October 28, 2004


How al-Qaeda May End (Christopher C. Harmon, Ph.D., May 19, 2004, Heritage.org)

How have terrorist groups been defeated? Here are five of the common ways that they have ended:

Military Force

Although the option of force was often derided as “simplistic” prior to September 11, powerful military offensives have some-times defeated terrorist groups. Perhaps nothing else would have defeated the Assassins—a Shia Islamic offshoot of the late 11th through 13th centuries—in what is now modern-day Iran. They had a powerful ideology, secret cultish practices, absolute devotion (by which acolytes would commit suicide on order), and inaccessible fortified bases. Their usual targets were Sunni Muslim leaders. When the famed Saladin and other rulers fought back, they managed to contain the Assassins. Schism wounded the cult. Thereafter came the Mongols, who systematically devastated or dismantled the Assassins’ castles. By the year 1270 the cult was ruined, its membership largely dead or dispersed.

In a United Nations’ world, harsh military offensives against terrorists are unusual, but even so there are cases and successes. After the Khmer Rouge revolutionaries and terrorists became the rulers of Cambodia, only a war waged by Vietnam destroyed their merciless regime in 1978.

In a second example, when pressed by the indigenous Moslem Brotherhood in Syria in 1982, Hafez al-Assad took them under what became known as “Hama rules,” literally bombing and shelling the Syrian city of Hama for almost two weeks. Incredibly, Assad suffered little long-term disrepute for murdering more than ten thousand Syrians, nor did he pay dearly for occupying Lebanon, including the Bekaa Valley, which remains an infamous terrorist haven. Upon his death in 2000, Assad was lionized abroad.

Military force—narrowly and sanely directed— has been a part of many successful modern governmental campaigns. Tupac Amaru (MRTA), a Peruvian Marxist-Leninist organization, was already undermined by internal inadequacies and countervailing police skills. However, the government’s April 1997 commando raid, which recaptured the occupied Japanese Embassy in Lima, finally ruined Tupac Amaru. All but one of the 72 hostages survived but 14 terrorists were killed— including mission leader Nestor Cerpa Cartolini. Because Tupac Amaru’s historic founder was languishing in jail, MRTA immediately collapsed. As scholar Michael Radu intoned, “This group was moribund before; now it is buried.”

Today, military efforts have been essential to initial successes against al-Qaeda, especially in Afghanistan—where the regime and international terrorism were more closely intertwined than in any other case in modern memory. Only by destroying the state could the international problem be solved and the Afghan nation be given a fair chance at liberty. Afghanistan enjoyed a two-year respite from most terrorism, which only began to return in 2004.

Good Grand Strategy

A second way terrorists end—and a marked pattern in the post–World War II era—is national effort under a sage grand strategy. Under sober government leadership, all major aspects of national power—from the political and military through the economic and informational—are deployed with focused energy and resources. Democracies are often at their best in these struggles, demonstrating adherence to principles, yet taking temporary exceptional measures and drawing on little-used internal and external powers. Confronted by a crisis, a country is nonetheless saved by remaining united and acting with force and prudence.

Secretary of Defense, and later president, Ramon Magsaysay led the Filipino people in beating the Huks, a guerrilla and terrorist movement in the post–World War II era. At the time, such Communist movements were often winning in Third World theaters. With help from the U.S. that was notable for its limits and discretion, the Republic of the Philippines and Ramon Magsaysay attacked the problem from all sides. They purged corrupt army officers, revitalized confidence in elections and democracy, and initiated modest relief works to address landlessness. When making war, the Filipino army focused on superior intelligence and small-unit tactics. The government side wore out and defeated the Huks. The rise and fall of this challenge spanned no more than eight years.

Several decades later came the rise—and fall— of Germany’s Red Army Faction (RAF). Waging an urban campaign (rather than the Huks’ rural insurgency), the RAF members were no less doctrinaire Communist revolutionaries. They had strong leaders—gifted students and publicists such as Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof. They kidnapped, shot, and robbed a path across West Germany. Few among the 60 million West Germans actually stood up and followed this tiny, self-proclaimed “vanguard,” but as T. E. Lawrence had warned, a guerrilla group might survive with sup-port from only 2 percent of the population. At first, the RAF did find protection, safe houses, and borrowed cars. However, support did not grow, and gradually the gun-holders were cornered one by one and jailed. The first RAF generation failed by 1977: A second team arose, but lasted no longer than 1982.

Germany wore out the RAF with effort and self-discipline. When there was no bloody over-reaction, this foiled the terrorists’ hope to “expose the latent fascism” of the post-war republic. The Germans did require new laws and new efforts at policing and intelligence—including a revolutionary approach to police unit data computerization, which raised civil liberties concerns but did catch terrorists. A brilliant commando raid by specialized border police (called GSG-9) liberated a Lufthansa airliner hijacked to Mogadishu, Somalia, by a German and Palestinian team. That well-judged risk, and total success, was so psychologically crushing that two Baader–Meinhof leaders committed suicide in their cells.

