If it was terrorism, what is the "Best Response" we could make?

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This is a question....

If you were President Bush, and you were informed that your intellengence and law enforcement agencies had traced these attacks to several inter-related groups in the Middle East, (for example), what would you do about it?

I've wondered, and I'd like to see what others think.....

My thoughts follow....

1) Terrorism, the preferred method of warfare of the weak against the strong, has as a specific objective, destabilizing free societies. The terrorists succeed if free people cower in fear and begin to restrict their treasured freedom and liberties. It is a distinct form of war, "by other means."

2) In modern terms, terrorism is considered a classic form of "asymmetric warfare." "Asymmetric warfare" is the military act of "Attacking your enemy in places where they cannot prevent your attack nor significantly harm you as you attack." This is an ancient concept, but one we have only recently begun for fomally study. The terms used today are "symmetric" and "asymmetric" warefare.

We see the perfect example of "symetric warefare" in the trenches of World War 1. Both sides fought where their enemy was strongest, and stalmate was the result. That's what happens in "symmetric warfare" - you are fighting against your enemy's strengths.

A military example of "asymmetric" combat was the sinking of the British battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse by Japanese aircraft on Dec 10, 1941. Another, more recent example of "asymmetric" combat was the air war over Kosovo, in which we were able to inflict damage without taking damage ourselves.

3) I feel that we confuse ourselves when we treat this as a criminal act. This act was intended by the terrorists involved as an act of war using "asymmetric" methods. It was their intent to specifically kill, and terrorize, as many Americans as possible, and to disrupt America as much as possible.

4) Since it was intended as an act of war I feel we should respond to it as such. Perferrably, our response should be of an asymmetric nature as well. That is why we've used cruise missiles so often recently - they are typically asymmetric. Unfortunately, they are also increasingly ineffective, and or military's inventory of them is growing low.

5) Further, there is the need for "retribution" for an act that killed so many of our citizens. That means that cruise missiles just won't cut it as a response. It's the "typical American response" and I am sure that the terrorists in question feel that they can absorb such a response.

Historically, factors that reduce terrorism are: 1) Make the terrorists odious in the eyes of their own people. Typically, the "cause" gets very bad publicity among their own adherents, usually because they went too far, in a widely publicized fashion. The terorists succeed in becoming "onerous" in the eyes of their own people. This happened to the IRA about 10 years ago, and people became disgusted with the IRA's terror attacks, and at the same time, many protestants got fed up with comparible Unionist violence. The result was the Irish Peace Movement. 2) Small unit level military interventions that specifically target the terrorist groups and work in their own environment. In effect, they become a new "gang" that wipes out the terrorist "gang." This has worked a number of times, but it tends to lead to abuses, such as we learned from the former white government of South Africa - where these groups illegally murdered and tortured thousands or tens of thousands. 3) Political or Social Change - The established base of people from which the group pulls membership, finds no further need for the group because the issues that concern the group have been dealt with effectively. This acts like a "controlled burn" to a woodlands firefighter - depriving the fire of fuel to burn. This is the "counter-revolution" which was the great fear of most Communists, because every time it was tried seriously - it worked. This is what the British did in Malaya, combining political and land reform with a very active small unit anti-terorist system.

With the amount of negative PR that has been put out in the Middle East over the last 50 years, I doubt #1 will ever happen due to normal media events.

I don't see much value in #2, because it will be very hard to effectively establish, except on a very short-term basis. Further, it poses risks to a democratic governments that I really don't want to deal with.

I doubt that option #3 is a choice in this case, since it would require the disestablishment of the nation of Israel.

Now, if I were President Bush, I think that there are a number of viable options. 1) MASSIVE RETALIATION - It would best be delivered one or two D-5 weapons fired from a US Navy SSBN. There is neither an effective defense against nor effective response of the same level to this type of reaction. Further, it sends a very loud, very potent message to anyone in any nation, who would help potential future attackers. In effect, it would contribute to #1 - making the terrorists "odious" to their own people. 2) CRUISE MISSILES - This just doesn't seem to me to be enough. It's the "usual US response" and this terrorist act just doesn't fit that description. 3)PRECISION ATTACK - A small strike team of SEALS or other special forces can directly retaliate against those responsible and their families. However, I don't like this approach because it increases the risk that prisoners or hostages will be involved, and it often requires help from the local governments to be effective. Further, it will create more "martyrs" for the cause and likely improve the state of the terrorists. 4)DO THE OPPOSITE - To make the terrorists "odious." Since the most likely cause of this attack was US support for Israel - perhaps we should hand them a large, no strings attached check for $500b or something like that. Further, we could unconditionally comitt troops to help Israel, and a number of similar acts. This would strengthen the enemies of those who attacked us, but it wouldn't provide any "retribution."

