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Why Terrorism Does Not Work
July 12, 2007 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Why Terrorism Does Not Work [pdf] is an article by Max Abrahms that tries to understand why terrorist groups have a success rate of 7% on their stated goals and those terrorists who target civilians have a stunning 0% success rate when it comes to achieving their political objectives. He argues that the answer lies in correspondent inference theory. [via Wired's Bruce Schneier]
posted by Kattullus (78 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Allright, Why Terrorism Does Not Work corrected link.
posted by phaedon at 2:09 PM on July 12, 2007


Fascinating stuff. We (as western societies in general and the US in particular) need to do a lot better at looking at the facts and numbers instead of/in addition to the emotional response.

Did I just advocate a more sociopathic foreign policy?
posted by Skorgu at 2:12 PM on July 12, 2007


Huh. Didn't notice the ?cookieSet=1 business.
posted by Kattullus at 2:12 PM on July 12, 2007


It is also possible that (at least in some cases) the stated political objectives and goals are not the actual desired goals of a given terrorist organization, yes?
posted by davejay at 2:16 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


It is also possible that (at least in some cases) the stated political objectives and goals are not the actual desired goals of a given terrorist organization, yes?

My thoughts, exactly.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:23 PM on July 12, 2007


Skorgu,
But hasn't that always been the case? People freak out about the stupidest things when just looking at the numbers would show there's nothing to worry about. And since it's so natural, it creates a problem for elected lawmakers. Even if you were an elected leader and wanted to base your decisions on the numbers, if your constituents are howling about what they perceive to be a threat and you ignore them or don't respond in what they feel is an adequate manner, you're going to be voted out. This makes it difficult to make the rational, calm decisions that need to be made, because you'll lose support and thus power.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:27 PM on July 12, 2007


Mr. Abrahms is using a very narrow definition of terrorism.

One must note that almost every military and insurgent movement has used elements of "terror" in one form or another since... well... since the Stone Age.

Unfortunately it does work. Depending, of course, on the complimentary tactics and overall strategy employed and the resource base of your enemy.
posted by tkchrist at 2:27 PM on July 12, 2007


It sure seemed to work for Yasser Arafat.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:28 PM on July 12, 2007


inherent correspondent inference theory is pretty ubiquitous.
posted by quonsar at 2:30 PM on July 12, 2007


His definition of terrorism appears not to include the Provisional IRA (whose ex-Quartermaster General is currently deputy first minister in Northern Ireland).

Any suggestions that the pIRA didn't target civilians will be treated with the appropriate degree of contempt and/or mirth.
posted by cstross at 2:36 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Worked for Hezbollah (if you consider the capture of the Israeli soldier(s) and rocket attacks as a terrorist act), who achieved all of their political goals, and then some. Conventional warfare did not work for the Israelis last summer.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:38 PM on July 12, 2007


Plus I suppose the King David Hotel blew itself up in 1946.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:40 PM on July 12, 2007 [4 favorites]


VC terrorism in Vietnam also worked as a tactic.

While the VC qua terrorists were largely a spent force by 1973-74, their actions had provoked a sufficient number of mistakes by the anti-communist interventionists to leave them momentarily in charge of things after PAVN crushed ARVN forces for them in 1975.

Not that they found life under the thumb of Hanoi any better than Diem/Khanh/Ky/Thieu, really.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:45 PM on July 12, 2007


cstross: I think the point is that Martin McGuinness is the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, not of an Ireland that encompasses the whole of the island. The provos stated raison d'être was that Northern Ireland would join the Irish state. In that they have been completely unsuccessful.
posted by Kattullus at 2:45 PM on July 12, 2007


Schneier makes an interesting point: "Perversely, Bush’s misinterpretation of terrorists' motives actually helps prevent them from achieving their goals."

I'd posit that this is probably why, at least in part, Bush (and many other politicians besides) make such claims. If you can convince people that the ultimate goal of the terrorists is your destruction, this makes the terrorists less likely to succeed politically. If you can make it clear that terrorism doesn't work, then you can (hopefully, theoretically) discourage political terrorism. Meaning that the only terrorism that's likely to continue to take place are ones that do have unacceptably broad, ideologically-driven goals.

