Recently by Michael S. Rozeff: AIPAC: Anti-Iran, Interventionist, Warmongering
The first thing to understand about terrorism against America is that it is negligible. Horrible as it was, the destruction of the Trade Towers was an outlier, that is, an event that lies way, way outside the main body of terrorist activity. It is no comfort to the dead, the injured and to their loved ones to point this out, but it is something that must be understood because failure to understand the realities of terrorism has led Americans to support aggressive war policies that are highly destructive of innocent lives and societies overseas and do not diminish the threat of terrorism. These immoral and unjust policies have increased the numbers of terrorists dedicated to destroying American life. As a negative bonus, they have undermined the economy and freedoms of America, thereby causing an untold increase in hardship among Americans now and in the future.
The war on terror has been a terrible mistake. Terrorism against America was never so big that it required a war against it, much less a world wide war that made hash out of the Bill of Rights, militarized police and turned the country sharply in the direction of a police state.
The concept of a "war on terror" drastically alters America's role in the world by inserting the U.S. into numerous complex and long-running international conflicts in other countries. There are many terrorist groups that operate in foreign countries that have agendas associated with political and religious issues. The war on terror thrusts the U.S. into these conflicts with several notable results. America gets involved in endless political strife and warfare overseas. Government fails to address America's own problems with consequent undermining of America's advancement. The costs of government rise exponentially with consequent undermining of America's economy. The U.S. government enhances its domestic policies of repression and abridgement of rights and freedoms.
Terrorism in America is not the kind of problem that is ameliorated by war. Police work, while open to sharp criticism, has been the mainstay of foiling terrorist plots. Erik J. Dahl has constructed the largest known sample of thwarted terrorist plots in his article "The Plots That Failed". He has found 176 failed and thwarted terrorist plots against American targets between 1987 and 2010 or 24 years. He broke this down as follows.
- 73 overseas and 103 domestic,
- 42 right-wing and extremist plots and 126 jihadist plots,
- 29 plots that targeted diplomatic facilities abroad and 35 that targeted American military bases, personnel and facilities both here and abroad.
There were 57 plots in 24 years that were domestic and jihadist.
What stops terror attacks from succeeding? Of 176 cases, 9 were called off by the terrorists themselves and another 15 were attempted and failed. This includes instances in which the FBI prolonged the attempt and brought it to near fruition with fake bombs and such, but most of these failures were overseas. There are 24 cases in which the causes of the failure can't be determined from available information; most were overseas.
This leaves 128 cases, of which 89 were domestic and 39 overseas. Of the 89 domestic plots, 66 were foiled as a result of undercover agents, informants and tips received from members of the public. Dahl says that this "appears to be the most effective counterterrorism tool for breaking up domestic plots." In many cases, tips lead to the use of informants being placed among the plotters. In the Fort Dix case, for example, the plotters took a training tape to a Circuit City store to have a dvd burned and an employee became suspicious when he viewed the content. Smaller numbers of plots are uncovered by routine police stops for traffic violations, chance encounters with officials who notice suspicious behavior, other behavior such as robbery that draws attention, public threats made by terrorists, information from overseas, interrogation and, finally, "signals intelligence". Dahl finds that signals intelligence (wiretapping, internet monitoring) is not of major importance in the failed plots that have been detected.
The takeaway from Dahl's work is that standard spying and analytical intelligence operations to connect the dots and piece together information are not the keys to effective counterterrorism. Past successes have relied heavily on ordinary people noticing activities or behavior that might be oriented toward terrorism. In this sense, it is like any crime detection. Dahl calls it "prosaic" and he quotes a former head of MI5 who says that spies do not develop much counterterrorism intelligence and "My own experience is that effective counter-terrorism frequently begins closer to home and may appear a lot more mundane".
It is now common for political candidates to be asked about their views on terrorism and the war on terror. Reporters ask nonsensical questions about "winning" the war on terror and how a candidate plans to do this. In 2007, at the National Press Club, Newt Gingrich was asked "what we would have to do to win it [the war on terror] eventually." Gingrich put on the most serious of faces that he could muster and replied:
"I am really deeply worried. We have two grandchildren who are six and eight, and I believe they are in greater danger of dying from enemy activities than we were in the Cold War."
