July 20, 2005 | Commentary on National Security and Defense
Terrorists win by
just being there. It's the kind of sound-bite interviewers
love. Short. Pithy. Seemingly profound. And, best of all,
arresting: It paints terrorism as a frightening, irresistible
There's no shortage of freshly minted "terrorism experts" spouting lines like this on the talk shows, but there's a problem. This view of terrorism is rubbish.
Fact is, terrorists rarely win. True, they succeed at killing people -- murdering innocents, destroying property and creating misery -- but that's not their intended goal. Terrorism by definition is violence with a political purpose. And terrorists are terrorists not by choice, but by desperation. They kill men, women and children indiscriminately because they think there's no other way to advance their cause. Propaganda and politics have failed them. They lack armies or economic power.
There have been many terrorist campaigns throughout history. But most have failed to achieve their goals. Slaughtering civilians rarely advances political causes.
Iraq is a case in point. The Associated Press reports that since April 28, insurgents have killed more than 1,100 people in Iraq. In all likelihood, the toll will continue to mount for the foreseeable future. But the notion that rising civilian casualties will lead inevitably to the collapse of Iraq's fledgling democracy is utterly wrongheaded.
As a rule, terrorism fails in the long run. It fails because, as a strategy, it lacks a theory of victory, a means to convert the desire to change the political order into reality. The only terrorist campaigns in history that ultimately succeeded first had to transform into something else -- something more than a terrorist movement. History indicates that movements launched by political violence can achieve victory only by switching to one of four alternative tracks. None of these redirections appears likely to occur in Iraq.
Lacking a certain means
to victory, the terrorists likely will continue doing what they're
doing: killing innocents and lacing their Web sites with the usual
propaganda about being in the eternal struggle, with victory bound
to come eventually.
Most Iraqis know better. Eventually, even the terrorist supporters will wake up and realize they're wasting money and recruits only to incite Muslims to kill Muslims.
Meanwhile, the best thing the Iraqis can do is to continue to nurse their fledgling democracy and make it as inclusive as possible, keep on increasing the ranks and quality of its security forces, expand the rule of law, and grow the economy. Sooner or later, the terrorists will wind-up like most of their predecessors -- dead or defeated.
James Carafano, co-author of "Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom," is a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire