Monday, January 5, 2009

The Art of War (on Terrorism)


There are two keys to winning the war on terrorism. The first is to recognize that it is not a war on terrorism. It is a war of ideas, against people who use terrorism. This gives special meaning and focus to Sun Tzu's maxim from The Art of War, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

The second key is to understand the situations in which terrorism flourishes, and act to change them. We need to understand the grievances--legitimate or not--that terrorists exploit, and do what we can to address them. We must enter into a dialogue with people who feel powerless and abandoned, for terrorism appeals most strongly to those who feel they have no other way.
Many have been arguing these points since 2003. Fighting terrorism is not necessarily a military fight, nor something that can be achieved with brute force. When every enemy you kill becomes a martyr for new recruits, you can't win that war. And as Rosenberg argues, when you are being attacked for your values, you should strengthen your commitment to those values, not weaken them for the sake of "security." Respect for our Constitution and international law must be restored, the military role limited, and support rather than demonization of Arab culture are key to building allies in a war of ideas.

It's a debate we've all had a hundred times, and have grown tired of. But it deserves new life moving into a new administration and congress.

1 comment:

  1. The Bush administration and American politics generally has propelled us on the wrong course, developing a lot of momentum. For example, what major U.S. political figure would dare to suggest cutting off Israel's supply of bombs? On the contrary, we sent them a special shipment of GBU-39 bunker-busters for the Gaza campaign.