Philip C. Wilcox, retired US Foreign Service officer who served as US Ambassador at Large for Counterterrorism between 1994 and 1997, writes about “The Terror”. Appetizers:
”... on the rare occasions that the US has tried to carry out military attacks on terrorist targets, the attacks have failed or backfired. The US bombing of Tripoli in 1986, after a Libyan terrorist attack on Americans in Germany, killed dozens of Libyan civilians. Qaddhafi struck back in 1988 by bombing Pan American Flight 103, killing 270 people. Also, US cruise missile attacks on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan after the bombing of American embassies in East Africa in 1998 had no discernible effect on terrorism and provoked widespread international criticism.
The use of military force is questionable for other reasons. Islamist terrorists throughout the world seek death through martyrdom. Far from deterring these self-proclaimed holy warriors, US military attacks would likely inspire them to carry out even more dangerous acts of terrorism; the effect could well be to increase recruitment and raise the stature of the terrorists in the underworld of militant Islam. Without minimizing the threat they pose, we should regard these people as criminals and murderers, and not dignify them as warriors. We must also understand that getting rid of Bin Laden will eliminate neither the ideology of Islamist terrorism nor its often inchoate and diffuse operations.
The most important deficiency in US counterterrorism policy has been the failure to address the root causes of terrorism. Indeed, there is a tendency to treat terrorism as pure evil in a vacuum, to say that changes in foreign policy intended to reduce it will only “reward” terrorists. Moreover, many argue that terrorists care little about particular American policies and hate the US simply because it is powerful, rich, modern, and democratic and because its dynamic secular culture threatens their identity.
But the US should, for its own self-protection, expand efforts to reduce the pathology of hatred before it mutates into even greater danger. Conditions that breed violence and terrorism can at least be moderated through efforts to resolve conflicts and through assistance for economic development, education, and population control. Limiting the proliferation of lethal materials also deserves higher priority as a measure against terrorism as well as for arms control.”
Written on September 19.