Gingrich and many others express deep concerns about something that is a risk, but terrorism is not a serious risk, not something to be deeply worried about, and not something that even comes close to nuclear war.
How does terrorism compare with other risks? In the years 2006 and 2010, there were 70,954 homicides in America. Between 1998 and 2008, 449 people were killed by lightning in America.
Terrorism isn't a minor risk because the government is so good at policing it. It's minor because not that many people have the motive, means and opportunity to do mass killings.
But although terrorism is not a risk that requires an undue amount of care to control and live with, the idea of terrorism has seriously infected political discourse and U.S. policies, domestic and foreign. Whenever warmongers want to incite sentiment for a new war in a new foreign land, they wave the red flag of terrorism. The words "terrorist" and "terrorism" have become instant propaganda tools for manipulating mass sentiment.
And to counteract this and adopt constructive anti-terror policies, it is necessary to place 9/11 in perspective and to say "Stop the war on terror!" Get off it. Move on. De-emotionalize the issue. Terrorism is nothing to worry deeply about. Terrorism is overblown. Terrorism is negligible. Terrorism doesn't warrant aggressive wars. It does not warrant assassinations. It doesn't warrant the use of drones or their proliferation in America. There are worse evils than terrorism. Control terrorist acts with good police work in which a mature public alertness (not mass suspicion) plays a role, but not with a domestic spy apparatus and not with policies that subject everyone to suspicion, frisking, warrantless searches, sexual assaults, radiation, and excessive police force.
If another catastrophic event like 9/11 occurs or if another large-scale mass murder occurs like the Oklahoma City bombing, will such an occurrence result in ramping up the police state techniques in the U.S.? Will it result in giving government further powers to spy, search, arrest without warrant, indefinitely detain, imprison in hidden prisons and assassinate Americans? Will it result in intensified intrusions overseas and even more widespread use of drones that kill? Will it result in a para-military force that operates outside of public control within America? Will it result in spying on every American? Will it result in drones that pepper American skies?
All of these activities are in place now. All are unnecessary. All are dangerous to liberty. All are wrong. By increasing injustice and repression, they stimulate resistance. A certain amount of that resistance takes the form of violent terrorist acts. The cures that are being employed make the patient more ill and more sick.
Terrorism can be handled by reasonable police work and alertness on the part of the public, since most terror plots are discovered by tips volunteered by ordinary people.
A particular worry at this time, far more than terrorism itself, is that politicians are now invoking terrorism at every turn as justification for their extreme warmongering policies.
Take for example the recent accusation of a very strange, farfetched and convoluted plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. There was an Iranian national involved. This does not prove anything about Iran's participation, especially since false flag events blamed on Iran are to be expected. The whole scenario was most definitely not in the Iranian style, but it was laid at the doorstep of Iran anyway.
This episode led House Speaker John Boehner to demand that Obama "hold Iran's feet to the fire" for this "significant terrorist act". The Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, went even further. He called the plot "an act of war".
What an amazing lack of balance and good sense in their thinking! What an amazing disconnect between the gravity of the absurd terror plot and the gravity of the war they want. Here we have major members of Congress using a "terrorism" incident, which was really some out of the way happening or tale, in order to justify a new war.
And if it were not this event, their kind will dig up some other events in the past in which Iran had a hand. Warmongers who want war will do whatever it takes to bring war on. They will lie, misrepresent history, distort, omit material facts, twist facts, misinterpret, appeal to emotion, appeal to hatreds and fears, and demonize. The very words "terror", "terrorist", "terrorism" and "war on terror" have become Pavlov's bell. Ring it and Americans salivate for war.
As a rule of thumb, do not believe any politician who proposes a war or urges Americans into war. Do not believe any politician who claims that a war is necessary, or points to an event like a ship sinking or a ship being blown up or an airplane being brought down or a terrorist act as a cause for war. Do not believe any politician who claims that Americans are threatened and must therefore attack the enemy before they attack us. Do not believe any politician who wants to make war when there has been no invasion of America itself by the armed force of another nation. Do not believe any politician who wants to make war because of some vague national security appeal, or because the U.S. must protect the shipment of oil or oil facilities located overseas. Don't follow the government into war because it says it needs to protect American citizens overseas.
