What Do Terrorists Want?

The problem with the response of eager military “hawks” to terrorism is not that they punish terrorists too severely. It is that they give terrorists exactly what they want.

Some people like to imagine that ISIS or Al Qaeda cower in their dens hoping that the U.S. doesn’t bring out the full force of its fury. And then when some president doesn’t press forward with full-tilted abandon, they like to imagine that the terrorist masterminds are sitting back and laughing, totally delighted that nothing is happening.

However, if you look at their actions, groups like ISIS are actually acting precisely as if they WANT a response. Think about it. If ISIS wanted to avoid Western intervention, do you think they would circulate evidence of their atrocities to the media? Modern terrorism may be a lot of things, but it is nothing if it isn’t an attempt to goad the movers and shakers into military action through the vehicle of public opinion and perception.

Seriously, if ISIS just wanted to kill the maximum amount of “infidels” while going under the radar and avoiding any international response, they would not be doing what they are doing right now!

The Clash Of Civilizations That Isn’t by Robert Wright is worth reading. In it, Robert says:

ISIS is here. And it’s here, in part, because we got all freaked out about Al Qaeda and overreacted to it. And now we’re getting freaked out about ISIS. As freakouts go, this one is certainly understandable. ISIS wants to terrify us, and in the service of that mission has carried tactical atrocity to new heights of grotesqueness…And the process feeds on itself. The more scared we get, the more likely our government is to react with the kind of undiscerning ferocity that created ISIS as we know it—and the more likely Western extremists are to deface mosques, or worse. All of which will help ISIS recruit more Muslims, thus leading to more atrocities in the West, as well as in the Middle East, and making the whole thing seem even more like a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. And so on.”

Heaping Praise On The House Of Saud

Today the UK/US media, American President, and the Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper are gloating over one of the most despotic dictators in the world. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has died and they are hailing him as “loyal ally”, “reformer”, “bold”, “courageous” and even “vocal advocate of peace in the Middle East”. Surely if he weren’t so “cooperative” on various military adventures, he would be denounced as a thug and despot. It almost reads as if it is coming straight out of The Onion. The next time our governments or media say we are going to war to fight for freedom or get rid of dictators or fight extremism–it should be noted that they have eagerly praised (and supported and protected) one of the worst totalitarian states in recent history.

I think talking to people from the area pretty quickly reveals the extent to which the kingdom has been characterized by corruption and extreme forms of totalitarianism.

For those interested to read, I recommend the Palestinian-Egyptian author Said Aburish’s book “Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of the House Saud”. Though it is dated, it does a good job of setting the historical context and also showing the depth to which the Saud family has been able to manage its reputation in the media and in Western governments–both through finesse and intimidation.

ISIS and Cluster Bombs

ISIS is being criticized for their use of cluster bombs. And no doubt, these are horrible weapons that ought not be used. They explode into sub-munitions. They are horribly inaccurate, with an margin of error of 1,200 meters.  Furthermore, many of them do not explode, leaving dangerous landmines.

However, as is so often the case, that is only half the story. ISIS is following in a long tradition of cluster weapon use.  In fact cluster bombs seem to be a weapon of choice for the United States and Israel. And of course, you only get blamed for using cluster bombs if you are the current “bad guy.”

  • Israel fired about 1,800 cluster bombs into Lebanon on one occasion. Israel would use cluster bombs on Lebanon on three occasions.
  • The United States Department of Defense sold $640 million dollars worth of cluster bombs (1,300 units) to Saudi Arabia
  • In 2003-2006, the United States and the UK used about 13,000 cluster bombs in Iraq.
  • In 2001-2002, the United States used 1,228 cluster bombs in Afghanistan.
  • In 1999, the United States, the UK, and the Netherlands dropped 1,765 cluster bombs in Serbia/Kosovo.
  • The United States, France, the UK, and Saudi Arabia drop 61,000 cluster bombs in Iraq during the Gulf War.
  • In the 1960s and 1970s in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, the United States used cluster bombs extensively.
  • Interestingly enough, in World War II, Nazi Germany and the USSR used cluster bombs, but the Allied forces didn’t.

Unsurprisingly, the United States and Israel have refused to sign a treaty calling on the prohibition of “the use, transfer and stockpile of cluster bombs.”

We should demand that ISIS, Israel, and the United States stop using and distributing cluster bombs!

The Israel/Gaza Situation

The situation in Gaza is, no doubt, a complex and nasty affair.  Given the complexity of the matter and the difficulty of obtaining reliable information, I think it’s reasonable to suppose that there will be a spectrum of opinions on the matter, and that’s perfectly OK.

I am wholeheartedly willing to accept that Israel should have the right to “defend themselves”, as every country ought to be able to do. On the other hand, nearly every war in the history of mankind, including some of the most offensive ones, has been carried out in the name of “self defense”. So, claiming “self-defense” is not always quite the same thing as actually acting in self-defense.

