So Dr. Rice’s testimony before the 9/11 commission (curious that all of a sudden everyone refers to her as “Dr.”) reasserts what many have been saying for quite a while. Namely, that prior to 9/11, no one was adequately responding to acts of terror committed against Americans. Sure, there was the occasional bombing run or missile strike in retaliation for some acts. But no consistent or comprehensive response.
Assuming that there were no covert retaliations which the public wasn’t privy to, the above facts remain unquestioned. But the more important question, which no one seems to be asking, is what is the precedent for a response solving the problem?
I’m thinking here of Israel. They have a long history of “responding” to terror attacks. Sometimes with quite a bit of ferocity. But it’s not obvious to me that the situation is any more stable over there because of it. Granted, you can squelch terror with completely overwhelming and persistent control. If you turn the terrorist’s land into a tightly controlled police state, you can squelch dissension. Actually, you just squelch the public act of dissension. You probably breed even more dissension. But the distinction is moot. We cannot possibly control the vast portions of the world required to implement such a solution. Nor, is this what I think anyone (even the Bushies) are recommending. Rather, there is a presumption that we can intimidate the terrorists and potential terrorists into complacency by showing they will “pay for their crimes”. It is the fear of retribution which we are trying to use as the lever here. But I don’t think that works with terrorists any more than it works with ghetto drug runners.
Much like urban youth and the drug culture in our country, terrorists are disenfranchised. They feel they have nothing to lose. Moreover, the current wave of Islamic based terror ads the promise of redemption and reward in the afterlife for these acts of terror. These are not people to be intimidated. An enemy without fear is only defeated by overwhelming force – and as stated above, we can’t sustain that.
The only other reason for retaliation is that “it feels good”. There is an undeniable emotional satisfaction to revenge. But as we are all taught, revenge is short lived satisfaction. It ultimately can take a greater toll on the avenger than the impact on the original victim.
So should we give up “the war on terror”? As a holistic military action, I say yes. (Unfortunately we’re up to our eyeballs in Iraq right now and we can’t just stop cold turkey.) There are more effectual ways to make us safe, which is the ultimate goal here – not revenge. I propose there should be a strong anti-terror intelligence unit to infiltrate and break up emerging threats. I would even go so far as to grant the agents of this force a ‘007’-like license to kill, provided there was some reasonable oversight and accountability for their actions. I contend this would be more effective, less expensive, and result in fewer casualties than the current military campaign. The trouble is, it would have to be almost entirely covert. There would be no news coverage, and no politicians could take public credit for success. So it probably won’t happen.