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Can We Defeat Terrorists without Defeating Terrorism?

“We are not waging a war against terrorism because terrorism is but a tactic that will never be defeated, any more than a tactics of war will. Rather, such thinking is a recipe for endless conflict. ... We are at war with Al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and any comment to the contrary is just inaccurate."

John Brennan, Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

Now there's an obvious paradox in a man whose own post is defined by counterterrorism, arguing that terrorism can never be defeated. Back when the USSR forged its pact with Nazi Germany, the Soviet propaganda machine propounded that they were not at war with "fascism", as "isms" could not be defeated. Similar defeatist arguments were used by Western governments to argue that Communism was another "ism" and Isms could not be defeated.

Both arguments were of course proven wrong, because you can defeat an "Ism" by bringing down the system and country that most exemplifies it, thereby devaluing it as a political or ideological strategy at least for some time to come. That in turn is exactly why Muslim terrorism is targeting America, because we exemplify a society that blends human freedoms, popular representation and free enterprise. If they can corrupt, destroy or bring down America, they will have come one step closer to demonstrating that there is no alternative to accepting Islam.

Brennan argues that terrorism is just another tactic of war, and that therefore it cannot be defeated. This is wrong on both counts, as a man who spent so much time in the intelligence and counterterrorism world should know.

First of all a tactic of war can indeed be defeated by demonstrating that its use is either futile or self-destructive. The reason we have never had a nuclear war, is because any strategy that depended on winning a nuclear war was eliminated by demonstrating that it was far more likely to lead to self-destruction, than to victory.

Secondly terrorism is not a tactic of war, it is a political tactic. Terrorists don't employ terrorism in order to defeat armies, but to show that the army and security forces are unable to defeat them or stop their attacks. Their real target is the political apparatus of the enemy which is forced to make concessions to the political goals of the terrorists in order to end the attacks. These concessions can be direct or indirect. An example of direct concessions would occur at a peace conference, such as the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and Arafat. While an indirect example would be the American and European attempt to appease "moderate" Muslims who have the same goals as the "extremist" Muslims . While the terrorists will usually denounce such appeasement, this is only done in order to stake out their position on the left or the right, and thereby achieve even more far ranging concessions.

Understanding that terrorism is a political tactic is the key to defeating it. Terrorism gambles that the spines of the enemy politicians will be weak enough that they will choose to withdraw, appease and concede-- rather than fight harder and do whatever it takes to win. Terrorists cannot win against a nation whose political and military leadership is united with their citizens in their determination to defeat the terrorists. They can only win by exploiting weakness, and their crimes are crimes of weakness.

If terrorists had the courage to make war, they would make war. They don't plant bombs in cafes because they believe they can actually defeat their enemies in battle. They plant bombs in cafes because they know that they can't, and that their only hope is to spread terror through public acts of terror and highly visible atrocities in order to make it easier for weak politicians to make a fitful effort to stop them, and then pull back when they realize that their half-hearted measures alone won't carry the day.

That is why it is impossible to defeat terrorists, without defeating terrorism. Because the two are the same. Terrorists depend on the success of their core tactic, that of terrorizing the enemy. You cannot defeat them without discrediting this tactic, without demonstrating that it is futile and self-destructive. And you do that in two ways, first by never bowing to terrorism or its demands in any way shape or form. And secondly by going on the offensive against terrorists, by targeting their allies and their affiliated political movements, and any groups, ethnic, religious or political that support them.

The terrorists' tactic is to turn up the heat on their enemies. The best counter is to turn up the heat on them. The terrorists gain their strength by being on the offensive and forcing their enemies to take reactive stances, always waiting to defend against every possible attack. The best counter is to force the terrorists to go on the defensive, to hit them and keep hitting them so that they are forced to be reactive, anticipating the next attack.

A major terrorist organization requires a core of professionals to train new recruits and run operations. It requires a constant flow of money to fund terrorist activities. It needs a political arm or sympathizers and fellow travelers who will conduct their propaganda for them, and make their aims and goals clear. And finally it needs warm bodies to throw into the fray and transform into martyrs. Critics usually harp on the last of these as demonstrating that you cannot simply kill terrorists because they will just recruit more. Which is true. But such recruits are generally worthless. Suicide bombings alone demonstrate how worthless even the terrorist leaders themselves think their recruits are.