I have seen enough information to satisfy myself on this point: Israel is NOT only acting in self defense. In fact, it is following a specific ideology, and it has some very specific goals, far above and beyond what their self-defense would require. It’s carrying out a “punishment” as much anything else.  As a former official said, a common perspective among Israeli officials and their supporters is: “why should Gaza’s residents suffer? Well, they are to blame”.

I would also add that I think it unwise and questionable to automatically assume that Israel, merely because it is “Israel”, is automatically right in what it does. There are some people, often for religious or political reasons, who automatically assume that since Israel is “Israel” and Hamas is, well, Hamas, whatever Israel does to the Palestinians must be right. My Christian faith and my Bible do not require me to blindly support Israel. In fact, I find the interpretation of prophesy that leads one to that conclusion to be quite errant. And I find the political vision that sees Israel as a bastion of freedom and democracy to be increasingly unbelievable.

There are, among some Israeli officials and some “supporters of Israel”, some very frightening overtones which, quite frankly, are spooky to me. A recent article by Andrew Sullivan highlights some of these sentiments. I feel these spooky sentiments are the undercurrent of much of what Israel is doing. The basic idea that is being thrown around  amounts to something like this: “you are part of a people who elected a bad government, therefore your life doesn’t matter”.

For example, this was what one man said at a Israeli support rally in New York:

  • “When you are part of an election process that asks for a terrorist organization which proclaims in word and in deed that their primary objective is to destroy their neighboring country and not to build schools or commerce or jobs, you are complicit and you are not a civilian casualty.”

I can’t get that phrase out of my mind “you are not a civilian casualty”. It keeps ringing in my mind. So even if you didn’t vote for a bad government, you become a “non person” just because other people voted for it? That’s essentially what it seems to boil down to.

So then, one might assume that this is just the sentiment of some extremist in New York, not actual Israeli officials and movers and shakers within Israel, right?

Wrong. For instance, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset is calling for ethnic cleansing.  I think Eric Margolis was essentially right when he said that “To many Israelis, Palestinians are simply wild animals who must be caged up”.

Here are some quotes cited in Andrew Sullivan’s article:

  • “In the past month, Rabbi Noam Perel, head of Bnei Akiva, the largest Jewish religious youth group in the world, called for the mass-murder of Palestinians and for their foreskins to be scalped and brought back as trophies”
  • A young women being touted as the future Prime Minister of Israel: “Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
  • The former head of the Israeli National Security Council: “The moment it begins, the right thing to do is to shut down the crossings, prevent the entry of any goods, including food, and definitely prevent the supply of gas and electricity … why should Gaza’s residents suffer? Well, they are to blame for this situation just like Germany’s residents were to blame for electing Hitler as their leader and paid a heavy price for that, and rightfully so.”

I think Andrew Sullivan helps to underscore part of the reason why I am unwilling to unquestionably support Israel.  I am not anti-Israel.  I am also not pro-Hamas. I am just unwilling to automatically rubber stamp what Israel does. That’s all.

Israel does not have ethical blank cheque to do whatever they want, just because there is a terrorist threat they are dealing with. In fact, the balance of evidence that I have looked at so far points to the fact that they are doing some very questionable and problematic things (to put it diplomatically).

As I’ve already indicated, there’s also a troubling mindset in the way Israel is carrying out its business. It’s well summed up in this quote from Sullivan’s article:

“The grotesque death toll from Gaza is a distillation of this mindset – revealing at best a chilling contempt for Arab life and at worst, with the shelling of schools and shelters, a policy of indiscriminate hatred and revenge. Yes, killing women and children in shelters is about as low as you can get in wartime.”

21st Century Rules Against Arbitrary Invasion

Apparently not recognizing the irony, John Kerry told Vladimir Putin:

“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”kerryputin

It sounds like pretty good advice. Now, if only we could get a 21st century U.S. administration that would implement a non-interventionist foreign policy like that! Then Russia could have a good example to follow.

Ronald Reagan and the Taliban in Afghanistan

Reagan_sitting_with_people_from_the_Afghanistan-Pakistan_region_in_February_1983“The freedom fighters of Afghanistan are defending principles of independence and freedom that form the basis of global security and stability” – Ronald Reagan in 1982

“American officials no longer refer to Afghanistan warlords and insurgents as ‘freedom fighters’; yet, to a very large degree, U.S. and NATO forces are fighting the offspring of the jihadists that Reagan so lavishly supported in the 1980s. Preferring to compartmentalize history into pre-9/11 and post-9/11 segments, Americans remain oblivious to the consequences that grew out of Ronald Reagan’s collaboration with the mujahideen.” – Andrew Bacevich in The Limits Of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, p48


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