Tuesday, July 04, 2006
North Korea and Larry Johnson
For those of you who didn't read it already, I recommend Larry Johnson's recent NoQuarter post The Myth of Terrorism, Part Deux.
Whether you agree with his analysis or arguments or not, you have to admire someone who stands by what he writes even when the so-called "conventional wisdom" says it is wrong. Johnson's now famous July 10, 2001 op-ed in the New York Times ("The Declining Terrorist Threat") drew a firestorm of criticism after 9/11, including in the Thanksgiving 2001 issue of The National Interest.
Johnson continues to make the case that while Al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism in general remains a threat--and can be a deadly threat--it is not equivalent to the old Soviet threat and has to be seen in perspective--and that Al-Qaeda's threat does not justify responding out of proportion.
Some excerpts below:
While terrorism from radical Islamic extremism is a threat we must take seriously, we are kidding ourselves to place it on par with the military and nuclear threat we faced during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. ...
Should we ignore terrorism? No. We do face a serious threat from radical Islamists. They are a fervent and uncompromising lot. Fortunately, they are not ubiquitous nor do they represent a majority opinion among Muslims around the world. While jihadist radicals have flocked to Iraq (and been killed and captured with regularity) they have had limited success gaining traction and sustaining operations around the world.
There are trouble spots—Somalia, southern Thailand, parts of Indonesia—where radicals are trying to get a foothold. But, these radicals have not been able to project force consistently outside of the local communities that protect them. When they do attack they provoke a counterstrike by government officials that usually results in the death or capture of terrorist operatives. This weakens their ability to sustain operations.
We make a mistake, a potentially fatal mistake, if we delude ourselves into accepting that the threat of terrorism is so unique and so severe that we must suspend civil liberties, break international accords, and ignore allies in order to fight this enemy. If we continue to choose this road we risk alienating the moderate Islamic nations and the Islamic authoritarian regimes (e.g., Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) who we need as allies in order to battle this threat.
Americans will have to learn to manage risk the way that we who were living in Britain did with the IRA. Yes, there might be a bomb in the pub that could go off; you evaluated risk and went on living.
Whether we can prevent the growth or spread of mass destruction weapons is of course uncertain. But the logic of Johnson's argument would seem to point to a sharper focus on the weapons and not on the people who would deliver them.
on a more analytical note, Mr Johnson rightly compares terrorism with the Soviet threat and notes the lack of a true strategic threat. however what he fails to gather in the same spirit as his original article is that this enemy will carry the fight to these shores and to our embassies, not by proxy but directly. along the way, thousands of Muslims have and will be slaughtered whether we are in Iraq or not. That differentation is a core issue which has always been a forcing issue for american conflict from the Indian wars to spanish american to WWI to WWII to even Vietnam (Tonkin bay) it don't have to be real but if they shoot at us and god forbid, they kill some of us civilians, well then, the jacksonians in us come out.