Tuesday, November 08, 2005

New Threats

Acts of terrorism continue to plague us and our friends and allies. The toll of bombings, assasinations and kidnappings bears terrible witness to the indescriminate attacks and lawlessness that rules the behaviour of terrorist groups. It is also apparent that several states have adopted these lawless acts as an instrument of state policy. While we dilligently seek the means to control this scourge, we must also take the steps that are necessary to protect our citizens, our institutions and our friends and allies.

We have, in the course of a detailed review, reached some conclusions on what we must do to protect ourselves, and to assist others in protecting themselves, from this growing threat. Our actions will be guided by the following principles: First, no nation can condone international terrorism. Second, it is the right of every legitimate government to resist the use of terrorism against its people, institutions and property by all legal means available. Third, terrorism is a problem for all nations, and this Government will work as closely as possible with other governments - particularly other similarly threatened democracies - to deal with it.

While we have cause for deep concern about the states that now practise or support terrorism, our policies are directed against all forms of international terrorism. The states that practice terrorism or actively support it cannot be allowed to do so without consequence.
Anyone want to guess who said that? Bush? Blair? No and no. The President's press secretary? That's getting warmer. It wasn't Scott McClellan, the current press secretary, though. And it wasn't his predecesor, Ari Fleischer. No, you have to look back a little further.

It was the Deputy Press Secretary to Ronald Reagan. The statement was issued on April 17th 1984 (it's from page 6). The rhetoric sounds very similar to what we hear today though.* It was issued in conjunction with Reagan signing National Security Decision Directive 138. Much of that directive is still classified but some information has been released and there has been much speculation concerning the still classified sections.
National Security Decision Directive 138, Preemptive Strikes Against Suspected Terrorists, April 3, 1984.
Publicly released portions say the U.S. will "resist the use of terrorism by all legal means available…State-sponsored terrorist activity or directed threats of such action are considered to be hostile acts." Still-classified sections reportedly permit CIA and FBI special operations units as well as existing similar military units to counter hostile "guerrillas" with guerrilla-type operations: sabotage, raids, intelligence collection and preventive operations that might be aimed at enemy operatives. - Center for Defense Information
Blair says the rules of the game have changed. Strange then, that the rhetoric remains the same.

Some people believe that the threat we currently face could have been prevented if Reagan had gone even further and been even more aggressive in his approach. "Bush has declared total war on the terrorists. If only Reagan had done that, they'd already have been defeated by now." That sort of thing anyway. That's basically Blair's approach to the problem. We haven't been tough enough in the past but now that's all got to change. The problem is, there's really no evidence to support the claim that an aggressive approach will be sucessful. Give me one example of a democratic country which has successfully defeated a terrorist threat that way. I can't think of one.

And if we look at Israel, the democratic country with the most aggressive approach to terrorism (for understandable but I would argue misguided reasons), do we see any signs that it might be a successful strategy? No, far from it. It's plain that the Israeli goverment and the various Palestinian factions have become trapped in a circle of violence. "They kill us, we must kill them in return" say both sides. Security can't be achieved that way. All that can be achieved that way is more pain, death, suffering and hate.

The only way in which a democracy can genuinely create security against terrorism is to isolate the terrorists from the wider community. To do this we must open a dialogue with the wider community from which the terrorists recruit (note: NOT WITH THE TERRORISTS). These talks should be aimed at producing agreements on compromises among the more moderate sides of the dispute (note: NOT WITH THE TERRORISTS). If the wider community is supportive, the terrorists will lose power and authority but if the link between the terrorists and the community is not broken, hunting them down is a wasted gesture. Oh look, another one, how unexpected...

In the case of the current terrorist problems, this approach would be very difficult. The wider community is very wide indeed. Many within it already deplore the terrorists. Many agree with some of the terrorists grievances but deplore their tactics. And many, if we're honest, support the terrorists without actually participating directly in any terrorist activity. A very small minority are directly involved. Making sense of all this would be very difficult. Addressing the legitimate grievances of Muslims would also be very difficult. The challenge would be great. That doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do.

The problem with making this point is that some people interpret it to be somehow soft on terrorism, that it might even be motivated by sympathy for the terrorists. You get this sort of thing: "He wants to talk to the evil murdering bastards, like that'll persuade them to stop. How naive can you get blah blah blah?". Another common reaction is that of denial: "He doesn't think the terrorists are real. Fruitloop alert! Doesn't he have a TV? Didn't he see the carnage of July 7th?" These criticisms are based on a cheap and easy caricature of the actual arguments being made. It's a caricature that certain sections of the media deliberately exploit and encourage. It is, if I can be blunt, bollocks.

I'm not going to go into all the reasons why but what I will say is that I absolutely do not take the threat of terrorism lightly. It is a very serious problem and it threatens the lives of the citizens of our country. And the scale of the threat is almost certainly increasing.** Our government should strive to combat that risk to the very best of its abilities. Anything less would be unforgivable negligence. I don't believe the government understands how it can best deliver on that obligation. In fact, I'm sure that they are aggravating the problem with their over-reliance on the heavy hand.

*Actually, there is one obvious giveaway: "it is the right of every legitimate government to resist... terrorism... by all legal means available." The Reagan administration felt the need to maintain a front of legality. The Bush administration is less concerened by that. If the statement had been more recent, it probably wouldn't have contained the word "legal".

** Not changing. I'll try to properly explain why at some point.

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