Friday, July 07, 2006

The Strategy of Evil

I suspect I've probably written a post very similar to this but before but I think it's worth repeating. As with any battle, the key to combating terrorism lies in being able to understand the strategies of the enemy and apply suitable measures against them. I firmly believe that Tony Blair has time and again displayed a dangerous inability to comprehend the strategies of terrorism and is, as a consequence, spectacularly ill equipped to deal with it. Here's why.

First of all, terrorists do have strategies. It is not always the case that the foot soldiers are fully aware of these strategies but those who instigated the initial terrorist campaign certainly are. And these instigators are big picture people. They're long term thinkers in the way that Stalin was a long term thinker; they're prepared to sacrifice many lives, including the lives of those they claim to be acting for, in order to secure some long term goal. In the here and now, they are, as Stalin was, ruthless in pursuit of their aims.

But unlike Stalin, terrorists do not operate with the full weight of an oppressive state apparatus behind them. In fact, terrorism by its very nature is the strategy of weakness. The instigators do not have the power to affect change diplomatically, democratically, or militarily. This is because their numbers are few and because wider support for forceful action in pursuit of their aims is limited. And so, the few turn to terrorism, using random violence as a means to project disproportionate power.

But, in the minds of the big picture instigators, the key goal is not to frighten the target population into submission. This is often the stated aim of the terrorists but it isn't the truth, certainly not the long term aim. These people, whatever you think of their lack of morals, are not stupid. They know that terrorist attacks are likely to harden attitudes, not provoke submission. But they do want you to believe that that is what they're trying to do. It is, in fact, an essential part of their long term strategy.

So what are they up to? What they want is to generate a reaction. Specifically, they want to generate a hostile reaction against the wider population they claim, erroneously, to represent. They want to create a climate in which their unsupportive compatriots are incorrectly branded as sympathisers, where suspicion and blame are applied indiscriminately. They want over-reaction. They want the target group to persecute those they claim to be acting for, the more disproportionate and indiscriminate the reaction, the more successful they'll be.

What they're trying to do essentially is to hijack the actions of the powerful player, the target group, for their own ends. This power, real rather than perceived or projected, is the most powerful tool available. By provoking a disproportionate response, the instigators hope to harness this power.

It should, I hope, be clear what they're trying to achieve. They want the target group to alienate those who up till now have refused to support them. They want to create an unbridgeable gap between what they consider to be their potential supporters and the target group. They lack the power to be able to do so directly; the target group itself does not. Once the unbridgeable gap exists, or is perceived to exist by those on the receiving end of an unjustified response, the instigators can then exploit this situation to recruit converts to their cause. The harsher the response, the more recruits they're likely to acquire. In the long term, they believe that the way to achieve their ultimate aims is through popular support and they know that they won't achieve that using their own limited power alone.

Also, as mentioned above, they know that a terrorist attack will harden attitudes against their cause in the target community. It is most often the case that many in their own community who do not support their extremist actions still share a sense of grievance on whatever issue, legitimate or perceived. It is a key plank of their strategy in such a circumstance to provoke opposition to any attempts to address these grievances. They want the target group to say that they cannot possibly consider addressing grievances promoted by murderous terrorists. And, as history shows, this is often what happens, whether the grieveances are legitimate or indeed just misunderstandings which could be talked out. The key is that any serious attempts to address these issues by the target group would weaken support for the instigators overall objectives; the strategists know this, and they don't want it.

Again, they want to generate a hostile response, not submission. This is why it can be argued that an effective long term strategy against terrorism is to ignore it. In practice, this isn't a useful strategy, of course, but in the long term, if adopted consistently, it would almost certainly work. (Just to be clear since people apparently love to misrepresent this sort of thing, this isn't a policy I would advocate.)

In the real world, an understanding of this reveals the crucial need to be extremely careful when targeting any response and to maintain a sense of proportion at all times. Every effort must be made within reason not to play into the hands of the terrorist leaders' strategies.

It is also necessary to address the perceived grievances of the wider population without allowing the actions of the extremists to pollute the issue. If there are legitimate grievances, attempts should be made to address them. If there is disagreement over the legitimacy of the grievances, a genuine dialogue should be opened up to discuss the issues in detail.

These tasks will be difficult because the instigators of terrorist violence will have specifically designed their attacks to make it so. Their propaganda will likewise be geared towards provocation.

It takes a bold and intelligent leader to see this strategy for what it is in the face of terrorist attack. When a terrorist leader, for example, releases taunting messages on the anniversary of a major terrorist attack, it is designed to create hostility. It is psychological warfare, again designed specifically to generate a response, a determination to fight them which will manifest itself indiscriminately in ways useful to the instigators cause.

Blair, sadly, is a gift to the instigators of the terrorist threat we currently face. They say "don't jump". Blair, thinking he's resisting, says "I will jump". And the terrorists can't believe how easy it is to get him to do what they want. He just doesn't understand.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Also, a further outcome of over-reaction by the target group is that they start enforcing draconian measures (PATRIOT, ID Cards, etc. etc.) upon their own people, thus beginning to deprive the target group of support - if not inspire outright hostility - from 'their own kind'.