Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Dilemma of Terrorism

In 1987, author Tom Clancy published a novel titled “Patriot Games”.  It was a story about an ex Marine who witnesses and ultimately thwarts an attempted abduction of a prominent member of the English Royal family by a renegade wing of the Irish Republican Army, ie: terrorists.  In the book, Clancy makes an interesting observation about terrorists and alludes to the reason why they are difficult at best to fight in today’s political realities.  Although written 23 years ago and before our current conflict with terrorists, the words jumped out at me as if written just last week.

From Clancy’s novel:

“They can fight their kind of war, but we can’t recognize it as such without giving up something our society needs.  If we treat terrorists as politically motivated activists, we give them an honor they don’t deserve.  If we treat them as soldiers, and kill them as such, we both give them legitimacy and violate our own laws…  The pure elegance of the concept is stunning.  Terrorists can fight a war and be protected by the diplomatic processes of their enemy.  If those processes were obviated, the terrorists would win additional political support, but so long as those processes were not obviated, it is extremely difficult for them to lose.  They hold a society hostage against itself and its most important precepts, daring it to change.  They move around at will, taking advantage of the freedoms that define a democratic state, and get all the support they need from a nation state with which we are unable or unwilling to deal effectively.” *

On the international level, terrorism is a form of war that does not interrupt normal diplomatic relations between nations.  Here in the US, terrorism is treated as a crime and not an act of war.  Terrorists are “arrested” and put on trial in civilian courts and given “rights” under the civil proceedings and the Constitution.  This is done even if the terrorist is captured on a battlefield in a foreign country such as Iraq or Afghanistan by our military forces, but especially if captured here in the US.  Take the Times Square bomber as a case in point.

I would define the dilemma as follows:  We are well prepared to fight the “last war”.  We have built our international relationships based on the lessons learned during the last century of warfare.  The Geneva Convention, as well as the United Nations, is the culmination of two world wars and numerous regional conflicts of the 20th century.  We have an intimate understanding of the “rules” of modern warfare and have signed an international treaty agreeing to abide by them even if our enemies do not.  We have out grown the concept of a war waged on religious or purely ideological grounds, leaving such thing to the dark ages of Europe, believing they have no place in a modern society.  Yet our current adversary persists in waging a religious based conflict.

Built into our constitution and case law are the things our society needs, things that lift us up as individuals and as communities.  Freedoms and liberties, unprecedented in human history, have contributed to a society where the rights of each individual are held to high regard.  Liberties that we recognize as God given are now spelled out in our Bill of Rights for the world to see.  These liberties as practiced in a free state are unique in all of human history.

We have no means in our domestic or international law to deal effectively with terrorists groups capable of wrecking havoc on a level previously limited to states.  Terrorist organizations do not have geographic borders.  They do not issue passports to their “citizens”.  They do not have a standing army in uniform.  They do not have any form of commonly recognizable government.  For these reasons and others, we are incapable of fighting them with any expectation of success so long as we stick with our present methods and abide by our current systems of international diplomacy and cooperation.

Terrorist organizations and renegade states, states who would otherwise directly challenge and attack other states for their own selfish reasons and ambitions of their perhaps psychopathic leaders, have learned the important lesson of working hand in hand to exploit the short comings of our Western democracies.  They have learned to effectively use our very liberties against us.  Their leaders are not elected.  They can not be voted out of office or their terms of office are not constitutionally limited.  They are experts in manipulation of a willing western free press to guide public opinion to their cause.  They have filled up our institutions of higher education and learned how our liberties work.  They have recruited sympathy among students and faculty.  They understand our constitutional freedoms better than we do and have learned to use them and our democratic process against us.  They have learned from our own history that we do not tolerate a protracted conflict and absolutely will not abide many casualties on our side as in Vietnam where we won every battle, but lost the war because of public opinion and a hostile press.  They see us as weak and decadent compared to their culture, and on their religious level, worthy of elimination.

We must find a way to work around our current, antiquated and inadequate world diplomatic system to beat an enemy that is operating outside of the “rules” we were so careful to put in place in the last century. We were attacked on September 11th 2001 in much the same way we were on December 7th 1941. But this new enemy comes from many nations, doesn’t wear uniforms or have one acknowledged leader. So how do we fight this enemy and stay within our current political boundaries?  That is the dilemma.  How can we win without fighting on their terms at least to some extent?  Our constitution is not a “suicide pact”.  It was never intended to protect an enemy of our American values and founding principles.  It was designed to grant the individual citizen rights and liberties never before experienced in human history.  An enemy on the battlefield has no rights under our constitution, especially one captured on a foreign battlefield.  We must find a way to declare war on an enemy that is not defined by geographic borders, because this enemy has already declared war on us.

שלום ברוך
Shalom and Be Blessed
Dan & Brenda Cathcart

* Patriot Games.  Pages 337-338, Berkley Novel paperback Copyright 1987 Jack Ryan Enterprises, LTD.

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