Obviously this is an oversimplification, but I think it's interesting because it's an example a situation where a person or government powerful enough to get people to believe what it wants can actually manufacture truth.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:58 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hm.

The chart on pages 8 and 9 of the PDF says that both ETA ("Fatherland and Liberty") and the "Real IRA" have had "no success" in their objectives - "establish Basque state" and "establish Irish unification", respectively - which seems odd given that those goals have come to fruition in many ways, though perhaps not in the ways terror groups thought they would.

It's not that terrorism has been ineffective in these cases, necessarily; it's that the goals of the movements have been met after popular outrage to terrorist violence and political stagnation paved the way for more negotiations and accommodation from those in power, leading to greater economic prosperity and political freedom previously unknown. Basque is the primary language used to instruct over 60% of children in the Basque Country^; Irish and British citizens share a common European political space and economy for nearly all intents and purposes.

There will always be hardcore people who will argue for nothing short of total independence for the Basques, or for the whole island of Ireland to be united under one flag and ruled from Dublin, but the traditional base of support for the two groups mentioned here - oppressed/disadvantaged people chafing under the yoke of heavy-handed state power seeking immediate redress after being consistently denied a voice in the halls of power - has all but evaporated.

I mean, today, Northern Ireland has an democratically-elected assembly with participation from all parties, with citizens not just free to bring grievances to their own local authorities, or to their representatives at Stormont, or Dublin or London, but Brussels and Strasbourg! Who would have thought this would ever happen 15 or 20 years ago?
posted by mdonley at 3:04 PM on July 12, 2007


Terrorism cannot "work" because winners write the histories, and by (self) definition, are therefore never "Terrorists."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:04 PM on July 12, 2007 [7 favorites]


Further research is needed in three areas. First, why do terrorist groups target civilians if doing so is strategically ineffective? Testing of the following four hypotheses could yield useful results: (1) groups have an exaggerated sense of terrorism’s ability to coerce policy change;128 (2) terrorist groups attach equal importance to achieving their intermediate objectives; (3) even though terrorism almost never pays, it is a superior strategy to the alternatives, such as conducting a peaceful protest; and (4) only comparatively weak groups target civilians, because attacking military targets requires a higher level of combat sophistication. Of these hypotheses, only the fourth one appears empirically dubious.

I'm wondering if they're overlooking a possible (5), somewhat alluded to by davejay upthread. Namely, that achieving their stated objectives may be detrimental to the leadership of a terrorist organization. If political objectives are met, it can mean that a particular terrorist group is no longer necessary and can be replaced by more moderate groups. As long as their goals are not met, leaders of these organizations enjoy a lot of power over lower-level terrorists. They control lots of weapons, money, and people; control which can easily be used for personal gain as well as ideological goals. In the same sense that our own military-industrial complex benefits from the status quo of being perceived as constantly necessary, it could be that keeping their political demands unmet ensures a steady stream of recruits, investment in infrastructure, and social prestige and esteem. It could very well be that the leadership of these organizations know damn well that attacking civilians is counter-productive to their stated goals, but do so anyway knowing that the backlash against them will give them more power and more of a voice in their own community. Isn't it largely inevitable that given enough time and power, any organization may see its mission drift from ideological principles to self-preservation? Endless war hurts almost everybody except for the leadership on both sides.
posted by SBMike at 3:15 PM on July 12, 2007 [7 favorites]


Al Qaida's chief grievance was the US basing of troops in Saudi Arabia and Bush withdrew our troops within a year of 9/11.

Just a coincidence, right?
posted by Davenhill at 3:22 PM on July 12, 2007


Wow, SBMike, you said exactly what I wanted to say but much more succinctly and convincingly. Well done - no snark intended.

*raises glass in salute of general erudition, quaffs deeply of the ale of knowledge*
posted by mdonley at 3:26 PM on July 12, 2007


Terrorism cannot "work" because winners write the histories, and by (self) definition, are therefore never "Terrorists."

This is a tough one. One's perspective is often based on one's opinion of the state. Is a campaign conducted by the army of a democracy morally superior to the campaign of a non-democratic state. Is the state always immoral?

