Machine Gun Nests in the War on Terror

Terrorism is a strategy of the weak. Without power of their own, terrorists seek to goad states into overreactions that bestow favors on their otherwise inconsequential movements and ideologies.

When a state goes to war, for example, this wastes its own blood and treasure, driving the costs of its own policies higher and weakening its own military and economy. Overreaction drives support to terrorism when innocents or perceived innocents are harmed or killed by overreacting states. And overreaction tends to energize and promote terrorism worldwide by confirming the narrative that incumbent powers are evil—the portrayal of the United States as an occupier of Muslim lands and exploiter of Muslim people is an example.

With the logic of terrorism in hand, the appropriate responses come into focus. Constant pressure on terror groups worldwide; cool, phlegmatic response to terrorist attacks; constant study of terror groups, their relationships, plans, and methods; counter-rhetoric exposing the venality and bloodiness of terror groups themselves; exploitation of fissures among the many different groups that have been drawn to the “al Qaeda” brand; and so on.

Unfortunately, many people focused intently on prosecuting the war on terror have yet to digest the nature of the challenge or orient their responses accordingly. Presuming a large, united terrorist front with substantial technical and logistical capabilities, they urge the reactions that would be appropriate for an invading state. They deride as dangerous the tailored responses dictated by sound counterterrorism strategy.

Unfortunately, they are counseling overreaction to this enemy, which is far less lethal than a state, if harder to locate and extinguish. The guns of terror warriors are the wrong caliber, and they’re pointed the wrong direction.

Daniel Popeo writes today in the Washington Examiner that legal activism aids terrorists. It doesn’t. It shows that the United States is not frightened, and is not thrown off its game, by attacks and attempts like that of December 25th. Indomitability, not ferocity, will be the hallmark of our counterterrorism success.

Review our recent forum on counterterrorism here, and our counterterrorism conference of a year ago here.