“More Terrorism” -Kevin Drum’s Appeasement Fallacy

Below is a reproduced article that repeats many of the same fallacies that currently plague our thinking about the war on terror. 

The basic problem is that some people think that a war on terror can be reduced to researching the list of the terrorist’s demands/causes for unhappiness/reasons for poverty/what have you, and simply checking them off one by one, eliminating the “reasons” for the terrorists war against us (to use a Giulianiism), and magically ending the problem without anyone having to get bloody and dirty in the yucky old Middle east.

This fallacy is widespread, and growing as American’s stomach for war gets smaller and wishful thinking begins to take hold of the average person. It is stated in ways more or less sophisticated, but they all eventually boil down to the same thing; give them something and they will leave us alone. 

This article takes it from the sophisticated side that begins with the assumption that “militarism” increases support for terror, and naturally ends with the argument that the only way to stop terror is to give them what they want/end their “humiliation/make then non-poor/whatever.


Washington Monthly; July 9, 2007



“Every time I write a post like the previous one (“reducing the tolerance for Al-Qaeda and like-minded jihadist groups in the Middle East is the only way we’ll ever permanently reduce the threat of Islamic terrorism”) I get an email from a conservative reader who’s distinctly unimpressed with my non-militaristic ways. His question, basically, is: Where’s the beef? How exactly are we going to reach this terrorist-free nirvana of yours?

“It’s worth answering this directly: I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else does either. But there’s a simple reason for this: foreign policy isn’t like domestic policy. Domestic policy, in the best case, may be based on underlying principles, but it’s expressed by big concrete policies…

“…But with a few high profile exceptions… foreign policy just doesn’t have very many big, concrete programs at its core. Rather, it has some underlying principles that depend on the president’s worldview, and instead of inspiring legislative programs these principles mostly guide the president’s reaction to events that unfold on his or her watch.

“…I suggest that our foreign policy needs to be grounded in an effort to reduce the tolerance for violent jihadism within the Muslim world. …it’s the only long-term strategy with any chance of succeeding. A foreign policy grounded in militarism not only won’t work, since we can’t kill terrorists fast enough to defeat them by main force, but is actually likely to make the problem demonstrably worse by spawning greater terrorist sympathy than we had in the first place.

“Working to dry up the pool of jihadist sympathy, then, isn’t a program, it’s a principle. Every action we take should be guided by the question: Is this likely to increase or decrease the pool of people who tolerate or actively sympathize with violent jihadism, and without whom the jihadists can’t operate effectively? This question should apply to military action, regime support, democracy promotion, economic engagement, trade agreements, public diplomacy, institution building, …and practically anything else that that affects anyone beyond our borders. Occasionally, even if we take this seriously, we’ll end up using military action anyway because we don’t have any choice. …But if we ever want to put an end to terrorist violence, that better be our choice pretty infrequently. After all, we don’t have a big enough army to occupy the entire world.


Kevin is both correct and incorrect, because he is approaching a problem spawned in the Middle east from a Western worldview. 

We do need to ask what will and will not increase support for our enemies. The idea that a policy grounded in military action would lead to us trying to occupy the entire world is simply false.

First, he is correct that the way to stop the Al Qaida (should be expanded to; “Islamist”) problem is to dry up the sympathy and recruitment for it. However, the assumption that military measures automatically function contrary to this idea doesn’t hold up in the Middle East. 

The Middle East has been largely under the control of one violent empire after another for thousands of years. Nation states as such did not develop naturally here, and the most fundamental political unit is as it has always been; the tribe. Unlike Europe, powers do not balance away from an emerging dominant player, but towards it, which throws off all classic European international relations concepts. 

Why is this? Because the tribe functions very much like an individual member of a wolf pack; they display aggression against one another, the most aggressive wolf becoming dominant, and the most “peaceful” (nice-guy) wolf becoming the pack runt. All wolves will automatically attack a weaker pack member, and they connect any sort of “nice guy” behavior with weakness. 

Now; Al Qaida and it’s ilk draw upon a centuries-old legacy of tradition and religion that teaches that Jihad (striving) is a required part of religion. The Islamists of today are not as far outside the framework of mainstream Islam as many would like to believe. The Wahhabist movement of Saudi-Arabia goes back to the 18th century, and certainly qualifies as one trend in “classic” Islam by now.

Basically, this means that there will always be those who will try to take advantage of opportunities to take Jihad at it’s literal Koran meaning and slay infidels. The way to deter the recruitment efforts of Al Qaida is to understand the way politics in the Middle East work. Do not play “nice guy” in the middle of a wolf pack.

If you look at the history of terrorism, you see that in the 1960s, airline hijackers were rarely even successfully prosecuted; most nations just let them go because they were afraid of their organizations. The more concessions that were made, the worse the problem became. The Israeli operation at Entebbe was the turning point. After Entebbe, it was clear that a nation could successfully fight terrorism, and contrary to the appeasement fallacy; terror immediately declined significantly. After West Germany duplicated the Entebbe operation in east Africa a few years later, airline hijackings became fewer and fewer until they were extremely rare. 

We have to understand that there are some people who will never like us; they exist in a dog-eat-dog world called the Middle East. We must utilize measures that are understandable in this context if we are to deter their recruitment. It is not about “taking out” every would-be terrorist, or occupying the entire world, as Kevin would have it; it is about deterrence. You have no deterrent capability without a credible threat.

That is why we do need a counter terror policy based around military force. If you need proof; look at how militant we have been since 9/11, versus the nations of West Europe, and who has had more successful attacks launched against them in that time?


~ by Jubal Biggs on July 10, 2007.

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