I have difficulty accepting the fact that, say, the Allies during the Second World War were the moral equivalents of the Nazis, or Al Qaeda for that matter.

Was the firebombing of Hamburg a terrorist act?

I suppose not all actions conducted during conventional warfare are legal, and not all terrorist acts are in fact criminal in nature.

But I would say that people planting fucking bombs on London subway cars or commuter trains in Madrid are deliberately targeting civilians, and are therefore terrorist.

And the Madrid bombers' tactics worked.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:54 PM on July 12, 2007


If a "terrorist" "wins" they become "freedom fighters" or "rebels" against "tyranny." History is written by the victors, regardless of the tools used to win. So history doesn't reveal terrorism as successful simply because those who used terror tactics to win then P.C.'d their own story.

Napoleon. Ghengis Khan. Hitler. Fidel Castro. They all had in the past used terror as a tool. Heck. So do we. To quote from Die Hard: "You use a machine gun. I use a fountain pen. What's the difference?"
posted by ZachsMind at 4:13 PM on July 12, 2007


"[...] complimentary tactics"
That would solve a lot of problems.

okay okay, enough trolling. Continue the serious bits.
posted by pantsrobot at 4:15 PM on July 12, 2007


As a youngster I said I wanted to conquer the world. Clearly I succeeded: you all work for me, you just don't know it.

Boy am I one masochistic dictator.
posted by davy at 4:22 PM on July 12, 2007


The Algerians targeted civilians before gaining their independence. So a 0% success rate for targeting civilians is trivially wrong.

50% of the parties involved in wars lose. Sometimes the victors also do not gain their objects. A 7% success rate is not too bad considering the minimal cost of terrorism compared to conventional wars. Also given the authors obvious errors about terrorists who target civilians the rate may even be higher.

Terrorism does work. Not all the time, but it can be an effective weapon.
posted by sien at 4:40 PM on July 12, 2007


The terrorists hated our freedom.

We have less freedom now.

Terrorism works.
posted by swell at 4:46 PM on July 12, 2007



I do think it is an important point that "reasonable" goals like land and independence can be advanced via terror, but not unreasonable goals like "the whole world will convert to Islam."

The Chechen example seemed on point: Russians supported independence until terror attacks made it seem like the Chechen goal was takeover, not just their own land. Of course, I know little about Chechnya so perhaps this analysis is wrong-- but it does make sense that people would generally have more sympathy for at least the goals of terrorists seeking self-rule if not their methods, but none whatsoever for those who are seeking to take over and impose rule on others.

The importance of this somewhat obvious point is that terrorists need popular support and attacks on civilians who are just minding their own business in aid of a goal that seems bizarre to most people will win intensive retaliation, not progress towards their goals.
posted by Maias at 4:53 PM on July 12, 2007


Was the firebombing of Hamburg a terrorist act?

Hamburg was repayment, with accrued interest, of an outstanding debt the RAF owed the Luftwaffe.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:55 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


History is written by the victors.

History is also written by the losers and the disinterested. Thucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian war which he and his fellow Athenians lost. (Granted he died before the war and the book were finished, but his fellow Athenian Xenophon finished the job.) In our own time, Shelby Foote, descendant of losing Confederates, wrote one of the finest histories of the American Civil War out there. Napoleon, Ghengis Khan, Fidel Castro - all have biographies that praise and damn them by turn (Hitler, happily, tends to get his boosters from the fringes of the internet, but there are a few small publishing basements out there giving him his devil's advocate.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:14 PM on July 12, 2007


The chart on pages 8 and 9 of the PDF says that both ETA ("Fatherland and Liberty") and the "Real IRA" have had "no success" in their objectives - "establish Basque state" and "establish Irish unification", respectively - which seems odd given that those goals have come to fruition in many ways, though perhaps not in the ways terror groups thought they would.

Perhaps you have some personal definition of "come to fruition," like "fail"? Because there is no Basque state (nor is there likely to be one), and Ireland is not unified (nor is it likely to be). If the American Revolution had failed and England had reconquered the colonies, but handed out free lollipops when people paid their stamp tax, would you say the rebels' goals had come to fruition in many ways, though perhaps not in the ways they thought they would? I don't think any of these groups would appreciate your defining their goals for them in such a way that they're "met" by the standards of an uninvolved outsider.
posted by languagehat at 5:20 PM on July 12, 2007


Hamburg was repayment, with accrued interest, of an outstanding debt the RAF owed the Luftwaffe.

