Confronting Terrorism

It seems to me….

Terrorism has become the systematic weapon of a war that knows no borders or seldom has a face.” ~ Jacques Chirac[1].

While ISIS tries to pretend they are a national state, rather than earning that recognition by other nations, it has gained only enmity and condemnation. Despite its attempt to reach out against international targets, it primarily remains a regional threat to surrounding nations seemingly reluctant to oppose it.

While President Obama is constantly criticized for not being sufficiently forceful in combating the threat, the reality is it is not the U.S.’s fight and those forces who should be most involved have not shown any indication they actually want to solve the problem. Though ISIS is primarily centered in Syria, Syria is a morass of competing factions each with a different priority.

Turkey is more concerned with a Kurdish militant group, the PKK, than ISIS. The Kurds have been the most active (and successful) force opposing ISIS but their primary goal is creation of their own nation. France, especially since the recent attacks in Paris, has become increasingly involved but lacks the military capacity required to conduct anything more than limited engagement. Russia initially entered the conflict in support of Syrian President Assad and has primarily concentrated on strikes against opposition rebel groups supported by the U.S. Iran, which is Shi’ite Muslim and considered an apostate by ISIS, supports Syrian President Assad as well as Hezbollah and Hamas (which the U.S. considers terrorist groups) and opposes Saudi Arabia. Lebanon shares a border with Syria but normally is aligned with Iran. Saudi Arabia, where the extreme form of Islam originated, has only conducted limited strikes against ISIS with its primarily focus on opposing Iran and on the civil war in Yemen. Iraq has consistently demonstrated its total lack of ability to oppose ISIS even though the U.S. has invested $17 billion training and equipping its army (as well as an additional $8 billion on its police force). Israel is not involved considering ISIS less of a threat than Iran, Hezbollah, or Hamas.

In the Middle East, ISIS constitutes an existential threat to the U.S. and an immediate direct threat to its neighbors but only the Peshmerga Kurds have actually taken up arms against it. While fighting is currently confined primarily to Syria and Iraq, towns on the Turkish border also are being contested. Saudi Arabia and Iran similarly are likely to be the next nations attacked. Where are their defense forces? From a U.S. perspective, the basic problem is that the nations most threatened by ISIS are more opposed to each other and seemingly not interested in confronting an ISIS threat.

As the world’s preeminent power, all that transpires falls within the U.S.’s national purview and interests. Knowing this, many other countries, rather than taking responsibility for their own defense when threatened, assume the U.S. will send in the cavalry and come to their rescue. We too frequently have donned the role of world’s policeman.

The U.S. has attempted to train and arm Syrian rebels without effect. Every attempt to coordinate a united coalition opposing ISIS has failed since all possible participants are primary opposed to other potential members rather than with ISIS. ISIS is a potential threat to the U.S. and other European nations but this should not be the U.S.’s battle. It is not a battle to be won on a traditional battlefield; ISIS will be defeated only by winning the hearts and minds of those most affected – something at which the U.S. has never demonstrated itself proficient relying instead on a combination of military, intelligence, economic, development, and strength of communities.

It was that disastrous strategy exemplified by invasion and overthrow of the Iraqi government, which many politicians advocate once again repeating, that destabilized the entire region and opened the door to ISIS. The Bush administration deposed the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq (Syria’s next-door neighbor with many of the same tribes and sectarian divides) putting 170,000 soldiers on the ground at the peak and spending nearly $2 trillion. And yet, a humanitarian catastrophe ensued — with roughly 4 million civilians displaced and at least 150,000 killed. Washington deposed Moammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya but chose to leave nation-building to the locals. The result has been what the New Yorker magazine calls “a battle-worn wasteland”. In Yemen, the U.S. supported regime change and new elections that resulted in a civil war tearing the country apart. Those who are so righteous and certain another intervention would save lives should at least pause and ponder the humanitarian consequences of the last three interventions.

Even if the U.S. and its allies were able to defeat the ISIS combat forces, we have demonstrated little appetite to maintain military forces in the region for what probably would be permanent occupation. Several U.S. politicians favor construction of so-called “safe zones” in Syria ignoring the impracticality of establishing, funding, and operating a refugee camp the size of a relatively large city opposed by all other nations in the region within a combat zone that in all probability would become still another cradle for future impoverished extremists.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has its own domestic concerns. Contrary to what many Americans seem to believe, terrorism does not equal jihadism. It is a tactic practiced across a wide array of ethnic and religious backgrounds whose ideologies stretch from anarchism to neo-Nazism. The majority of U.S. domestic terrorist incidents and violence have been committed by lone offenders or small cells. We must accept that our enemies include those that funded and promulgated Wahhabi-style Islam through radical madrasahs in the Islamic world.

Many politicians irresponsibly attempt to label any shooting incident as Islamic terrorism if anyone involved was Muslim or had a foreign sounding name. The U.S. has so far been able to prevent Islamic extremists from conducting almost all successful attacks in the U.S. since 9/11: the recent attack in San Bernardino, CA, being a possible exception. The primary threat so far has been from white supremacist, militia, and anarchist radicals.

Political movements use terrorism because it very effectively preys on our exaggerated fears elevated well beyond any rational level of danger. In reality, only an extremely low percentage of people are ever directly involved in terrorist-related incidents. Outside of any war zone, rankings of cause of death would place terrorism somewhere between multiple sclerosis and leprosy.

