How do terrorist groups end? This question is well worth considering in this third year of war with al-Qaeda and with the larger "militant Moslem international."
Glossaries or indices on terrorism from the 1970s and1980s point to once-promising groups that currently have no power and make no news: the Breton Liberation Front in France, Belgium's Communist Combatant Cells, the Liberation Front of Quebec, and the People's Revolutionary Army in El Salvador. In recent years, once-formidable organizations such as Tupac Amaru in Peru and the Revolutionary Organization November 17th in Greece have disappeared. Additionally, larger international doctrines that spawned transnational terrorists-Bolshevism and Anarchism-were also defeated in the past century.
History's lessons about how violent political groups end are varied, though not contradictory. As the U.S. struggles with the current enemy, it is useful to consider how terrorist organizations have been destroyed in the past. Years of public determination, good leadership, police work, excellent intelligence, adequate resources, and occasional military operations are common to most of the success stories.
History also offers a grim truth: Some terrorist groups succeed. This is a reminder of the high stakes in the current war with al-Qaeda and its allies. However, the U.S. and its allies can-and should-press on until we break this militant Moslem international.
The White House is carrying enormous burdens in the struggle against al-Qaeda. While it has borne them well, enhancements are required. Specifically, the Administration should stay clear of unnecessary schemes to reorganize, continue to define the strategy against terrorism, put more into the moral arguments against terrorism, use international law to condemn terrorism, and strengthen intelligence gathering.
Congress should assist the Administration by facing the challenge of supporting the production of good human intelligence about terrorists.
There is no question that al-Qaeda can be beaten, and victory is possible even against the larger militant Moslem international. History cannot indicate how long this fight will be, but it does afford many examples of how to win.
Dr. Christopher C. Harmon, author of the book Terrorism Today, teaches at graduate schools in the Washington, D.C., area, including the Institute of World Politics.