Tag: terrorism

Battling the Islamic State: U.S. Must Focus on its Own Enemies in Future

The so-called Islamic State is losing ground. The liberation of Mosul, Iraq’s third most populous city, may be the Baghdad government’s next objective.

Yet even as the “caliphate” shrinks in the Middle East, Daesh, as the group also is known, is increasing its murderous attacks on Western civilians. Washington’s intervention actually has endangered Americans.

In contrast to al-Qaeda, which always conducted terrorism, ISIS originally focused on creating a caliphate, or quasi-state. Daesh’s territorial designed conflicted with many nations in the Mideast: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Gulf kingdoms.

The Obama administration did not intervene out of necessity: ISIS ignored America. Moreover, the movement faced enemies which collectively had a million men under arms; several possessed sophisticated air forces.

Washington’s concern for those being killed by the Islamic State was real, but casualties lagged well behind the number of deaths in other lands routinely ignored by the U.S. The administration seemed most motivated by the sadistic murder of two Americans who had been captured by ISIS in Syria. Although barbaric, these acts did not justify intervention in another Mideast war.

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Attention Encourages Terrorism

Now a study has attached numbers to what we’ve known for a long time: giving attention to terrorists encourages terrorism. A study by Michael Jetter, professor at the School of Economics and Finance at Universidad EAFIT in Medellín, Colombia, and research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labour in Bonn, Germany, finds a clear link between the number of news articles devoted to an initial terrorist incident and the number of follow-up attacks. A New York Times article about an attack in a particular country will increase the number of ensuing attacks in the same country by between 11 percent and 15 percent.

The simple solution is disallowed by our fundamental law of free speech. But consumers can demand less aggrandizement of terror incidents from the media and politicians. The practice in journalism of declining to name rape victims could be extended in modified form to terror organizations and leaders.

There is no reason to keep information about terrorists and terror groups secret, but more muted references to them will decrease the success of attacks by reducing the awareness of potential recruits, for example. Potential terrorists are susceptible to discouragement through diminished public information because many have a room temperature IQ (on the Celsius scale).

In our edited volume, Terrorizing Ourselves, Chris Preble, Ben Friedman, and I included two chapters that relate to this topic: “The Impact of Fear on Public Thinking about Counterterrorism Policy: Implications for Communicators,” by Priscilla Lewis, and “Communicating about Threat: Toward a Resilient Response to Terrorism,” by William Burns.

Declare War Only Against Those Who Threaten America

The Constitution gives the power to declare war to the legislative branch. In recent decades, however, members of Congress have preferred to leave the hard decisions to the president. This constitutional abdication has allowed unilateral war-making.

Even President Barack Obama, who tossed the issue of Syria’s use of chemical weapons to Congress, has relied on the outdated authorization passed after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to validate multiple military operations today.

Congress could make a bad situation worse. Representatives Scott Perry (R-PA), Matt Salmon (R-AZ), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) have introduced H.J. Res. 84,”Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Islamist Extremism.” It would create a long list of target “organizations that support Islamist extremism,” many of which have done nothing against America.

It is a bad bill.

First, a country normally declares war against entities, not philosophies. What matters is not whether a nation or group is Islamist but whether it endangers America.

Second, the threat to the U.S. and other nations is violent extremism, not extremism. It doesn’t particularly matter if people have seemingly kooky ideas on how to live if they do not kill and otherwise harm others.

Third, war should be reserved for responding to threats to America. In World War II Washington declared war on specific countries, most notably Japan and Germany, not on fascism.

Yet Representatives Perry, Salmon, and Lummis came up with numerous new enemies: “the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Al-Nusra Front, the Haqqani-Network, the Taliban, Houthis, Khorasan Group, Hamas, Hezbollah, and any substantial supporters, associated forces, or closely related successor entities to any of such organizations.”

The proposed choice of enemies well illustrates the problem of U.S. foreign policy. The Islamic State did not turn to terrorism against America or Europe until Washington and its allies took over the fight against the putative caliphate. Had Washington left the battle to those in the region threatened by the Islamic State—essentially everyone—the group likely would be devoting its terrorist energies elsewhere.