Now, if only they'd paid it back to the Luftwaffe, instead of John and Jane Doe, it wouldn't be terrorism.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:40 PM on July 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


“If political objectives are met, it can mean that a particular terrorist group is no longer necessary and can be replaced by more moderate groups.”

Part of the reason why terrorist groups are less successful in more open societies.
Also, as in any dealing, you aim for more than you actually want. Although that seems to have been negated by Abrahms’ method (partial success = success).
But it’s precisely the control of symbol that so few terrorist groups do well. And indeed, it’s a catch-22, they can’t communicate well because they have to be secretive and depend on myopia to maintain their membership.
Guerillas or freedom fighters are the inversion of that spiral, typically they are supported by the civilian population and more open and can generate more symbolic victories, which leads to more civilian support, etc.
The IRA was a bit of a blend.
But y’know, common wisdom - don’t shit where you eat - doesn’t necessarily hold for terrorists. For a guerilla it’s gospel.

Terror as state terror or terror to gain power is a whole n’other issue. But still demands a constriction on the flow of information. And, necessarily, an unreasonableness in or clouding of goals. If your opposition is willing to cut a deal before you have capitulation and absolute dominance, that could be a problem.
Bit of self-fufilling prophecy really.
But ‘warfare based on deception’, all that.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:43 PM on July 12, 2007


Whoa, languagehat, hang on.

I merely offered a hypothesis that in Spain and Ireland, much of the support for the groups mentioned has waned because of improvements in the lives of those for whom the terrorists claimed to be fighting. The PDF's author, not me, claims that the goals of these organizations haven't been met; I'm saying that many elements of the societies these groups may have imagined would come about after their victory, like local control of education and policing, have come about - perhaps even because of wider public reaction to their attacks, which bred state concessions to the groups the terrorists claimed to be representing.

It's a victory for the terrorists in that their original grievances, the things that they claim drove them to violence, have been ameliorated, but it's also a strike against their organizations' longevity, for perhaps as the need to address problems is met by better governance and representation, these particular groups will fade into irrelevance.
posted by mdonley at 5:44 PM on July 12, 2007


if only they'd paid it back to the Luftwaffe, instead of John and Jane Doe, it wouldn't be terrorism

an act of violence isn't just classified by who got whacked and how. The WHY is also of critical importance.

I understand that reasonable people can differ about the morality of area bombing, but IMV 'terror', while a secondary aim of the RAF campaign, was subsidiary to the executing the wartime justice of giving Jerry a taste of of his own medicine, "tamped down and overflowing" in Churchill's [postwar] words.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:35 PM on July 12, 2007


Intelligence report: Al Qaida at renewed strength in Pakistan
posted by homunculus at 6:47 PM on July 12, 2007


Inside the minds of killer doctors: Some of the accused behind the recent terror plots in Britain were professional healers. What on earth prompts someone to snap from caregiver to killer?
posted by homunculus at 6:49 PM on July 12, 2007


Homeland Security Threat Level Raised to Chicago Dog With Everything
posted by homunculus at 6:50 PM on July 12, 2007


and those terrorists who target civilians have a stunning 0% success rate when it comes to achieving their political objectives

I'm glad I'm not the only one who has a problem with this figure. 0%? No, sorry. I mean, first off, how the hell do you even measure this?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:59 PM on July 12, 2007


how the hell do you even measure this?

Well, you find out the stated political objectives of a terrorist organization that targets civilians and you see whether it has succeeded in reaching said goal. Then you divide the number of successes by the total number of terrorist organizations to see what the success rate is. In the sample that Abrahms used (the 2001 list of foreign terrorist organizations compiled by the State Dept.) the terrorist organizations that targeted civilians had a 0% success rate on their stated goals.

