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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



The Method Of Terror's Madness

by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 4/18/07

The most important consumer good any government supplies to its citizens is security. Consequently, the universal terrorist strategy is to convince the people that their state can no longer protect them.

Thanks to their paramount weapon, the suicide bomber, our enemies have been making progress.

From the relentless attacks on Iraqi innocents, to last week's blasts in Morocco and Algeria, terrorist masterminds seek to destroy the people's confidence in their governments, to persuade them that safety lies only in submission to the extremists.
Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

It's a brilliant approach. Even where it ultimately fails - and terror usually does fail - it succeeds in doing two related things: It costs the victimized government a disproportionate amount of money to respond to could-be-anywhere threats, and it punishes those who decline to see the light.

That first achievement of terror is obvious by now. As a result of 9/11, Washington expended hundreds of billions of dollars on tightening security at home and pursuing terrorists abroad. That money was diverted from more productive uses.

The good news is that the United States can bear the financial burden. But weaker states can't: That's what the terrorists count on.

Consider Iraq, where efforts to rebuild a ravaged infrastructure founder on security costs. Headlines alert us to the blood the terrorists spill, but the financial bleeding leaves the government anemic in every other sphere. As Bob Dylan once put it, "Nothing is delivered." The people's confidence in the state is near collapse.

The counter-Islamist struggle in Algeria has dragged on for over a decade, with hot phases and lulls, but the latest attacks showed a classic profile: Strike in the capital to demonstrate the government's vulnerability. In Morocco, where Islamist terror has yet to grip the nation, the botched suicide attacks sought a government over-reaction.

In the early phases of a terror campaign, Islamist leaders want to force the state to tighten security - expending its financial and moral capital - and the state rarely has a choice.

In a healthy system such as our own, enhanced security means annoyances at the airport. In a weaker state, the response has to be stronger - ultimately alienating those who feel the weight of the crackdown.

Yet, beyond all these rational objectives, terror bombings have a second, deeper purpose more difficult for secular Westerners to comprehend: Inflicting punishment.

In the cosmology of religion-driven terrorists, anyone not fully committed to the fanatic's interpretation of the faith is a legitimate target for his god's wrath: Humanity needs to be purged and taught its lesson.

This is where terror gets personal, in a variety of ways. First, virtually any target is fair game, invading the personal sphere of the average citizen. And when anything can be a target, everything must be protected - an impossible mission for any government.

Second, the mission is the suicide bomber's reward from his terrorist masters.

It's incomprehensible to us that even the maddest fanatic invoking any god's name can bomb a clinic, market or school and enthusiastically kill himself in the process, but his action springs from a general anger at life and an indiscriminate desire for vengeance.

By taking the lives of others, the suicide bomber acts to assert his identity and to escape his personal unhappiness. The religion with which he has intoxicated himself just flashes the green light.

The dark men steering him from above understand his psychology perfectly. We don't.

In today's "asymmetrical conflicts," this is a fundamental asymmetry - between the state's need to provide collective security (the one essential commodity every government must offer) and the terrorist's intimate need to violate that security. At a time when our expensive arsenal is poorly matched to our patchwork strategy, our enemy's ultimate weapon, the suicide bomber, precisely matches the strategy of his masters.

And in this contest of commodities, he's cheap, expendable and grimly reliable.

As we try to "flood the market" with security in the hope that we'll eventually drive down its cost, the problem is that the price will never stabilize. There's no "now we can relax" answer to Islamist terror - a phenomenon in which impossible ambitions employ logical strategies that rely on irrational actors.

But we have to go on fighting. We have no choice.

Think of the world as a security marketplace, where the state's monopoly is constantly challenged by everyone from terrorists to private security companies (in some states, such as Zimbabwe or Sudan, the monopoly should be challenged). Healthy governments may suffer, but they'll survive. The crucial battleground lies in the many states whose futures are up for grabs.

The state that can't provide legitimate security to its citizens today will threaten our own security tomorrow. And the suicide bomber will be there. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2007 - NY Post

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