Balkanization and Immigration in America

One common critique of immigration and multiculturalism is that it will cause Balkanization in the United States. Usually, the evidence that purportedly shows Balkanization in America is underwhelming.  Real Balkanization, in the Balkans, quickly led to terrorism, civil war, genocide, and some of the uglier nationalist movement of recent centuries.  By comparison, there is hardly any ethnic separatist nationalist terrorism in the United States inspired by immigrant groups or their descendants.

The best example of ethnic separatism from a migrant group is terrorism caused by Puerto Rican socialist-inspired nationalists who demanded independence for their island. From 1970 onwards, Puerto Rican terrorist groups like the United Force for Armed Independence (FALN), Armed Forces of the Popular Resistance (FARP), People’s Revolutionary Commandos (CRP), Patriotic Anti-Annexation Committee (COPAAN), Organization of Volunteers of the Revolution of Puerto Rico (OVRP), the Macheteros, and others carried out 232 attacks, killed 15 people, and injured 115 (Chart 1). 

The most notorious and brutal of the FALN’s terrorist attacks was the bombing of Fraunces Tavern on January 24, 1975, that killed four innocent people and injured about 50 others.  Eventually, many FALN members were apprehended as Bryan Burroughs expertly documents in his Days of Rage and the rest of the violent nationalist movement petered out.  According to the RAND Corporation and the University of Maryland Global Terrorism Databases (through 2014), the last reported attack by Puerto Rican nationalists was on that island in 1998.  Their datasets exclude the attempt on President Truman’s life in 1950 and the armed attack on the House of Representatives in 1954

 

A No-Guns List Still Isn’t an Answer

Back in December, Senate Democrats, with President Obama’s backing, attempted to prohibit anyone on the federal government’s terrorism watchlist from purchasing a firearm.

At the time, I criticized the proposal for its lack of process and its inevitable inefficacy at reducing gun crime or terrorism.

Yesterday, Senate Democrats launched a filibuster in order to push for the resurrection of the failed “No-Guns List.”

The substance of their plan has not changed, and my earlier criticism still stands:

How does a person prove they are not a terrorist? It’s virtually impossible. A no-flyer doesn’t receive the evidence against them or a hearing before being placed on the list. They are not allowed to confront their accuser. Even getting the government to acknowledge that a person is on the list may require lengthy and expensive litigation. A person on the no-fly list may not even know they are on the list until they’re refused service at the airport. A person on the broader terror watch list has no means of finding out. The system is devoid of anything resembling due process, a flaw The New York Times condemned as being intolerable in a free and democratic society and over which the American Civil Liberties Union is currently suing the Obama administration. The no-fly listing procedure has already been declared unconstitutional by at least one federal judge.

Including too many people on the list is inevitable. Nobody wants to explain, after a terrorist attack, why the attacker wasn’t in the database. And that overly inclusive quality has manifested itself in absurd ways already. Just a few examples of no-fly denials: the late Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis, dozens of people named Robert Johnson, members of the U.S. military and federal air marshals.

The potential for false positives and mistaken identities is not just accepted as collateral damage by these no-gun list proposals; it is the entire point. Anyone who has actually been convicted or is currently charged with terrorism-related crimes is already prohibited from purchasing a firearm under federal law. The people adversely affected by this proposal will inevitably be people against whom the government lacks sufficient evidence to charge.

The fact that a person hasn’t been adjudicated as dangerous doesn’t preclude them from committing violence, of course. But just how much discretion should the president have in abolishing constitutional rights without charge or trial?

What has changed is the political climate in the interim.

The No-Guns List appears to have picked up some powerful allies on the right.   Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has expressed support for the idea, and is apparently lobbying the National Rifle Association to come along with him. 

The GOP and the NRA are generally regarded as the two primary bulwarks against misguided gun control proposals.  Adding their weight to this particular gun control proposal would bolster its legislative prospects immensely.

Even if, as some supporters have urged, the law requires hearings before a watchlisted person can be denied the right to bear arms, important questions remain.  What exactly does the state need to prove in order to take someone’s 2nd Amendment rights away?  What is the burden of proof?  Will judges allow the use of secret evidence, citing state secrecy concerns for refusing to disclose it?  Will the individual be entitled to legal representation?  Can he call and cross-examine witnesses? Can he appeal the ruling? Can he publicly discuss his case?