A broader point is that nobody's saying that terrorism can't have some benefits for terrorists, or that terrorists never prosper individually, but that terrorism as a means of getting a country to change its policies and behavior to your liking is almost completely ineffective.
posted by Kattullus at 7:51 PM on July 12, 2007


I'm sure AQ counts their Spanish train bombings as a success. They got their way.
posted by NortonDC at 8:07 PM on July 12, 2007


Okay, I let it go the first time. But seriously, NortonDC and KokuRyu, what were the goals of the terrorists responsible for the 2004 Madrid bombings? Do you know? Can you back it up with citations to their words? And by them I mean the actual terrorists who carried out the attack. Unless you can do that, you're just trading in assumptions. They may be correct assumptions, but there's no way for me or you or anyone else to know. I tried to find out by Googling for it, but all I discovered is that nobody's even sure which organization it was that carried out the attack. Some say it was the Moroccan GICM, some say it was just a bunch of people that were inspired by Al Qaeda and decided to do it. I don't know, I don't have much in the way of expertise on the matter. Do you? Are you aware of some statements by the terrorists where they spell out their objectives? I'm not. I'd love for you to educate me.
posted by Kattullus at 8:35 PM on July 12, 2007


Was the firebombing of Hamburg a terrorist act?

that's the wrong question ... did the firebombing of hamburg win the war? ... did it break the will of the german people? ... was it the cause of allied victory?

defeated nations and societies defeat themselves, unless, of course, they are thoroughly annihilated ... at some point, they will throw in the towel and conclude it is not worth it

the question is - are the attackers willing to push it to that point? ... do they have the capacity? ... and how much are the defenders willing to take?

terrorists generally don't succeed because their targeted enemies are willing to sustain more damage than the terrorists can dish out ... the reason why the king david hotel bombing and other actions by israeli terrorist worked was because the british just weren't interested in taking that much punishment over palestine ... on the other hand in modern times, russia, spain, israel, various iraqi factions and yes, the u s, have all shown that terrorists are not capable of dire enough actions to make those countries quit fighting them, so far ... we only left saudi arabia to occupy iraq

it's all about the target's psychological will to resist
posted by pyramid termite at 9:00 PM on July 12, 2007


ps ... in mentioning spain, i'm talking about basque terrorists and their attacks, not the madrid train bombings
posted by pyramid termite at 9:02 PM on July 12, 2007


A broader point is that nobody's saying that terrorism can't have some benefits for terrorists

(cough)
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:09 PM on July 12, 2007


Hah! Good point, Heywood. Let me rephrase that.

Nobody's saying that terrorists, as individuals, can't benefit from terrorism. They might get money, status, self-actualization or whatever. However, when it comes to reaching the goals they set out to achieve through their acts of terrorism, Abrahms argues that terrorists do not succeed. I find his reasoning fairly convincing.
posted by Kattullus at 9:17 PM on July 12, 2007


Shock and awe was terrorism and that hasn't worked either.
posted by Merlin at 9:45 PM on July 12, 2007


menachem began did a pretty good job as a terrorist in establishing israel. so i guess 0% is a bit of an understatement.
posted by altman at 9:51 PM on July 12, 2007


terrorists who target civilians have a stunning 0% success rate when it comes to achieving their political objectives
Last I checked, Algeria is an independent nation.
posted by Flunkie at 10:10 PM on July 12, 2007


Jew Watch? Why did you have to link to holocaust-denying Jew Watch? Come on, altman, there are other sites on the Deir Yassin massacre, such as Deir Yassin Remembered or the Deir Yassin wikipedia page. Could you, in the future, please refrain from linking to piece-of-shit sites like Jew Watch? There's even a whole section on Jew Watch called Jewish Mind Control. Jewish Mind Control! That's the kind of site that is. You really, really shouldn't link to it.
posted by Kattullus at 10:30 PM on July 12, 2007


So many interesting points here (in my own humble opinion, anyway):

Can you back it up with citations to their words? And by them I mean the actual terrorists who carried out the attack. Unless you can do that, you're just trading in assumptions. They may be correct assumptions


Agreed. But the general consensus is that the Madrid bombings were intended to cause the Conservatives to lose the election, vault the Socialists into power, and get Spain to pull out of Iraq, all of which happened. But how can a loose association of terrorist cells really have a unified political vision? These people, while intelligent, are also insane.

