It’s difficult to balance rights and security, particularly when it’s difficult to measure security. That’s one reason why the debates on gun control that follow mass shootings rarely lead to compromise solutions.
There are components of the debate that should be easy, though. One relates to the no-fly list, and was brought up recently by President Obama.
In the aftermath of a horror like the Orlando mass shooting, we often turn to religious or political ideologies as explanation. For example, the shooter’s last-minute pledge to ISIS must have signified the real reason he committed such a heinous act.
There is some truth to this. Certainly your beliefs influence how you treat others.
But a focus on ideology ignores two things.
A lot of our present public discourse involves attacking people who hold opinions different from our own. We call them names. We say they are weak or uncaring or stupid or lazy.
This is not helpful. We all come to our beliefs in different ways. Assuming others’ beliefs are driven only by ill intent is not fair to the passion and reason and pragmatism and idealism that form the bedrock of real beliefs. And it ruins the chance for real conversation.
So rather than argue here for a particular political point of view, I’m going to ask a simple favor: Please don’t fear terrorism.
Human beings are incredibly good at recognizing patterns. It is an amazing skill, both practically and creatively. But it can get us into trouble, too. And it is doing that now.
We observe ISIS’s horrific behavior and we see a pattern: A terrorist group bent on destroying our way of life. This pattern lends itself to certain assumptions. We assume that its propaganda accurately states its true motivations. We assume that anyone who supports ISIS must agree with all it says. These assumptions imply a purely military solution: Destroy the evildoers, wherever they are.
Let’s start by getting something straight: the attack on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo was terrorism. It was planned, carefully targeted, and intended to spur people other than those who were attacked to take actions in line with the terrorists’ goals. Unable to accomplish these goals via conventional means, the perpetrators chose the tactic of terrorism instead. The strategic goals of the terrorists are what are important in understanding their actions and how to counter them, not the ideas they toss around as easy supposed justifications for their actions.
The actual identity of the target was symbolically important but incidental to the strategic goal of the attack. Yes, the perpetrators might have found Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons deeply offensive. But they also surely knew that the magazine is not unique in its offensiveness, has relatively small print numbers, and would only gain more attention after the attack. In fact, the magazine now plans a print run over thirty times greater than usual. So in what way does that target suit their goals?
Here’s a link to the story (http://www.cctv-america.com/2014/09/26/airstrikes-continue-to-target-is-oil-production) and one directly to the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIvRMMMhl_o).
Should the U.S. use an expanded campaign of drone strikes in Iraq to help push back the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? Among the many issues this question raises is the practical one: Are they effective in reducing attacks?
On the surface it would seem that they are, in that they enable the removal of potentially high-value targets with minimal risk to our troops. Looking a little deeper, though, reveals some problems. Many are discussed in a recent report from the Stimson Center, which suggests that heavy use of drone strikes “risks increasing instability and escalating conflicts.”
I’ll open my first contribution with a confession: I chose a deliberately provocative title. Though of course I did this to draw attention, the statement is nevertheless true.
Before delving into why, let’s ask an easier question: Why is the title provocative? In other words, why would we expect military force to work in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency? The reason, I believe, is that in both terrorism and insurgency there are armed, organized people trying to kill us. This recalls war, and anything short of a show of military force in war smacks of appeasement. Even if a settlement is sought, force acts as a signal of strength. And without force, an enemy comparable to us in strength can run right over us.