While emphasis must remain on ferreting out the self-radicalized lone-wolves motivated by jihadist ideology, the primary threat to all Americans remains the uncontrolled proliferation of weapons, not jihadism. More than half of the cases of mass killings involved school or workplace shootings or in other locations such as shopping malls, restaurants, and religious and government buildings. Most assailants were white males who legally obtained their weapons. The arsenals included dozens of assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines. In the year 2015, there has been on average at least one mass shooting every day. More people die due to guns than in traffic accidents. Over the course of the war since 2001, around 2,000 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan compared to over 5,000 gunfire victims just in Chicago. Those who claim preventing U.S. terrorist attacks as their primary concern might reconsider that defense should begin by confronting the primary threat: stricter gun control should be our first defense.

The most commonly heard response is that Muslims must immediately and loudly condemn these acts of barbarity. But this is inherently unfair: everyone should be judged as individuals and not placed under suspicion for some “group characteristic”. Though the majority of domestic terrorist attacks are committed by white, male Christians, when attacks occur we do not suspect other people who share their faith and ethnicity of condoning them. It is assumed that these things outrage them just as much as anyone else. We should afford that same assumption of innocence to Muslims.

Europe has not assimilated migrants resulting in bitterness and disaffection — especially among the youth. France has more terrorists than authorities are able to keep track of. Belgium, where many of the terror plots are planned and originate, makes little effort to even track terrorists.

The E.U. has estimated that without a significant restoration of order and security in the Middle East, as many as 3 million migrants could arrive in Europe prior to the end of 2016. In reaction to recent terrorist attacks, acceptance of migrants has become a critical issue in upcoming elections in many European nations possibly posing a threat to broader future European unification and cooperation.

Whenever the U.S. adopted a “light-footprint strategy” — special operations forces, covert intelligence, and law enforcement — it did well. Whenever it and its allies sent troops into Muslim countries, Islamic extremists benefited through increased radicalization and additional recruits. This is why ISIS has sought to entice Western countries into sending troops to Syria.

The initial focal point of ISIS was opposition to King Bashar Hafez al-Assad of Syria but spread over to Iraq as the path of least resistance. While the U.S. bears responsibility for destroying the Iraqi military and alienating its ruling class, it is not our obligation to once again place U.S. troops as the primary opposition to any threat. By committing air support and supplies, the U.S. is doing more than nations in that region should expect. It is their countries that are immediately threatened and it is up to them to defend themselves.

Will an attack against the U.S. eventually be successful? It undoubtedly will for as has been frequently noted, to prevent any attack we always have to be successful – they only have to be successful once.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Jacques René Chirac is a French politician, who served as the President of France from 1995 to 2007.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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6 Responses to Confronting Terrorism

  1. berlioz1935 says:

    Yes, it is a mess up there. The meddling of the Western powers has brought the situation about. History is always about cause and effect and it goes back for centuries.

    The understandable wish of the Jews for a homeland is one cause for the unrest in the Middle East. Oil is the other. Add to this the traditional need for revenge in the area and you get problems.

    Bashar Hafez al-Assad is president, not King.


    • lewbornmann says:

      Agree. The Middle East, as recounted in Hebrew Scriptures, tells of Middle East conflict stretching back millennia. Peace, while desired, remains an elusive conundrum only made worse by our involvement. Bearing partial responsibility for the current regional instability, the U.S. and other western nations are obligated to assist in its solutions. Unfortunately, those nations most affected seem little interested.

      Being in the midst of presidential campaigns, Republican candidates seem able to only consider their one solution to seemingly every problem: send in the U.S. army. While President Obama has largely refrained from this action, the public majority is increasingly demanding an escalating response resulting in incremental involvement.

      I identified Bashar Hafez al-Assad twice as President but incorrectly referred to his as King the third time. Thank you for the correction.


  2. auntyuta says:

    You say ” . . . ISIS will be defeated only by winning the hearts and minds of those most affected – something at which the U.S. has never demonstrated itself proficient relying instead on a combination of military, intelligence, economic, development, and strength of communities . . . ”

    I am puzzled how military intervention could bring about a change when apparently nobody succeeds in cutting the sources of income for ISIS:

    It says in the above article:

    “ISIS earns about $1 million a day from oil sales.”

    “ISIS also brought in approximately $45 million in 2014 from kidnapping for ransom.”


    • lewbornmann says:

      Military intervention would be effective in blocking the ISIS marketing of petroleum but even total military victory over ISIS will not eliminate its basic appeal to the many disaffected people supporting it. The world has changed and responses to terrorist challenges must change accordingly. Too many generals (and politicians) are still attempting to fight yesterday’s wars.

      U.S. Republican presidential candidates are calling for direct combat troop intervention, carpet bombing, significant increases in military spending, and blocking all Moslem entry into the U.S. This manner of thinking should disqualify anyone from holding ANY political office much less the presidency.


  3. auntyuta says:

    I just noticed an interesting article in The Guardian:

    Tanya Plibersek is deputy leader of the Australian opposition and member for Sydney, New South Wales


  4. lewbornmann says:

    Given Australia’s role in combating ISIS (something I was not aware of), it would seem reasonable they also would be involved in the Vienna negotiations concerning resolution of combat in Syria. The U.S. shares responsibility for what is occurring in the Middle East with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and failure to respond to Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s use of banned weapons against his own people. Saner voices at the negotiating table are clearly called for.


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