But if you can destroy or severely damage the first three, then you have destroyed or severely crippled the ability of the terrorist group to operate. If you destroy its core personnel, you can eliminate the entire group as a threat. If you can humiliate them by forcing confessions out of them, you can even discredit the group's "brand" and impede other terrorists from trying to form the group again in the future.

If you can stop or black the majority of operations, and discredit or destroy some of the core personnel, you will discourage the flow of donations to the group from its backers. Furthermore if you can destroy the political arms and terrify or take down the fellow travelers, you can essentially isolate the terrorist group both from its financial backers and its political goals. The group becomes a dead end, with no real way left to achieve its objectives. Because terrorism is a political strategy, and if the group cannot have any way left to effect political change, it becomes worthless.

It sounds easy, but it's not. The key is to understand that doing these without any real commitment is almost as bad as not doing anything at all. Because the terrorists depend on a certain amount of engagement in order to be able to carry on a running battle that will bring them attention and money, and that will make the people feel that further fighting is futile. The terrorists count on being able to survive repeated engagements by a government too afraid to fight them with the gloves off... so that they can then claim that force will not stop them, only concessions and appeasement will end the violence.

To defeat both terrorists and terrorism, you must be ruthless. You must destroy them by destroying whatever cover they depend on. You must cut off their outside aid and political camouflage, put them on the run and keep them on the run, until they are isolated and immobile, at which point they can be destroyed. This will require tactics that often seem ugly to the postmodern mentality that believes that force is only moral, when it is practiced with perfect purity. But the only thing uglier than what it will take to defeat terrorists, is their victory.



  1. Anonymous24/2/10

    For once I don't agree with you. Terrorism is just one part of Islamic jihad and it not only wins concessions, it also changes the way of life of the West - security, more laws passed to restrict freedom and increase government control.

    The Islamic jihad has many other equally effective strategies, such as legal jihad, rape jihad, street jihad, political jihad, and possibly most effective of all, demographic jihad all funded by petrodollars.

    The West is not at war with terror, with extremists, or with radical muslims. The West is at war with Islam because the common goal of jihad is to conquer the West into dar al Islam. And at this moment, the jihad is succeeding. Unless the West realises this, future generations will inherit a nightmare, just as many other people have experienced throughout the history of Islam since 622.


  2. You don't disagree with anything I've said

    those concessions change the way of life, which allow the terrorists to take over

  3. Sultan, I totally agree with you on this one. In fact the very last paragraph in this posting is one of, if not the best I have every read on what we as a nation and people should be doing to not just protect ourselves but to defeat this enemy of mankind.

    Any nation or people group that gives any support or aid, training camps, etc., should we destroyed and disabled by using whatever means it takes.

    We can no linger be reactive, only proactive. If it gets ugly ... it gets ugly.

    As Todd Beamer and his friends said on 9-11 ... "Let's roll."

  4. I agree with you completely. My only questions are whether the US needs to launch actual wars against actual largely terrorist nations--military invasions--or would be better off fighting this evil through intelligence and targeted assassinations.

    I've yet to hear anyone refer to the war against Iraq. It's always the war IN Iraq not against. The small difference leads to terrible confusion. We're at war in Iraq and trying to rebuild it at the same time. Smash first then rebuild. But why is it our responsibility to rebuild these dysfunctional governments in the first place?

    From Operation Infinite Justice to the watered-down Operation Enduring Freedom. The US doesn't know what its doing, who the enemy is etc.

    We're also fighting terrorism the way the feds fight the mafia--Russian or Italian. That's led to the collapse of many criminal enterprises but the mobs are still in action everywhere in the world.

    And have been for centuries.

    I think the only way to defeat Islamic terrorism is to launch a full fledged attack on Arab/Muslim nations.

    There's a difference between rogue citizens becoming terrorists and total Islamic terrorist regimes.

