Friday, October 27, 2006

International(?) War On Terror

If, as some profess, there is an international terrorist network, are we to assume they all work secretly (and effectively) in concert? And, to that end, how strong is the coordination and cooperation among various terrorist “cells” and factions? Do terrorists compete for new tactics, bigger targets, and more time on the front page? Am I right to use the term “they”?

I only ask because there are policy implications for combating the “global war on terrorism” if terrorists only share a loose affiliation – and an affiliation largely enforced by America’s portrayal of a monolithic enemy.

The vast, international al-Qaeda network – and those who seek to destroy it – should talk about targets. The United States, by most accounts, is at the top of the list, with second place a long way back. So what about the rest of the West? As Anne Applebaum recently noted, “it's not unusual in Germany, or elsewhere in Europe, to hear that the ‘war on terrorism’ is phony, a jumped-up invention of the Bush administration and the American media, a pretend reason for the invasion of Iraq, a laughably stupid way of conning voters.” Statements like Anne’s beg the question: Do terrorists agree with this, and, more importantly, do they use it to their advantage?

If terrorists focus solely on the United States, perhaps ignoring targets in Germany and Sweden, are they furthering or injuring their seemingly “ultimate” goal of dismantling the ever-powerful Western influence? Here’s a (poor) hypothetical…

John Q. Terrorist is unhappy with the Swedish welfare state. He works hard for under-the-table pay, but can’t find sanctioned, steady employment. Fast forward through years of hardship, and he finds himself attending terrorist meetings – assuming that’s how it works – where the group is planning an attack on a Swedish bus depot in order to draw attention to their plight. “But wait,” John speaks up, “we can do more damage to the ‘West’ – which basically invented the welfare state – if we finance terrorist acts in the United States.” His comrades look to the newcomer with curiosity. “And how do you figure that?” asks the leader. “It’s simple,” John replies, “if we attack Sweden, they will come to sympathize with the United States, thus adding to our woes. If, however, we attack the United States, we will divide further the two states. And not only that, we will further divide Europe and the United States – the two largest components of the ‘West.’”

I guess what I’m really thinking about is the relationship between terrorist acts and their lasting impacts on domestic politics. If terrorists are actually functioning globally, then they should consider a strategy of divide and conquer. I’m sure European and American leaders have already noted it, but terrorists can probably accomplish a great deal more by focusing their efforts on one target – maybe the United States? – and leaving the rest to judge from across the pond.


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