Talk Is Cheap
America’s Dangerous Approach To Terrorism


September 22, 2001

In the year A.D. 64, Nero, the Roman Emperor, decided that the Christians, who were viewed as antisocial scum, should be eradicated and preceded to crucify them in the arena, throw them to wild animals, and burn them alive as living torches to light Nero's garden at his Golden House.  2000 years later the Roman Empire is a dusty chapter in a boring history book and Christianity is one of the dominant world religions. 

On August 4 of 1964 President of The United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, issued an immediate response to acts of aggression committed by the North Vietnamese against the United States in the Gulf Of Tonkin: 

My fellow Americans: - As President and Commander in Chief, it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply.

Ten years and 50,000 dead Americans later, the last helicopter lifted off the roof of the United States Embassy in Saigon as the United States retreated in disgrace from a war with no winners. 

The Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979 with some of the heaviest armed and equipped divisions known to military history.  During ten years of warfare utilizing some of the world’s best weapons, artillery and combat aircraft the Soviet Union inflicted a ruthlessness on the Afghan people few in America would understand or tolerate.  “Before the war, the Afghan population is estimated to have been somewhat more than fifteen million people. Over five million --- a third of the country --- became refugees, mostly in Pakistan and Iran; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called this ``migratory genocide. Millions more became refugees within the country, swelling the population of Kabul. Another million people were killed, either in fighting, or in massacres by Soviet troops, or by sheer starvation.” 

Ten years later, in 1989, the Soviets withdrew in humiliating defeat from Afghanistan minus almost 500,000 Soviet casualties and combat losses. 

On September 12, 2001, in response to the terrorism of September 11, President George W. Bush proclaimed: 

The American people need to know that we're facing a different enemy than we have ever faced.  This enemy hides in shadows, and has no regard for human life.   This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people, then runs for cover.   But it won’t be able to run for cover forever.   This is an enemy that tries to hide.  But it won't be able to hide forever.  This is an enemy that thinks its harbors are safe.  But they won't be safe forever. 

The simple fact of the matter is that the “new terrorism” is no more unique than the “new economy” was.  And, the future policy for eradicating the “new terrorism” is more rife with dangerous downside than was the “tech bubble” of the “new economy”. 

Just as there were basic fundamentals like revenues and earnings that the “new economy” mistakenly thought could be ignored there are basic fundamentals to understanding terrorism.  If the fundamentals of terrorism are ignored in a knee-jerk military response the consequences will surely be direr than the destruction of equity valuations.  

It is easy to kill a terrorist.  The problem lies with the reproductive rate of terrorism when that terrorism is perceived to be legitimate by the populations of host nations.  Simply stated, if terrorists are harbored in countries where their goals are perceived to be legitimate, they are viewed by the people of the harboring nations as revolutionaries or even patriots.  Consequently, when they are killed, martyrdom is the result. 

For every terrorist transformed by murder into a martyr, ten more will be created. 

Nations harbor terrorists because the nation’s populace shares a commonality with the perceived acts of injustice that the terrorists’ acts seek to avenge.   

Fundamentalist terrorism is rationality in the face of irrationality.  The acts of the terrorist seem irrationally inhumane to those upon whom the terrorism is inflicted.  To the terrorist these same acts are a rational port of last resort.  People commit suicide when all other avenues of hope are perceived to be lost. 

Eliminating terrorism, like losing weight, is a healthy idea but it is multi-dimensional.   

A healthy weight loss program calls for eliminating calories but also for finding and addressing the root cause of excessive eating.  A person who only embarks on a starvation diet may lose some pounds in the short term but without a lifestyle change failure is guaranteed. 

If the world hopes to truly eliminate the present scourge of terrorism the journey must first start with an analysis of the underlying grievances of the terrorists.  No, this is not pandering to the terrorist; it is the only way to strategically prevail against them. 

If the United States wishes to wage a truly effective war against terrorism it must first delegitimize the terrorists in their own neighborhood.  The perceived underlying injustices that created the base for terrorist support must be addressed.  If the perceived injustices are not addressed, terrorism will just keep reproducing itself because it will continue to exist in a nurturing environment (its host countries). 

If history is any guide, it is a certainty that the short-term conquest of a people by an empire solely through the use of force is the first step down a slippery slope of self-destruction for the empire. 

If the United States removes legitimacy from the terrorist by addressing the grievances that help to nourish the terrorism, it can then successfully excise the malignancy from the world.  If however the United States believes that it can kill terrorism by the sole means of massive retaliatory strikes, like morphine for a cancer patient, it may feel good for a while but the outcome is exponential cell growth and failure.  

In this very dangerous time of high emotions may we, as a nation, pray that logical heads prevail.  Let America truly learn the lesson of all the Vietnams and take a system-wide strategic approach to terrorism and not become mired down in the failed hope of killing this disease one cell at a time.


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