Terrorism as an abstract concept can be defined in many ways. The first step is to separate out those who participate -- terrorists -- from what is done -- terrorist acts. The problem is that terrorism in the abstract is quite benign; it doesn't do anything. As in war, there has to be destruction or intimidation of some sort before the concept of war attains reality. The need, therefore, is to attack effectively the reality of terrorism.
The terrorists using terrorist acts as their war mechanism don't fight "democracy" or any other political abstraction. They attack physical structures and humans in hopes such an effort diminishes the psychological strength of their opponent. That which they destroy physically -- unless it's an anti-terror military facility -- is simply a step in their ambition to gain a psychological, and thus political, advantage. (Even in the case of the destruction of an anti-terror facility, there is a strong psychological as well as physical component.)
As is well known, the real objective of terrorism is the will of the target. Luring the target into a full scale conventional war is to the advantage of the terrorist. The latter, after all, is interested in inflicting psychological damage for political purpose through physical destruction of its enemy's men and materiel. The presence of a large-scale conventional force provides a plentiful target array.
Tying up large numbers of the opponent's regular forces while using a minimal number of their own alone automatically provides a psychological victory. The interesting thing is that the regular forces usually celebrate wiping out small numbers of terrorists with as much enthusiasm as the small cadre of terrorists celebrate killing far larger numbers of the regulars and the civilians they are seeking to protect. Now, there is a real psychological contradiction.
Americans have fought well in the past as "terrorists." Our first experience was with the British Army returning from their lopsided victory over American militia at Lexington and Concord. As the British professionals ("the finest army in Europe") marched back to Boston, American minutemen (the Brits would have called them terrorists) hid behind stonewalls and picked off the redcoats one by one. The British were more than a little distraught and in later reports referred to such action as "banditry."
Mosby's Partisan Rangers during the Civil War created havoc behind the main Union lines in Northern Virginia. These motley clothed cavalrymen terrorized the regular Union army and its civilian supply lines. Some of the few Confederates who were caught were treated as spies and executed on the spot. But these southern Americans knew what they were doing and drove the northern "invaders" crazy while being aided and abetted by the subjugated rebel population. They certainly would have used IED's if they'd had them.
There are many other instances of American "terrorist" actions, of course: Our guerrillas in the Philippines operating against the Japanese in World War II is only one of them. They held nothing back in attempts to harass the Japanese army of occupation. In Vietnam our Special Forces with their Montagnard allies moved stealthily through NVN positions to strike behind the lines, while Army and Marine snipers went high-ranking officer hunting.
The point here is that terrorism has many forms and has long been an integral part of warfare. To counter it, however, requires tactics that today might be characterized as terroristic. The terrorist must be denied the psychological advantage, and to do that sometimes requires what some would term terrorist tactics and terrorist acts. Others would say, "Whatever it takes..."
Unfortunately Americans, much like most everyone else, don't like being called terrorists. It tends to be more acceptable to drop bombs from on high that collaterally kill and wound civilians rather than selectively coercing and killing non-cooperative local leaders assisting terrorists.
The point of all this is to show the way to withdraw our troops from Iraq yet carry on the war against terror. We should be able to fight this war on terror with the effective implements of terrorism. We can remove our regular forces and thus remove the principal high value target of the terrorists, while we remain in Iraq fighting strictly an unconventional ground and air war of counter-terrorism -- with our own innovative "terrorist" capability.
The terrorists don't think we can do it. Politically they might be right. But there is nothing in the American psyche or history that says we can't do it. America in a given situation just has to get mad enough. The difficulty is we don't want to be terrorists. At least we as a nation don't like to think of ourselves as capable of being terrorists -- of using terrorism or terrorist acts. The alternative is to continue to use conventional forces to fight terrorists -- which is exactly what the terrorists want us to do -- or pull out all together. Neither is wise.
President Bush still has it in his power to shift the focus of our Iraqi military operations to the smaller scale, yet arguably more effective, if brutal, methods of warfare used by the terrorists, themselves. One can call it...special operations. We have always been extremely good at that.
George H. Wittman, a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.
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