think you yourself in the past have acknowledged.

There are two reasons why I think the principle I quoted from you above is not resulting in a dying-off of terrorism in Iraq in the long run. First off is that there are too many factions inside Iraq, too many enemies for the average Iraqi inside Iraq, and not enough allies inside Iraq. Everybody belongs to a group that has a reason to kill someone else, or a reason for someone else to attack them- at least, their friends and neighbors and relatives have these characteristics. When there is so much general alignment with one faction or another, you don't try to gather intelligence and sort civilians out by who they're subjectively aligned with. You go into a rival neighborhood and kill.

When Akbar from Faction A kills Ali's daughter (because Ali belongs to Faction B), I doubt that Ali thinks, "Damn that Faction A!! I sure don't want any civilians among them to be hurt, though, and I don't want to promote terrorism." He probably thinks something more like that he wished Akbar's daughter, his wife, and all his kids would die. Maybe in Pakistan, less people are aligned, and when civilians get killed, they're more like innocent civilians. But in Iraq, it's more like a country where everyone is either a Blood or a Crip.

The second reason I think the "more civilian victims - less terrorism" principle doesn't work in Iraq is they have no peaceful alternative in sight. We're not giving the terrorist-ridden neighborhoods enough benefit they can see manifesting itself and as something they'll likely to be able to hold onto. Abandoning infrastructure aid in Iraq was a sign the conservatives have really abandoned Iraq. The writing is on the wall (there have been other signs) and the plan just has yet to come to fruition (because the conservatives still have to save face for now, by acting like they still think we can win and we're trying to do so- but winning the November U.S. presidential election is now, I think, the only conservative goal remaining for the Iraq war).

If we did a better job (of fixing and securing things) in the first place, Iraq would be in a lot better position now, but unfortunately the conservatives who mounted this expedition never cared about the average Iraqi even a little bit and purposely avoided making real meaningful efforts to fix the place-- it was more like a macho bullying and self-adulation festival by our people than a real re-building from the get-go (that goes for the military efforts, the re-building contracting, the mercenaries, the training of Iraq's military and police, the planning for re-building-- everything).

Posted by: Swan on May 22, 2008 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

thersites,

Because Kevin wrote "Job 1," and it was the first thing that popped into my head. Stupid, I know. :)

Posted by: Pat on May 22, 2008 at 12:15 AM | PERMALINK

OFF TOPIC:

Cindy McCain's age:

I was just reading at Slate about HDTV and oldie John McCain and it made me look up Google images, including this one of Cindy McCain:

http://timesonline.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/04/16/cindy_mccain_recipes.jpg

Databases (at least veromi) give her age as SEVENTY-ONE. I think this clinches it. She's 71. I'm about to turn 41 and in the decade-plus it'll take for me to reach her alleged semi-youthful age, no way will I get all of those wrinkles or that leathery brown-spotted crypt-keeper chest skin.

Cindy McCain is OLD. She's OLD, PEOPLE. She's OLD AND SHE'S A LIAR.

Posted by: Anon on May 22, 2008 at 1:11 AM | PERMALINK

Cindy McCain is OLD. She's OLD, PEOPLE. She's OLD AND SHE'S A LIAR.

I have no brief for Cindy McCain, but this is ridiculous. In the first place, spending a lot of time in the sun can rapidly age skin. In the second place, a woman such as Cindy McCain lying about her age, wow that's like a dog biting a man. Big news.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on May 22, 2008 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Pat,
I seldom overlook an obvious pun, but this time I missed it.

Posted by: thersites on May 22, 2008 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't this exactly what happened when Israel decided to not strike back at terror attacks which lead to the peace of the late 90s.

It wasn't until the assassination of PM Rabin by an radical Jewish student and the elevation of Sharon, who sparked the second Intifada with his controversial stroll through the tunnel under the Dome of the Rock Mosque that we now find ourselves in the current situation.

Posted by: Nazgul35 on May 22, 2008 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

"...we should be doing the same in Pakistan."
_________________

How are we going to pull that off? We have the chance to effect things in Iraq only because of our powerful presence there. We have so such presence in Pakistan and it's doubtful that anyone is interested in establishing such a presence. We certainly can't send large numbers of aid workers in there, given the danger. We can't even send the FBI in there without permission of the Pakistani government.

Posted by: trashhauler on May 22, 2008 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure that I buy this analysis Kevin, unless I were to see ethnic-specific polling results. In Pakistan, you have a terrorist bombing campaign being run mainly by Pushtuns from the Western hills, targeting mainly ethnic Sindis and Punjabis from the Indus plain--who make up the bulk of the armed forces, as well.

Of course the Sindis and Punjabis are not happy about bombs going off in their cities, or killing their sons who are occupying the hills. But the real question is whether the Pushtuns have gotten tired of the bombing campaign, because it is the Pushtun tribes that are supporting the anti-Islamabad insurgency and terrorism campaign. The gross polling data from Pakistan as a whole tells us nothing very useful about the attitudes toward terrorism of the Pushtuns specifically, and in fact it is their attitudes which are the only ones that matter in terms of whether the insurgency can continue to get the support it needs to continue its campaign.

At a larger level, as long as the Pushtun ethnics basically feel as if they are subject to an "illegitimate occupation" by central government troops (who, again, largely consistent of other ethnicities), then the terrorism campaign is likely to continue to find the necessary support.

Posted by: Nils on May 22, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

It's true that decreasing support for terrorism is extremely important. But that seems to have been the result of:

- Slaughter of Muslim civilians (mainly in Iraq, but also in Pakistan and Jordan).

- The defeat of Al Queda in Iraq (due to the repudiation by Iraqi Sunnis and a military alliance between U.S. forces and those groups).

Bin Laden and Al Queda were very popular when they seemed to be strong and killed Americans in the U.S. (recall the dancing in the streets on 9/11). They have lost a great deal of popularity only because they've slaughtered Muslim civilians in the Middle East and now appear to be weak and facing defeat.

Posted by: Slocum on May 22, 2008 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly