If this isn’t terrorism, what is?

Last week in Mumbai we witnessed as clear a case of carefully planned mass terrorism as we are ever likely to see.

The seven-venue atrocity was coordinated in a highly sophisticated way. The terrorists used BlackBerrys to stay in touch with each other during their three-and-half-day rampage, outwitting the authorities by monitoring international reaction to the attacks on British, Urdu and Arabic Web sites. It was a meticulously organized operation aimed exclusively at civilian targets: two hospitals, a train station, two hotels, a leading tourist restaurant and a Jewish center.

There was nothing remotely random about it. This was no hostage standoff. The terrorists didn’t want to negotiate. They wanted to murder as many Hindus, Christians, Jews, atheists and other “infidels” as they could, and in as spectacular a manner as possible. In the Jewish center, some of the female victims even appear to have been tortured before being killed.

So why are so many prominent Western media reluctant to call the perpetrators terrorists? Why did Jon Snow, one of Britain’s most respected TV journalists, use the word “practitioners” when referring to the Mumbai terrorists? Was he perhaps confusing them with doctors? [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Ever since the Mumbai attacks, The Wall Street Journal has been determined to ferret out the real culprits behind this hideous event. The consensus — at least among the editorial board — appears to be clear: the Western media is responsible. If it wasn’t for all those mealy-mouthed leftist journalists who have a hard to with terms like “terrorist” or “Islamic extremist”, then this kind of thing would be far less likely to happen. This is what I would call brain-dead commentary for a comatose audience.

And what would I call the young men who attacked Mumbai? I have no problem with “terrorists”. The problem is that the term does so little to illuminate the nature of what happened. In fact, all it is is a way of saying: “This is horrible and we must stop it happening.” Yes it is and so we must, but saying as much is a rather ineffectual exercise. Moreover, it is intended to imply that those who don’t participate in the exercise are in some sense sympathetic with terrorism.

There is one way of viewing the Mumbai attacks as terrorism that is instructive and extremely disturbing. Viewed as a template for an attack it raises the possibility that a similar attack could occur anywhere else.

As David Ignatius writes:

    What would happen if roving gunmen infiltrated U.S. cities and started shooting? Most U.S. police departments aren’t well prepared to deal with such “active shooters,” as they’re called. Police are trained to cordon off an area that’s under attack and then call in a paramilitary SWAT team to root out the gunmen. But what if the attackers keep moving and shooting? The response can be haphazard, as was clear in such disparate incidents as the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks in the Washington area and last year’s massacre at Virginia Tech.
    “Mumbai is a worst-case ‘active shooter’ problem,” says a former CIA officer who helped organize a DHS pilot program on the subject last summer for police chiefs. “It had multiple shooters, multiple locations, mobile threats, willingness to fight the first responders and follow-on SWAT/commando units, well-equipped and well-trained operatives, and a willingness to die. Police department commanders in America should be scratching their heads and praying.”
    Forewarned is forearmed, and the Mumbai attacks are a powerful demonstration of the danger for cities around the world. The reason to discuss such threats isn’t to feed anti-terrorism hysteria. There was far too much of that fear-mongering and spasmodic reaction after Sept. 11, which had the effect of destabilizing the United States almost as much as it did its enemies. The challenge is to understand the adversary so that if an attack comes, the authorities will respond with cool heads and steady aim.

Ignatius also notes:

    The Mumbai attacks were a ghastly reminder of the threat still posed by al-Qaeda and related terrorist groups. The militants have the training, the logistical support and, most of all, the determination to pull off spectacular attacks. They read their enemies’ tactical vulnerabilities well — understanding in this case that urban police forces have trouble combating moving bands of shooters. And they appeared to have had a cleverly divisive strategic goal — of reanimating tension between India and Pakistan just as the two were beginning to make common cause against terrorism.

This points to the crucial dimension of the Mumbai attacks: irrespective of the personal motives of the gunmen, this was a political act with a strategic motive. By labelling it “terrorism” we actually make it more likely — not less — that the planners will accomplish their strategic goal.

The more the Indian government’s opponents goad it to act tough, the more likely it becomes that India will in effect capitulate to the terrorists by accepting the invitation to engage in a military confrontation with Pakistan.

To say that the terrorists hate Hindus, Jews, Christians, the West and modernity is to miss the point. This was a strategic attack designed to provoke India, divert Pakistani forces away from the Afghan border and across to the Indian border, thereby taking pressure off the Pakistani Taliban, strengthening their efforts in Afghanistan and increasing the vulnerability of supply lines to NATO forces.

Whether the attacks can be prevented from fulfilliing their strategic aim depends on the ability of politicians to maintain cool heads and not like rabid dogs, simply snarl the word “terrorist”.

India names Mumbai mastermind

India has accused a senior leader of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba of orchestrating last week’s terror attacks that killed at least 172 people here, and demanded the Pakistani government turn him over and take action against the group.

Just two days before hitting the city, the group of 10 terrorists who ravaged India’s financial capital communicated with Yusuf Muzammil and four other Lashkar leaders via a satellite phone that they left behind on a fishing trawler they hijacked to get to Mumbai, a senior Mumbai police official told The Wall Street Journal. The entire group also underwent rigorous training in a Lashkar-e-Taiba camp in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, the official said. [continued…]

Afghan strategy poses stiff challenge for Obama

There has been much debate in recent weeks about the usefulness of talking with Taliban insurgents and encouraging them to put down their arms. But the prevailing view among senior American military officers is that such efforts are unlikely to be fruitful until the United States and its allies have more military leverage. Many insurgents, intelligence analysts say, have little motivation to reconcile with the Afghan government now, because they believe that the government is weak and that they are on the winning side.

Surveying the battlefield, even advocates of troop increases are forecasting a long struggle. The directors of the multinational Counterinsurgency Training Center in Kabul, Col. John Agoglia of the United States Army and Lt. Col. Trent Scott of the Australian Army, say that more American and international troops are needed to protect the Afghan population and hold ground that can eventually be handed off to expanded and better trained Afghan forces. But they have some sobering advice for the commanders of newly deploying units.

“They must deploy prepared for a long fight,” Colonels Agoglia and Scott said in an e-mail message. “They must think long term and realize that victory is unlikely on their watch. They must build a solid foundation on which their successors build on gains made.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Barack Obama has repeatedly said “we will be straight with the American people.” When it comes to Afghanistan, being straight with the American people comes down to this: acknowledging that the war has now become a contest of patience.

Who has greater patience? The Americans or the Taliban?

Most Americans need know nothing about the Taliban in order to answer that question. When it comes to contests in patience, America invariably loses.

Shift on U.N. seen in Rice nomination

As one of President-elect Barack Obama’s closest campaign advisers and a fellow opponent of the war in Iraq, Susan E. Rice was regarded as a lock for a senior post in Washington after the election.

But Obama decided instead to put her in New York, in a more visible role — ambassador to the United Nations — and thereby send a message to the world’s diplomats: The United States will look more kindly, come Jan. 20, on multilateralism and U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Obama said yesterday that he is restoring Rice’s position to a Cabinet-level rank, an indication that he views the job as central to his goal of fostering more international cooperation.

“Susan knows the global challenges we face demand global institutions that work,” Obama said. “She shares my belief that the U.N. is an indispensable and imperfect forum.”

Rice, 44, says her connection to Obama was forged in part by a shared opposition to the war in Iraq, but she is the only top figure in Obama’s national security team who opposed the war. She is also the only one with a close relationship with Obama, after working as his senior foreign policy adviser during the campaign. [continued…]

The enforcer

To those who worry that Hillary Clinton will turn Foggy Bottom into a fiefdom devoted to her own agenda and ambition, I have two reassuring words: James Jones.

Everything that President-elect Barack Obama has said and done these past few weeks indicates that this is going to be an administration run from the White House. His selection of Jones as national-security adviser signals that this will very much be the case in foreign and military policy.

A retired four-star general with 40 years of service in the Marines, Jones was a company commander in Vietnam; commander of an expeditionary unit protecting the Kurds of northern Iraq in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War; chief of staff of the joint task force supplying aid to Bosnia-Herzegovina; and—his last position before retiring last year—SACEUR, the supreme allied commander, Europe.

While stationed stateside, he had been, at various times, the Marine Corps’ liaison to the U.S. Senate; deputy chief of staff for plans, policies, and operations at Marine headquarters; military assistant to Secretary of Defense William Cohen (President Bill Clinton’s third and final Pentagon chief); and the Marine Corps commandant.

In other words, he knows the ins, outs, back alleys, and dark closets of the national-security realm.

His former colleagues use the same words to describe him: very smart, very organized, methodical, deliberate. It may be telling that Obama has been seeking advice lately from two other generals who served as national-security advisers: Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft. Anthony Zinni, a retired Marine general who’s known Jones for 30 years and followed a similar career path, told me in an e-mail that he sees Jones as “a Scowcroft type of NSA,” elaborating, “He works hard to build consensus and has a lot of patience. He doesn’t like to seek confrontation but won’t shrink from a fight. … He doesn’t seek the limelight but will be the hand behind keeping things on track and focused.” [continued…]

Team of rivals

Nothing must aggravate al Qa’eda more than Hizbollah’s enduring popularity in the Arab world. The leaders of al Qa’eda are forced to hide in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border, watching virtually every Arabic television station call them “terrorists” – while commentators compete to sing the praises of the “resistance” led by Hizbollah.

No political group has more respect on the streets of predominantly Sunni countries like Egypt than Hizbollah. In a 2008 Zogby Arab Public Opinion poll, 27 per cent of Arabs chose Hassan Nasrallah as their ideal leader – putting him in first place. The Egyptian Sunni religious scholar Dr Abla Khadawy expressed the sentiments of millions of Arabs when she told the Egyptian paper al Masri al Youm in June that Nasrallah was the “hope of the Umma” and praised Hizbollah for returning “some of our lost dignity”. >

Contrary to prevailing perceptions in the West, the Arabic media draws a sharp distinction between “resistance” and “terrorism”, with marked impact on the reputations of Hizbollah and al Qa’eda. The “resistance” – which also includes groups like Hamas and insurgents fighting the US in Iraq – is celebrated for its defence of Arab interests. On pan-Arab satellite networks, it is not uncommon for guests and commentators to proudly pay tribute to the Muqawama. [continued…]

Revising jihad

Al Qa’eda doesn’t enjoy the best press in the Arab world, but the savage attack against the organisation that filled an Egyptian newspaper for two weeks in late 2007 was still remarkable. Every aspect of its operations was subjected to withering criticism, and its leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, were assailed with a barrage of insults.

The critic in question, Sayyid Imam, was no ordinary writer: he was a man with impeccable jihadist credentials, writing from the Egyptian jail where he is serving a life sentence. Active in militant circles since his student days at Cairo University, Imam, also known as Dr Fadl, was a long-time associate of Zawahiri who participated in the Afghan jihad against the Soviets and then served as the Emir of the Egyptian terror group al Jihad from 1987 until 1993, having moved with bin Laden and Zawahiri to Sudan to continue the work of jihad. Most importantly, Imam had written two theoretical books that embraced an ultra-literal interpretation of the Quran, which Jihadists, including bin Laden and Zawahiri had been using to justify their violence.

Many in the United States took Imam’s text – formally called Rationalising Jihad in Egypt and the World, but typically known as the Revisions – as a serious blow to al Qa’eda, suggesting that the defection of Imam and other prominent figures augured a turn by jihadists, fed up with al Qa’eda’s excessive violence, against bin Laden and Zawahiri. Many commentators saw the Revisions as a potential turning point in the Global War on Terror. But now, a year later, Imam has published his follow-up, a long screed called The Exposure – and the sequel confirms that last year’s round of optimism was little more than wishful thinking. [continued…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email