If we want to get to a world where terrorism isn’t such a regular tragedy, governments need to start recognizing the fact that the so-called “War on Terror” is a self-fulfilling prophecy destined to foment one thing and one thing only: more terrorism.
The Big Picture: The problem arising in the wake of the recent mass-murder event in Paris and the subsequent French bombing of the Islamic State (also a mass-murder event) is that the two acts (and hundreds like them) serve as justification for more of the same from the other side. They provide fuel for each other’s fire and the situation, not surprisingly, continues to metastasize.
The great paradox at play is that as the West continues to attack the Islamic State, the organization’s appeal continues to grow among those who view the West as an adversary. Nobody knows exactly what causes radicalization but my best guess is that its appeal will continue to increase as the West continues to respond to violent events with exponentially more violence in turn. Such has been the trend thus far.
Why Terrorism? Terrorism is likely to spawn from a number of things, such as a bankrupt ideology, a sense of injustice, and disenfranchisement with the status quo. Regardless of the exact origins in any particular case, there are two primary reasons that the “war on terror” will continue to fail (assuming the goal is to reduce the number of terrorist attacks and the rampant increase in radicalization). Reason #1: Western violence (the principal prescription for fighting terrorism) is also the primary motivation behind successful terrorist recruiting efforts. Reason #2: Western attempts to overthrow heads of state under the guise of fighting terrorism provide an incredible opportunity for terrorist organizations to take root in a more institutional fashion. Let’s discuss these two phenomena in more depth.
Reason #1: Regardless of their origins, where terrorist movements gain the most strength is from the fact that they can point to objective injustices perpetrated by western nations (whether well intentioned or not). Violence begets more violence and Middle East bombing campaigns by Western countries are used to rally otherwise moderate people to nefarious causes. This is also one of the reasons terrorist movements are able to grow beyond an extremely small and fractured group of individuals.
Bombing campaigns are a major contributing factor to radicalization, and the principal motivation Western democracies should be concerned about…because it is one of the few factors they have legitimate control over. The moment a bomb kills a single innocent person – man, woman, or child – it facilitates ten more terrorist sympathizers. What’s more is that even if the bomb kills actual terrorists, it’s still providing rampant material support against the cause of “fighting terrorism.” How many bombs has the United States dropped in the last fifteen years? Millions. In how many countries? Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and probably a great number more that are largely classified operations.
Seen in this light, is it really hard to understand why terrorist movements are growing and becoming more unified? It’s much easier for a terrorist to convince the average person to hate foreigners when foreigners are actively bombing their country, either through boots-on-the-ground invasions, drone warfare, or manned bombing campaigns.
Reason #2: The second thing that facilitates terrorism is the active attempt to overthrow established governments with force. Despite the fact that Sadaam Hussein was a tyrant, Iraq was not a terrorist haven while he was in charge. He was certainly a criminal dictator, but he didn’t put up with terrorists. Compare this to the emerging reality in present day Iraq now that he’s gone. Or consider Libya. Muammar Qaddafi was also a tyrant, and now that he’s been removed (courtesy of a Western air campaign), his former country is a jihadist wonderland.
The UN resolution designed strictly to “protect civilians” was used as an excuse to act as the rebels' Air Force. Should it surprise us that “good” rebels might be fighting alongside “bad” rebels? The entire campaign did little more than make a bad situation much worse.
Next, consider Syria. Western governments, led by the United States, have been actively supporting militia groups trying to overthrow yet another head of state, Bashar Al-Assad. The hypocritical reality is that the militia groups in Syria are fighting in common caucus with the Islamic State against Assad (who somewhat legitimately calls them all “terrorists”) while simultaneously fighting against the Islamic State (and thus on the same team as Bashar Al-Assad himself). Is it really a mystery why the region is such an overwhelming disaster? The narrative of fighting terrorism is completely undermined by the obvious reality of ulterior geopolitical motivations.
Conclusion: The truth is that the political war hawks in the United States aren’t solely interested in combatting terrorism (an otherwise legitimate concern). They’re also interested in forcefully removing those from power whom they don’t like (whether it means an aggressive war or not). If the two interests align: great. If not, they do their best to brainwash the public in hopes that the blatant hypocrisy of their position doesn’t outshine the international “villain” of choice.
At present, the foe-du-jour is Bashar Al-Assad. Now Assad is clearly not a benevolent dictator, but what happens when he’s gone? Will the replacement be that much better?
Do we have any right to choose a replacement to govern other people? Can you imagine if a foreign country was doing that in the United States? You may or may not like former President Bush and you may or may not like President Obama, but do you think it preferable to have a foreign country (e.g. Russia or China) undermine them with force? That’s absurd. And it would rally a whole bunch of Americans to fight against the common invader. Would it be legitimate if Russia or China subsequently labeled such people as terrorists? Of course not. It is no less absurd for America to behave in such a way. Contrary to the theoretically possible idea of actually fighting terrorists (which is largely impractical in reality due to the nature of terrorist ideology), overthrowing foreign governments is a completely illegitimate and imperial motivation. Until we accept this reality and get back to the legitimate defense of our own country, terrorism will continue to gain momentum.