    Brennan, former National Security Advisor for Homeland Security...good grief. Homeland Security...ah, the same people who believe it's their job to police the area above an international bridge but not the water below it (Peace Bridge--US/Canadian border).

  5. I think we need to choose the response based on the target. A nation that sponsors terrorism vs say a network of radical imams would require different tactics to deal with. But we have a full spectrum of those at our disposal. We have the resources, just not the will.

  6. Obama and his goons have shown their true colors, fimly on the side of communism, jihad, alqaida & co.

  7. Anonymous24/2/10

    As long as the Muslim population continues to grow in the West, so will the attendent problems. A time then comes when the solution, accepting sharia, sounds a better option then the continued opposition to Islamic culture and demands.

    The obvious solution is to reverse what brought this situation about. That means reversing Muslim immigration, or Separation from Islam and Muslims, as Laurence Auster has advocated for several years, and for even longer by me.

    The real problem is how to bring a political climate in the West, where such policies can be enacted.

    In fact we need a political and social climate in the West that is such, that Muslims start to leave of their own accord, without requiring compensation. This would be the best, as it does not lead us to compromise on our principles of 'liberalism'.

    We are getting there slowly.

  8. From the time of Mohamed, Islam has been waging war on all non-Muslims. This war began with deceit and when the armies of Islam felt strong enough, murder.

    Terrorism has been and still is one tactic deceit is another. Starting in the last part of the 20th century deceit has been used on the stronger western nations and terror on the weaker ones. That is where we stand today.

    Islam is based on eliminating all other beliefs and no-beliefs, primarily through intimidation and murder while the rest of the world has been striving to adhere to freedom, individual liberty, and respect for life.

    Islam is not compatible with the rest of the world. The two cannot coexist, as long as Islam does not reform its core belief of superiority and right to dominance of all.

  9. Anonymous24/2/10

    Vladimir Val Cymbal

    The strange thing is that whenever the forces of civilisation had the barbarian Muslims at their mercy, they excercised mercy, and let the Muslims, their armies included, get away. On the occasions when it was the other way round, Muslims slaughtered those that even surrendered, then massacred the innocent, and took the women and children as slaves.

    What we see is that Muslims exact a proper price from the defeated, while civilised people help the defeated Muslims.

    We are now not only restricting our forces to put themselves in danger just so that Muslims are not hurt, but our politicians insist that we supply our enemy with a readymade nation.

    This way we will lose.

  10. Anonymous25/2/10

    I disagree with you SK on that it isn't about combatting terrorism, it is about combatting Islam in its entireity. This video shows that terrorism isn't the problem, it is the spread of Islam, in particular, demographics:

    Muslim Demographics

    It really is now an "us or them" situation in the West.


  11. you're missing the point. I've written extensively myself about the other ways in which Islam is a threat, including demographics, this article however specifically tackles terrorism

  12. Mikec26/2/10

    The inability of the west to act reflects the moribund nature that is the consequence of moral relativity. Islam is seen as an equivalent morality rather than as a dangerously violent and feudal threat to our safety and culture.

    Unfortunately Islam is also the world's cash cow, and if the political/social elite wants easy money, it looks to the middle east, never mind the small print.

    Buy now Pay later....

    Jefferson sorted out the Barbary Pirates in exactly the way SK advises, it was so effective that this terrorist force, which had even threatened the political stability of the region, became a total non-entity, forgotten by history (except the US Marines of course).

    Payments in ransom and tribute to these Islamic privateering states had amounted to 20 percent of United States government annual revenues in 1800.

    So not only was it militarily effective, it was cost effective too. As for oil, you can't drink it, you can only sell it, and the Islamic World has nothing else to sell, consequentially it is scared stiff of any glitch in oil sales

  13. On Dec. 8, 1941, we didn't declare "war on military aviation" - the method - we declared war on THE ENEMY: Japan.

    Sadly, we lack the will to declare war on the enemy: islam - and thus instead declare war on the method: terrorism.

    We will - also sadly - continue this charade until our dead number in the millions - as do the number of uninhabitable acres rendered so by their penultimate act of (nuclear) terrorism.

    Hopefully, when it finally happens, it won't be too late to fight the ultimate war on this twisted ideology.



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