And those are just the legal concerns.  There are also pragmatic issues. What information does the FBI convey to the gun seller when someone on the list is denied?  Is the gun seller told that he’s got a terror suspect standing in his store?  What if the person actually is an aspiring terrorist under government surveillance?  Doesn’t this process inevitably tip him off? Would finding out that he’s on the government’s radar only encourage an aspiring terrorist to act quicker? Would it compromise legitimate surveillance operations?

The Boston bombers didn’t need guns. Nor did Timothy McVeigh or the 9/11 hijackers.  Giving terror suspects a sure-fire way to figure out whether they’re being surveilled seems like a large price to pay for what may be a non-existent benefit.

Omar Mateen passed background checks.  He passed training requirements. He had access to weapons as a security guard.  He wasn’t even on the terrorism watchlist. Nothing in this proposal, and nothing in any of the other gun control proposals this tragedy has spawned, would have kept firearms out of Omar Mateen’s hands.  The only way his rampage could have been prevented was for someone to kill him first. Unfortunately, laws that deny even sober people the right to carry weapons in establishments that serve alcohol meant that the law-abiding victims were sitting ducks.

Knee jerk reactions to horrible tragedies have proven to be a poor basis for good public policy.  We have institutions like due process precisely for times when emotions threaten to overrun safeguards that are just as important for protecting the innocent as the guilty.

It’s hard to imagine a graver violation of the spirit of the 2nd Amendment than a law allowing the President to declare anyone an enemy of the state without so much as a charge and subsequently bar them from exercising their 2nd Amendment rights.  But Republicans, lured from their stalwart support of gun rights by fears of terrorism, and Democrats, lured from their stalwart support of civil rights by their zeal for gun control, combined with an election cycle that has been defined by appeals to fear may be creating a perfect storm and a severe threat to liberty.

P.S. Two tweets this morning from sitting Congressmen highlight the divide.

Democratic Senator and gun control advocate Joe Manchin doesn’t inspire confidence when he says things like “due process is killing us.”

Luckily, not everyone in Congress agrees.

Trump Is the Nativist Dream Candidate

Donald Trump’s win in Indiana has practically clinched the Republican nomination.  Since July 2015, Trump has led in most polls of GOP candidates.  Immigration restrictionism is his most popular policy position.  That position and the way he’s talked about it have defined his candidacy and set him apart from the get go.  Trump is the nativist dream candidate – virtually whatever happens now can be blamed on his anti-immigration position. 

Here’s a list of Trump’s anti-immigration credentials:

You can read more about Trump’s immigration policies in his plan – which Ann Coulter called “the greatest political document since the Magna Carta.”

Trump is the real anti-immigration candidate that nativists have been praying for.  He owns the anti-immigration label no matter what he does or says to distance himself from it in the general election.  He spouts their ideas and appeals to their biases on a national stage.  He is the perfect spokesman in tone and style for such a policy position.  The political failure of immigration restrictionists in the past was always blamed on their moderation.  Now they have a real anti-immigration radical to test their theory – so we should give them appropriate credit for Trump’s failure in November.

Domestic Developments in U.S.-Saudi Relations

In the run-up to President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia later this week, two domestic issues which concern the U.S.-Saudi relationship are also gaining attention. Yet these developments – a congressional bill which allows Americans to sue foreign governments for supporting terrorist groups, and growing calls to declassify the remaining 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission’s report - are unlikely to substantially impact the U.S.-Saudi relationship, which is already on a downward trend due to other, more substantive factors.

Certainly, the bill would have major legal implications for relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks, who have previously tried to sue the Saudi government for their possible involvement. However, their hope that the declassified report would yield a better understanding of the scope of that involvement is unlikely to yield any smoking gun revelations.

Some of the purported revelations are, in fact, already known. It has been long known that Saudi Arabia has had a hand in the spread, through schools and philanthropic endeavors, of a certain kind of extremist Islamic philosophy often described as Wahhabism. That this philosophy is shared by various radical groups including ISIS and Al Qaeda is likewise well-known, but there is no evidence that the Saudi government ever provided material support to either group.