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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Guest Post by Haviland Smith: Rural Rants

June 30, 2016

Combatting Terrorism Today

By Haviland Smith

It has become abundantly clear that the deployment of US military might to the Middle East has not served our national interests.  In fact, as we increased our commitment from Afghanistan to Iraq, we saw our fight morphing from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency which brought with it problems we had not envisaged and which some of our leaders and politicians still refuse to acknowledge.

This change came about largely as a result of our commitment of troops to the region.  What the presence of those troops ultimately did was not so subtly persuade local citizens that we were not the savior that we had told them we were, but that we represented a threat to their own Islamic way of life.  As soon as they made that mental adjustment, our problems with terrorism shifted into high gear. Our military presence in the region has created nothing but hostility toward the USA.

Many of our politicians, having seen the horror of recent terrorist attacks here in America, say they want to fight ISIS and al Qaida overseas.  How thoughtful of them!  If we look at our own counterterrorism policy in the region right now, that means the commitment of US Special Forces, the continued deployment of drones and our openly acknowledged, heavy support of local military establishments in the battle against terrorism.

But it won’t work!  We can commit limitless resources to counterterrorism in the Middle East and it will have no positive effect whatsoever.  In fact, it will have a double negative effect.  It will keep regional citizens and governments stirred up and angry about our activities on their turf and it will motivate terrorist organizations to take the fight to us here at home.  And that doesn’t touch on the effect on self-motivated residents of America.

In comparison to Europe, we have one major counterterrorist advantage here in the US.  That is the Atlantic Ocean.  Since 9/11, the US has spent a fortune setting up a system which has enabled us to protect ourselves pretty well against terrorist operations that originate on the other side of that ocean. 

What we have not been able to do is protect ourselves against self-starting, internet-radicalized citizens and residents of our own country.  The lone wolf terrorist can, pretty much on his own, pick a target, assemble the necessary hardware and implement an attack.  The Boston Marathon, Orlando, The World Trade Center, Fort Hood – The list goes on and on.  In each case, there have been no readily interceptable communications between the perpetrator and terrorist organizations abroad.  The perpetrators have been motivated at least partially by US military activities in the Middle East.  Everything they need to know, from how to get weapons, to how  to case a prospective site, to the construction of a bomb, is available in our stores or on the internet.

As long as we are actively involved militarily against these terrorist organizations in the Middle East, Americans will self-radicalize, get internet-educated and commit terrorist acts against American targets.  Where we are pretty good at detecting and preventing plots that originate abroad, the lone wolf US resident is difficult if not impossible to detect and intercept.  Our military counterterrorist activities in the Middle East, even if we were to get incredibly lucky and eliminate ISIS from its holdings in Syria and Iraq, will be feeding lone wolf motivation. 

It’s time we took a really hard look at our present policy and figured out some other way to take on the terrorist problem. In the past, the one thing that has worked for nations suffering from terrorism has been a combination of Intelligence and Police work.  Maybe we could start there, particularly with our home-grown problem.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in Prague, Berlin, Beirut, Tehran, Langley and Washington, as chief of the counterterrorism staff and as executive assistant in the Director’s office.

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