This second model—disciplined democracy in action under good grand strategy—is the one most akin to the current U.S. approach against the militant Moslem international.

Capturing or Killing the Leaders

Some terrorist groups have failed when their leader of singular importance is arrested and jailed under irrevocable terms. This fate befell the egoistic Abimael Guzman, creator of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). After years of careful planning and cadre-building, Guzman turned the Shining Path to overt violence in 1980—at the moment when reform and elections were restoring democracy in Peru. Sendero intimidated and butchered Peruvians in the countryside—and to a lesser degree in the slums and cities—with dynamite, machetes, and single-shot weapons. Tens of thousands died and many more suffered tragedy, injury, or despair. Yet it largely and quickly ended with Guzman’s arrest in September 1992. Despite the efforts of a “Comrade Feliciano” to carry on, the torch of lead-ership could not be re-lit. The women and men around the famed founder may not have lost their faith, but they did lose their power.

Another bane of the 1980s was the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a special enemy of Turkey and Germany that was founded in 1974 by Abdullah Ocalan to promote an independent Kurdistan. The PKK sought independence via Communist doctrine, thousands of gunmen, and a closely managed reign of terror over the Kurds—as well as the Turks and others in Europe. Its signature was a string of simultaneous bombs in several cities. It practiced extortion, drug trafficking, and killing, while its leader gave press interviews from safety in Syria. Today, the PKK has passed from the scene. A new organization called KADEK has formed from Kurdish activism and is thus far relatively pacific. Evidently, the PKK’s center of gravity was less a burning nationalism than it was Ocalan himself. When he was captured in Africa and bundled back to jail in Turkey, the organization collapsed. Thus far, no equal has taken his place.

Today, one strategy against al-Qaeda is to arrest or kill the first and second tier leaders—a reasonable approach. Coalition security forces must capture or kill both Osama bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahiri, as well as more of their lieutenants.

A Turn Toward Democratic Ways

A few terrorist groups have turned away from violence or toward democratic ways, or both. Their sincerity in this may be suspect, but some terrorists do outwardly and convincingly reform, reentering nor-mal society and pacific political life. The imprisoned Nelson Mandela was the most esteemed leader of the African National Congress (ANC), which held anti-apartheid ideals but frequently conducted hideous terror attacks, often against black South Africans. When Mandela was released, he quickly replaced Oliver Tambo and led the ANC to power through elections—and became the widely admired president of a new republic.

Two current militants-turned-politicians in Germany also suggest this pattern. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was recently “outed” by photographs of him kicking a policeman in a street brawl on April 7, 1973, in Frankfurt am Main. Fighting alongside him was Hans-Joachim Klein, a famous terrorist associate of Carlos the Jackal. Yet, few question Fischer’s work in recent years on behalf of the German republic. Daniel Cohn-Bendit—once notorious as “Danny the Red” for his militant central role in France in 1968—is serving Germany in the European Parliament as a Green Party and Free European Alliance co-president.

Certain American terrorists of the same era have surfaced from the underground to become influential, often as educators. Mark Rudd, student leader turned Weatherman, is now a teacher in the Southwestern United States. Bill Ayers, a later Weatherman leader, became a Chicago university schoolman and authored a book about child education. His new memoir, Fugitive Days, renounces little. He is married to former Weatherwoman Bernardine Dohrn, also a professor (of law) and a children’s rights advocate.

In today’s struggle with lethal strains of militant Islam, reform or pacification of certain terrorist principals and ideologists may be impossible. Many leaders and groups will refuse the paths of moderation and reason in politics. Some who are apocalyptic-minded will never lose their blood lust. Reform or pacification would be potentially attractive only to select individuals and terrorist groups that are more political and “practical” than al-Qaeda.

Some Terrorists Succeed

Finally, history shows that some terrorists attain power without undergoing reform. Combined with political organization, and often with guerrilla warfare, their terrorism does triumph and they capture state power. Such men prove to be rough masters. One blanches at what the Khmer Rouge did while in power. More often, terrorists-turned-rulers restore outward calm—something despotisms do well— and then govern more by clever spying, quiet coercion, and selective brutality than by overt violence. That is how the Sandinistas ruled Nicaragua after their victory in 1979. In this way, the Algerian FLN (National Liberation Front)—pioneers in plastique bombings in cities—ruled Algeria after victoriously parading into the capital in 1962. Still in power by the early 1990s, the FLN was repressing a revolution by their own Muslim countrymen.

Of course were al Qaeda to "win" somewhere it would just make the job of finding and killing them easier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 28, 2004 10:59 PM
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