Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Read On! ... "What Terrorists Want"

(Read On! ... occasional posts on writing we're reading) One senses a slow American shift away from reacting to the shock of 9/11 and toward rethinking how to cope with its aftermath. Well worth a read in this regard is the 2006 book What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat, in which Radcliffe Executive Dean Louise Richardson, a longtime counterterrorism expert, debunks myths that have undermined effective response. (photo below by Tony Rinaldo courtesy of Radcliffe)
Examples from conflict in Richardson's land of birth, Ireland, and in areas as diverse as Sri Lanka, Spain, and South Lebanon, support her central claim that terrorists are rational beings acting in particular circumstances. What they want, she says, are "The Three Rs: Revenge, Renown, Reaction." Historically, resort to terrorism often has occurred when 1 side was fighting a far more powerful adversary; to declare a "war" on "terror," therefore, is to initiate a conflict that cannot be won. Richardson argues instead for 6 "rules," concrete strategies for attaining goals within reach, for example: capturing individuals actually responsible for specific acts; isolating terrorists from the communities that support them and developing means to gather intelligence within those communities; and treating allies like allies, engaged in cooperative, mutually beneficial antiterrorism efforts. Of particular note is Richardson's "Rule 2: Live by Your Principles." Arguing that the United States' post-9/11 rebuff of the Geneva Conventions led to detainee abuse that "made the crucial task of driving a wedge between the terrorists and the communities that produce them immeasurably more difficult," she writes:
In the campaign against terrorism, our ethics and our interests are completely aligned. Our democratic principles, far from constraining our ability to respond to terrorism, are among the strongest weapons in our arsenal. All we have to do is remember them.

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