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How to Fight Terrorists


In the case of crimes, the first steps are (1) determining who was probably guilty, apprehending them, and bringing them to a fair trial; and (2) attending to the background circumstances, and where there are legitimate grievances in the background, addressing them, as should be done quite apart from the crimes.

It’s the same whether the crime is a street robbery or large-scale international terrorism. In the latter case, there is a virtual consensus on this among specialists and intelligence agencies (including former heads of Israeli intelligence). Furthermore, the evidence shows that these are the most effective courses to take, including contemporary Islamic terrorism (the only case we are allowed to talk about). In contrast, Cheney’s preferred method has consistently increased the threat of terrorism, which is quite natural: violence tends to increase violence and support for it in response. The current Iraq war is an illustration. It was undertaken with the expectation that it would probably lead to an increase in terrorism, as it did. That’s just another of the many indications that reducing the threat of terror is not a high priority for planners, and another reason…

Hysterical intellectuals who prefer to shriek rather than reduce the threat of terror choose to interpret (2) as “appeasement” or “submission to terror” or “rationalization of terror,” etc. In sharp contrast, specialists in terror and intelligence agencies typically take the opposite stand. Comment is hardly necessary, apart from questions of intellectual history.

Police investigation and action might, under some circumstances, involve military force. There cannot be any general answer to the question. As for “pre-emptive strike,” there has been a formal consensus on this since the UN Charter and the Nuremberg Tribunal. The formal consensus, the supreme law of the land in the US, bans the resort to force with narrow exceptions: when authorized by

the Security Council, or in response to armed attack until the Security Council acts, in the latter case when “the necessity for action is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation.” These principles were established because of explicit international rejection, led by the US, of doctrine that now prevails: that resort to force is legitimate if we “know” — that is, have some reason to believe — that someone has the intention of attacking us. That doctrine would, for example, justify Japan’s attack on US military bases in Pearl Harbor and Manila. The Japanese could read the US press, with its lurid discussion of how US bombing could exterminate this inferior and vicious race by burning down Japan’s wooden cities, and they knew that flying fortresses capable of bombing Japan from Pearl Harbor and Manila were coming off the Boeing Assembly line, so they “knew” that there was a serious threat of extermination, not just terror. Therefore, according to the “Bush doctrine,” shared by Kerry and elites generally, Japan had every right to bomb Pearl Harbor and Manila. In fact, they had a far stronger case than the one enunciated by Colin Powell, etc.: that “intent and ability” suffice to allow the US to attack a country, committing the “supreme crime” of Nuremberg, which encompasses all the evil that follows — the crime for which any participants, such as the German foreign minister, were hanged.

In 1945 the US was not willing to tolerate principles that would justify the Pearl Harbor attack. Today, it insists on principles that permit far more freedom to resort to violence and aggression, though of course there is a reservation, usually tacit but sometimes made explicit by the more honest commentators, like Henry Kissinger. He approves of the doctrine, but adds that it must not be

“universalized”: the right to commit the supreme crime for which Nazi leaders were hanged must be reserved to the United States, perhaps delegated to its clients.

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