In goading victim states to overreact, one of the things terrorists seek is confirmation of their ideological narrative. The story Islamist terrorists tell themselves and others is that the United States is a wicked power, an occupier, a Crusader, and an exploiter of Muslims. Terrorists are energized, and they have an easier time with recruiting and maintaining support, when the United States does things that make these charges look true.
Lacking this insight, Washington Examiner columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon interprets recent events wrongly in almost every respect. Her column is called “These are Good Times for Terrorists.”
Rather than scoring a terrorist “win,” the compassionate release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi doesn’t square with Western cruelty. Thus—to the extent it matters to terrorists—it confounds their version of events. Terrorists don’t really do a “how much time will I serve” calculation, so the release probably doesn’t matter much. In terms of individual justice, it may have been wrong, but not in terms of counterterrorism strategy.
Gurdon cites flagging U.S. will in Afghanistan as a sign of terrorist success, and it would provide short-term gains to the Taliban if the United States exited the field. But with lessened U.S. violence in the area, and with the recent election giving a stronger toehold to legitimate government, U.S. military caution stands to deal terrorism strategic setbacks.
Where Gurdon really gets it wrong—and purposefully so—is in her interpretation of Attorney General Holder’s move to investigate allegations of torture by U.S. authorities: “[M]ilitants now know that, should they be apprehended, American interrogators cannot so much as wave a loaded gun or blow cigar smoke in their faces lest they face the disciplinary wrath of their own authorities.”
These slights are not the gravamen of the torture allegations, and Gurdon undoubtedly knows that. What she may not know is that abuse of terror suspects is good for terrorism: It confirms the ideological narrative holding that the United States is an evil, abusive power. Meticulous fair treatment of terror suspects, on the other hand—as ordinary criminals—is the fate terrorists loathe. This robs them of their claim on moral authority and makes their struggle boring.
Recall that the first of the “five demands” in the 1981 IRA hunger strike was the right not to wear a prison uniform. Treating them as ordinary criminals would sap their legitimacy and the strength of their challenge to incumbent power in the eyes of key audiences.
It would have been far, far better for the United States and CIA interrogators not to have lost their cool after the 9/11 attacks. We handed terrorism many swords with our responses. But exposing error to light and punishing proven wrongdoing confirms our ideology: fealty to the rule of law.
Meghan Gurdon doesn’t understand terrorism. And she takes a real header with her flabby attempt to associate alleged CIA torture and other missteps with the constitution:
The Republic rests on the Constitution, but the reverse is also true; the Constitution and all the benign and enlightened principles it embodies rest on the continued strength and moral will of the Republic.
No, Meghan. The republic, its strength, and its moral will all rest on the constitution.