President Bush left these options open with specific, legal wording in his speech last night. "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them," This is legal terminology which changes the standard Rules of Engagement - allowing military commanders to act without consideration of collateral damage, civilians or other nation's soveriegnity.

So, what would you do?


-- Rich Marsh (marshr@airmail.net), September 12, 2001


Very interesting thoughts.

A problem I see with #1, Massive Retaliation, is the likelihood of making ourselves still more odious than the terrorists. For one thing, we would be guilty of just the same crime: "intent to hurt as many as possible regardless of the actual guilty, in order to force the host country's hand or sentiment." Who in America sees American policymakers "made odious" because it's "their" fault that we were attacked in the first place? Not many: we quite rightly assign blame where blame is due, on those who actually drove the planes into the buildings. There is no reason to suppose that the home-folks of the terrorists would feel any differently. Massive Retaliation, I expect, would result in a roaring surge of nationalism among the terrorists' home-folks, just as it has already done here.

#3, Precision Attack, on the other hand, would allow us to retain the moral high ground: we would be retaliating, but unlike the monsters who attacked us, we would be avoiding taking innocent lives. There was a day-care center in the WTC: I would broadcast that information loud and clear, over and over, as our far more compassionate, precision strikes were being made. I'd make a great big whopping advertising campaign (ok, propaganda) out of every one of our attacks (after the fact, of course), with lavish announcments about nearby innocents who were untouched. See what good guys we are?

Massive Retaliation -- killing just anybody, just to make a point -- causes any real argument that you have, any justified claim or grievance, to be erased in the tide of blood, or drowned out by the cries of the unjustly wounded. I make no doubt that the terrorists think they have damned good reason(s) for causing this horror. But whatever those reasons and claims might be, we in America do not hear them. We cannot hear them over the roar of death and violence. They should take note, the terrorists' trainers and masters, that they have drowned out their own voices.

And so should we, if we attempted to do likewise. Massive Retaliation could only drive resistance underground; there might be a lull while the various organizations were scared and shocked into a quietude, but it would last only until some new weakness could be found and exploited.

There is a place for "a show of strength," even violence: a wolf sometimes needs to remind his fellow wolves that he is, in fact, a wolf and not a sheep.

But we are a bit more than either wolves or sheep; we are humans, and can think about why we do what we do. It is a very dangerous thing, and exceedingly difficult, to refrain from hitting back when we are struck and instead to open a dialog. There's no talking to the suicidally patriotic (I'm sure they think of themselves as patriots; aye?) It's certainly possible to talk to their brothers and uncles who already think they're half-crazy. Sometimes you do need to hit back -- but better it be a wake-up blow, than a killing one.

Pillage, plunder, loot and burn, but all in moderation!

If you heed the words I say you'll soon control the nation:

First kill all your enemies -- and then kill their relations!

Pillage, plunder, loot and burn, but all in moderation.

-- L. Hunter Cassells (mellyrn@castlemark-honey.com), September 12, 2001.

If its possible to pinpoint a specific group of people, the only righteous method would be a surgical strike team. Absolutely no sizeable bombs whatsoever because there is always collateral damage which we will be financially responsible for later and we'll get raked over the coals by the global media if any children or pregnant women get killed. You can bet your bottom dollar the people responsible will be sandwiched between a school, a church and a hospital. They're not idiots, in fact, what they accomplished was brilliant in its execution. I think I read a Tom Clancey novel that had some type of theme like this once. Where the terrorists really clean up is in the financial markets in the aftermath. They short a bunch of stocks, watch the bottom drop out, cover and then have rebuilt there war and propaganda chest. However they didn't spend much on there hijacking scheme. Just the cost of the airplane tickets and a little bit of lodging and some box cutters from Ace Hardware, oh yes and some pilot training. Of course, we can't retaliate in any way until its endorsed by practically the entire world community. After all, the middle east oilfields are at stake here if we improperly exercise our right to retaliate.

-- Guy Daley (guydaley1@netzero.net), September 13, 2001.

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