Saturday, November 29, 2008

Seems, madam? Nay, it is.

Mark Steyn correctly wonders, concerning the photo of the Mumbai terrorist patrolling the train station with an assault rifle, what it takes for the Western media to overcome their absurd penchant for politically correct euphemisms and call him a gunman instead of a "suspected" gunman. The habit of thought is pernicious and seems to show up everywhere; my company newsletter, on a rare snowy day in the South, warned us about "challenging" weather conditions, as though calling it "bad" weather might hurt Jack Frost's feelings and provoke a lawsuit.

Speaking of warnings, just as U.S. intelligence was warned before 9/11 that terrorists could pilot airplanes into buildings, the Indian government was warned two years ago that terrorists were receiving maritime training and that coastal defenses should be ramped up; as the Washington Post reports:

A December 2006 letter written by a Mumbai Intelligence Bureau official and obtained by The Post says that hundreds of operatives from Lashkar-i-Taiba had received maritime training.

Members of the group "are being trained to handle large boats, laying of mines in coastal zones and planting of explosives under dams, bridges, ships etc.," says the letter, which was marked "secret."

"[T]hey are being taught navigational techniques, rescue operations, surveillance methods, concealment of explosives and underwater attack on enemy's coastal targets/vessels," the letter says.

Sriprakash Jaiswal, minister of state for home affairs, told reporters Friday that India's state governments were warned to boost coastal security two years ago.

The Washington Post also printed this thoughtful article by a former editor of the Times of India, reminding us that Muslim extremism is exacerbated by its opposite number among radical Hindus, as well as by repressive police tactics, while Doug Saunders writes in the Globe and Mail that in a land with India's history of terrorism, comparisons to 9/11 may be a little too easy. Rich Lowry points to the poverty and illiteracy existing alongside the new and more prosperous India: "Young Muslims score more poorly on literacy tests than Hindu 'untouchables.'" Newsweek's background piece on counter-terrorism in India, by two members of the Council on Foreign Relations, is an informative account of the many terrorist groups operating there and the government's uneven response. According to the article, "'India lacks a coherent strategic response to terrorism; there is no doctrine, and most of our responses are kneejerk,' says retired Major General Sheru Thapliyal, who works at the Center for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi."

Minister Jaiswal resorted to the common trope of saying that the Indian government would now have to be on a "war footing," and one elephant in the room in any discussion of terrorism is whether framing counterrorism as a "war on terror" helps the problem or makes it worse. Those who advocate a police-oriented approach are sometimes seen as temporizers, trying to evade the severity of the problem. I think that the term "war" should be reserved for hostile engagements involving military force between recognized states, where there are known military objectives and the outcome can be conceived of in terms of concrete gains or losses of sovereignty, territory, resources, or other specific goals. To those conditions, the United States should add, as its Constitution does, that a war is military action pursuant to a formal declaration sought from Congress by the President.

Absent these conditions, "war" is at best a metaphor and at worst a misnomer. President Johnson declared a "War on Poverty," but that didn't involve searching people's luggage in airports and confiscating extra pairs of shoes that were then donated to the poor. India's counterterror efforts are not the only ones characterized by kneejerk reactions, and it's time to abandon an approach that absurdly commits everyone to a "war" with no foreseeable and definable end, using military tactics that can't win against a multitude of groups of uncertain identity, over conditions that are as old as civilization itself. As reported recently of a Rand Corporation study :

The study examined how terrorist groups since 1968 have ended, and found that only seven percent were defeated militarily.

Most were neutralized either through political settlements (43 percent), or through the use of police and intelligence forces (40 percent) to disrupt and capture or kill leaders.

"Military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory," the report said.

© Michael Huggins, 2008. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

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