Friday, August 06, 2004

Terrorism - 1 -- Two roads to victory?

The current debate in Israel sounds extremely familiar. On one side is the head of Shin Bet, Avi Dichter, who thinks terrorism can be eliminated via force, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz agrees. On the other side is Military Inteligence chief Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, who thinks that they can eliminate one source, but another will pop up as long as underlying drivers of terrorism aren't addressed. His ally in theis debate is the army's chief of staff and most of the generals.

Yoel Marcus in haaretz feigns frustration that the defense and intelligence can't get their act together. But the most important point he makes is:

The Israeli macho has finally grasped that force must be combined with a political initiative. And that's a dramatic about-face if there ever was one.

The debate is echoed in US politics. The military maximalists say there's nothing to be done but wipe the terrorists out. "you can't neogtiate with them, you can't appease them." And some go further to apply this thinking to all potential Islamist threats, starting with Iran. The other side of the debate says "we don't intend to appease the bad guys, negotiation with them isn't possible. But if we just try to drain the swamp completely, we'll never be finished. We'll just be creating conditions that promote the swamp." This debate has been starkly framed primarily by each presiential campaign attempting to characterize the approach of the other to the War on Terrorism, especially Republicans dismissing Kerry as just treating terrorism as a "criminal" matter and not a "war." Undoubtedly, however, this divergence in attitudes is widespread within the Bush Admin as well.

If even the Israeli intelligence and military services have come to question whether the maximalist approach to the use of force is achieving their goals or, instead, making their security problems worse, perhaps the US should take a step back and learn from the Israeli experience. Learning from our own mistakes is a painful way to develop policy.


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