Don't overreact to foiled terror plots that were extended and deepened by the FBI playing the role of a co-conspirator who promises to provide the bombs and devices that the unsuspecting would-be terrorist wants or has been talked into wanting.
Hidden in their hearts, some of America's warmongers welcome terrorism overseas because this gives them an opportunity to justify expansion of the U.S. into new lands. The war on terror provides a cover for U.S. intervention in places that the U.S. deems to be of interest to the empire as it seeks to expand and counter the expansion of China. Hidden in their hearts, America's control freaks welcome domestic terror events, real and concocted. This gives them the opportunity to expand and extend their control over Americans and build up a police state in the name of order and security. The warmongers are not about to admit this openly, even to themselves, but that is the thrust of their positions. Actions speak louder than words: 9/11 was met with war abroad and repression at home.
Even if I am completely wrong about the deepest motives of warmongers, the policies that have been enacted are still wrong. Every expansion of the U.S. empire into another Muslim land or a land that has a substantial Muslim population causes an increase in terrorism. When this shows up in America itself or overseas, the U.S. government people cry crocodile tears. But the government bears no cost for having generated increased terrorism or the fear thereof domestically. It gains. The government people are able to justify tightening the screws of domestic policing.
The war on terror has created a damaging spiral. Fighting terrorism overseas with occupations and war and drones produces more terrorism there and here at home. More terrorism at home then produces more justification for foreign intrusions and domestic control. These lead in turn to more terrorism here and further control over civilian life. From the government's point of view, the war on terror is a never-ending banquet or orgy. War is indeed the health of the state.
The only political figure of presidential caliber who has consistently taken a stand against foreign interventions and connected them to the production of terrorists is Ron Paul:
"There is an amount of serious talk about what we should be doing over there, in dealing with the al-Qaeda, never addressing the real important subject of why is there al-Qaeda and why do these radicals get motivated in order to commit suicide and do these various things, and they get motivated because we're there in their country and then they organize and the longer we're there the more they radicalize against us…" (Ron Paul, 2009.)
Ron Paul has taken a lot of heat for this theory, but this theory has merit. It is a theory that's consistent with the evidence of what kind of people anti-American jihadists are, what they say about their goals, where they go to fight, what targets they attack, and why their numbers have increased in recent years.
The notion that anti-U.S. jihadists are reacting to U.S. occupations in Muslim lands has legs, but it does not explain all jihadism everywhere or the lack of jihadists from certain countries that the U.S. has interfered with. It is not a theory of all jihadist terrorism everywhere. No theory of a phenomenon like terrorism is going to be able to explain everything. But we do not need a full explanation. We do not have to explain jihadism in Nigeria and Thailand and India. What we need is guidance for the policies of American government.
Early on, the West's leaders attributed what they called terrorism to such causes as poverty, lack of education, lack of economic opportunity, illiteracy, hopelessness, and failed governments. Many commentators blamed the rise of terrorism on the Muslim religion itself and its teachings. None of these explanations holds up under scrutiny or provides good policy guidance. For example, Faisal Shahzad (Times Square car bombing attempt) has a degree in computing and an MBA. Umar Farouq Abdulmuttalab (underwear bomber) graduated from University College London with a degree in mechanical engineering. His father is one of the richest men in Africa. If the U.S. goes into foreign countries with the idea of reducing poverty, improving education and improving the operations of foreign states, it will fail. It cannot accomplish these goals even within America. It will necessarily become enmeshed in foreign politics. It will inevitably be seen as an occupying force. It will induce the terrorist activity it seeks to diminish.
The Muslim religion itself cannot be blamed for terrorism because the vast majority of Muslims are not jihadists and Muslims have been relatively quiescent for a long time. I say relatively because tensions between Muslims and Christians or between Muslims and other groups or between ethnic groups that have different religions persist in many lands and break out into severe violence in some. The U.S. can't solve these kinds of frictions and it shouldn't introduce American force or resources in efforts to try.
Ethnicity is no explanation of terrorism either. One study of 57 American jihadists (done by Peter Bergen et al and titled "Assessing the Jihadist Terrorist Threat to America and American Interests") finds people of many ethnicities: 12 Caucasians, 10 Arab-Americans, 8 South Asian-Americans, 5 African-Americans, 2 Hispanic-Americans, 1 Caribbean-American, 1 unknown. The other 18 were Somali-Americans. Their number is over-represented due to the time period and a federal crackdown at the time.
If we heed what anti-American terrorists say about their motives, we find a mixture. Important among them when it comes to America is to end the occupation of Muslim lands. To anti-American jihadists, ending occupation has a combined ideological and religious appeal and one that motivates action. It can reach persons from all walks of life who may be inclined to combat invaders and occupiers with force of arms or to contribute resources or instruction to aid those who want to fight.
American occupation and interference is very real and significant. It was in the 1940s that the U.S. began to inject itself into the Middle East:
"In 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt made Saudi Arabia eligible for Lend-Lease assistance by declaring the defense of Saudi Arabia of vital interest to the U.S. In 1945, King Abdel Aziz and President Roosevelt cemented the tacit oil-for-security relationship when they met aboard the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal."
Subsequently, "When President Harry S. Truman took office, he made clear that his sympathies were with the Jews and accepted the Balfour Declaration."
In 1953, the CIA engineered a coup d'etat in Iran. Professor Mark Gasiorowski writes
"Perhaps the most general conclusion that can be drawn from these documents is that the CIA extensively stage-managed the entire coup, not only carrying it out but also preparing the groundwork for it by subordinating various important Iranian political actors and using propaganda and other instruments to influence public opinion against Mossadeq. This is a point that was made in my article and other published accounts, but it is strongly confirmed in these documents. In my view, this thoroughly refutes the argument that is commonly made in Iranian monarchist exile circles that the coup was a legitimate u2018popular uprising' on behalf of the shah."
U.S. coup activities in Syria began in 1947 and continued at least to 1956. The U.S. intervened militarily in Lebanon in 1958 and 1982.
This is only a brief sample of early U.S. interventions. The heavy involvement in Iraq has now lasted for over 30 years. It is easy to understand that a few Muslims with violent proclivities might meld their religion with action aimed against Americans.
Al-Qaeda's mujahideen (holy warriors) were significantly trained, armed and financed by the CIA with the cooperation of Pakistan's secret service, the goal being to fight the Russians and get them out of occupied Afghanistan. Little wonder that Osama bin Laden would later turn against American occupiers.
The U.S. should not stop intervening in foreign lands because there happen to be terrorists in these lands who resist such interventions. Even if there is no blowback in the form of terrorism against U.S. installations and Americans, the U.S. should retrench internationally. The U.S. should stop its foreign interventions because they do more harm than good in those countries, because they do not succeed at what they attempt to accomplish and because they harm America and Americans.
U.S. interventionism goes back to Woodrow Wilson and the idea of making the world safe for democracy, also known as liberal internationalism or idealism in international relations. In practice, this has meant American involvement in the near-continuous warfare of the 20th and now the 21st century. In practice, this kind of idealism leads to attempts of one power or one state or one philosophy or one religion to dominate all others. The most far-reaching statements of those Muslims who would establish Islam as the dominant way of life in the world are matched by the similar statements of international idealists who would everywhere establish a system of democracies or western democracies or a new world order or some such secular ideals.
Rejecting liberal internationalism does not imply accepting realism in international affairs as a norm because the latter takes the system of states as the status quo. Realism may be more descriptive of how states behave and it may be a better guide to policies than idealism, but only if it leads to keeping the peace and recognizing the limitations of power. But this view of international affairs also can result in attempts to institute a superpower or a world government or a world religion if a powerful state thinks that it can accomplish this.
Both of these international views are state-oriented because nations of people have associated themselves with states, but eventually the human race may learn that the system of territorially monopolistic states does not serve its best interests. The system of states will then lose its hold over people. States will fade away, to be replaced by a more panarchic world.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.