Was the firebombing of Hamburg a terrorist act?

that's the wrong question ... did the firebombing of hamburg win the war? ... did it break the will of the german people? ... was it the cause of allied victory?


Yeah, but there are still rules of warfare, and there's no doubt that had the Germans won the war, Butcher Harris would have been tried as a war criminal for Hamburg and Dresden.

(Terrorism is) all about the target's psychological will to resist

Well, AQ wanted to provoke a war with 9/11. The US could not resist, and here we are today.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:39 PM on July 12, 2007


There's one distinction that I haven't seen made before - the terrorism targeting civilians in a democracy vs. civilians in a non-democracy. In a democracy you need more than 50% of voting adults to approve a policy for it to be implemented (at least at the point of elections). In an authoritarian state (consider hiroshima and hamburg), you may have a very high percentage of people who disapprove the general policy, therefore killing them is like whipping the cow for what the cat did. However, even in a democracy there's children who don't vote and immigrants who also don't vote. In a country like US this last group is significant, too. On the other hand when you have a conventional forces waging a war, they know that some percentage of the killing will be civilians. This depends on the type of weapon employed. If you use a knife, you'll know who you're killing. If you use a dragunov rifle, you're less certain; M16, even less so, mortar, still less sure, and so on going all the way to a daisy cutter or a nuke. When using a nuke, though, you will be more or less safe yourself. Going through that list in the opposite direction you will be less and less sure that you will be safe. With a knife, you're pretty unsafe, especially in a gunfight.

So, when allies were making their strategic or tactical decisions, and when the US army (or any other army) are making them now, they have to consider how much their lives are worth vs. the lives of civilians. Of course, there isn't a dollar value here, so there's really a gut feeling of how much you wish to risk to make sure civilians don't get hurt too much (and how much is too much, if there is such a thing).

I'm always fascinated when I think of such things. Glad I'm not there..
posted by rainy at 10:41 PM on July 12, 2007


There's even a whole section on Jew Watch called Jewish Mind Control. Jewish Mind Control! That's the kind of site that is. You really, really shouldn't link to it.

Maybe someone made him do it...
posted by homunculus at 10:46 PM on July 12, 2007


there are still rules of warfare

when one side tears certain pages out of the rulebook, it loses the moral authority to point to them should the tables turn.

they have to consider how much their lives are worth vs. the lives of civilians

plus the risk of tit-fot-tat retaliation by the enemy you're fighting.

This depends on the type of weapon employed

"This is a political war and it calls for discrimination in killing," [John Paul Vann] said "The best weapon for killing would be a knife. . . .The worst is an airplane. The next worse is artillery. Barring a knife, the best is a rifle-you know who you are killing." To his dismay, Vann found that his U.S. superiors did not want such close-quarters fighting any more than did the South Vietnamese. The last thing the generals wanted to do was to get to know the Vietnamese better or to fight with primitive weapons. They wanted to look like Eisenhower or Patton at the glorious conclusion of World War 11, commanding a "machine" that would crush the guerrillas with the most sophisticated methods.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:54 PM on July 12, 2007


(anyone who can't spell Begin's last name right should probably not be commenting on teh Joos. I consider my King David Hotel reference above something of a cheap-shot, but on the other hand I consider the fpp analysis somewhat similar to this genre, if that makes any sense.)
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:57 PM on July 12, 2007


point. counterpoint.
posted by dreamsign at 1:00 AM on July 13, 2007


People generally only resort to terrorism when their cause is in a pretty desperate state, so it shouldn't be surprising that their declared aims are frequently not achieved.
posted by Phanx at 2:41 AM on July 13, 2007


The Madrid train bombings certainly seemed to work in getting Spain to pull out of Iraq.
posted by mattholomew at 5:52 AM on July 13, 2007


The PDF's author, not me, claims that the goals of these organizations haven't been met; I'm saying that many elements of the societies these groups may have imagined would come about after their victory, like local control of education and policing, have come about

I just don't understand this thought process. The organizations involved say "We want X, dammit!"; X doesn't come about, but you say "You say you want X, but I think you may be imagining a society in which Y occurs, and look, now there's Y! So don't worry, be happy!" No offense, but can't you see how ridiculous that is? I hate to repeat myself, but there is no Basque state (nor is there likely to be one), and Ireland is not unified (nor is it likely to be). I respectfully submit that it's up to the members of ETA and the IRA to decide whether their goals have been met. I further submit that it's not only the PDF's author and me who think they haven't.

the wartime justice of giving Jerry a taste of of his own medicine

That's just what discussions like this need, a good dose of childish comic-book bullshit. Yeah, give them krauts and japs what-for! Watch the little bastards scurry before they burn in the fiery hell they deserve! Good thing they're not really human, so the whole question of "morality" doesn't even arise!

