Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Collateral Damage of the Long War on Terror

A long war against Islamist terrorists harms us whether we win or lose.

Is this a shock?

Government leaders across the world have relied on overbroad, self-serving definitions of "terrorism" to craft counterterrorism policies that could lead to the repression of basic human rights like freedom of speech, according to a new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The study, called "Counterterrorism Measures and Civil Society," reported an "alarming rise" in restrictions imposed on citizens to curb their freedoms in the name of national security. Though this trend first became prevalent in the direct aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the report says civic space "has diminished more rapidly" in recent years.

We are not immune or apart from this trend.

Early on, within days of the 9/11 attack when I wrote about responding to the attacks, I warned about the threats to civil liberties of a long war against terrorists (in the Civil Defense subsection).

To our credit, we've done really well in not blaming American Moslems for the actions of the jihadis--which in 2001 I did not assume was assured given FDR's rounding up of Japanese-Americans in World War II. Indeed, we've probably done too well on that in some ways by refusing to really focus on the jihadi ideology as a problem that comes from Islam.

But civil liberties are being eroded by the length of the war that has not reduced the threat enough to allow us to relax our vigilance.

Destroying the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and staying to prevent their return is good. Defeating Saddam was good. Destroying ISIL's caliphate that spanned Iraq and Syria--and in Libya--was good. As is Saudi Arabia's decision--if fully implemented--to essentially reverse their support for the jihadi ideology by funding a dangerous strain of Islam. Pakistan remains a problem but if Saudi Arabia won't fund those terrorist finishing schools, that could end a source of state support for jihadis.

But we haven't done enough and the problem of a long war continues.

I was more expansive on this problem before the Iraq War started, and warned about the danger to our civil liberties if the war went on for long. We needed a sense of urgency to wreck the terrorist groups and the state actors that give the terrorists the abilities and reach to strike us at home:

As long as we fight our enemies our civil liberties will be reduced. That is what happens in war. One of the mundane aspect of this threat level hit me yesterday. I received a rejection letter from a defense journal for an article I submitted (oh well, I'm one for two for the submissions I made in the fall). What really struck me were the two copies of my paper that they returned. They were yellowed. Then I remembered, oh yeah, as a government outfit they would have to zap every mail package with whatever device they use to neutralize Anthrax. This process yellows the paper.

This is just one of the prices we pay for defending against terrorists. And if we are to pull back into fortress America, how many police and soldiers will be needed on our streets? How many questions will we need to answer as government security people question us wherever we move? How many public places will be closed off to the public to keep terrorists from destroying our monuments and buildings?

Loss of privacy and freedom are the prices we will pay for letting our enemies live to plot against us. And every time they strike, we will crack down more. By sitting on the defensive, we guarantee that our enemies will eventually strike us successfully. Defense can only slow the pace, not end the attacks against us. Would these opponents of war say that we should do nothing to prevent attacks? Will they say that exploding malls and occasional plagues are the price we should pay to arrive at the airport five minutes before our flight?

If we want our liberties back fully, if we want the luxury of not having our mail irradiated because nutballs would kill us by mail, we must take the offensive and go after our enemies. Al Qaeda and the states that support them because of their common hatred of America must be destroyed.

Draining the swamp in the Islamic world that creates jihadis is another issue altogether and a much longer project. Can we really afford to erode our civil liberties for as long as that project will take to carry out--if it can be carried out?

But we haven't done a good enough of denying jihadis state support and sanctuary until the reasonable Moslems can crush and de-legitimize the minority of jihadis willing to kill as many people (Moslem and non-Moslem) as they need in order to win what is essentially a Moslem civil war.

And as we have failed to do what we can to really defeat the threats and make their capabilities and reach too low to pose more than a police-level threat, the collateral damage to our civil liberties continues.