Was the firebombing of Hamburg a terrorist act?
that's the wrong question


By "the wrong question" I take it you mean "a question I don't want to think about." Because it seems like a perfectly reasonable question to me, even if answering it might be uncomfortable for those who take a comic-book view of The Good WarTM.
posted by languagehat at 6:31 AM on July 13, 2007


Robert McNamara: LeMay said if we lost the war that we would have all been prosecuted as war criminals. And I think he's right. He... and I'd say I... were behaving as war criminals.
Robert McNamara: LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side has lost.
Robert McNamara: But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?
posted by kirkaracha at 6:56 AM on July 13, 2007


By "the wrong question" I take it you mean "a question I don't want to think about."

no, i meant "a question i thought long enough about to realize it was the wrong question instead of replying with something stupid, snarky and insulting like you just did"
posted by pyramid termite at 6:59 AM on July 13, 2007


I'm sure AQ counts their Spanish train bombings as a success. They got their way.
I was in Spain in February and it sure didn’t look like Al-Andalus had been re-established. Guess next time I should look closer.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 7:16 AM on July 13, 2007


So if I ask for 7 ponies, 6 is a failure? right.
posted by NortonDC at 8:10 AM on July 13, 2007


Well, what I want to know is what's Bruce Schneier's real motive in writing this article?

I mean, sure, we could run around like a bunch of naive children and uncritically assume his intention is to highlight how relatively ineffective terrorist organizations that specifically target civilians appear to be at bringing about their stated goals, and how there are some recent findings in the field of neuroscience related to the intentional bias that may shed some light on why such organizations have such poor track records--as Schneier would no doubt like us to believe by going through this patently absurd exercise of writing an article about it.

But clearly, there's a general consensus that what Schneier really wants is to declare himself the Divine King of America and to establish a permanent Schneierian potentate.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:11 AM on July 13, 2007


Also no false flag stuff. Reichtag fire - terrorism?
posted by Smedleyman at 8:25 AM on July 13, 2007


Good thing they're not really human, so the whole question of "morality" doesn't even arise!

I'm not saying I think retaliatory area-bombing is necessarily justisfied or moral -- in fact any action done in anger is not moral in my book -- rather that was among the motives of the principals.

And as for AQ effecting Spain's exit from the Coalition of the Willing, this is debatable given that the people of Spain overwhelmingly didn't want to be there but their neo-fascist (to use the term loosely) leadership went in anyway.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:05 AM on July 13, 2007


@languagehat:

I respectfully submit that it's up to the members of ETA and the IRA to decide whether their goals have been met. I further submit that it's not only the PDF's author and me who think they haven't.


Of course. I guess my (possibly crackpot, totally un-researched) theory is based on the idea that membership in these organizations doesn't necessarily stop at the guys who build the bombs and push the red button, and that there are probably a number of actors who may have been more moderate members of the groups who feel that they've received enough concessions through indirectly-related policies by states to withdraw from the more violent parts of the organization, neutralizing it over time. That doesn't mean a stop to attacks, but if the groups are hemorrhaging members who advocate violence (and again, I have no idea if they are), they might be more willing to negotiate if they can see that the future doesn't hold much hope for their causes. That's where I came up with the "hey, we don't need X anymore because we're happy with Y" thing - the idea that not every member of an organization like ETA will have the same goals as those stated in the official manifesto, and that as the membership of the organization changes, so would the thinking of its higher-ups.

Look at how the IRA has evolved from one organization to many over time, with various parts becoming political parties and other organizations, not all of whom advocate the violent overthrow of the established order. Some members have clearly chosen a pathway leading to legitimacy and social acceptance; this could be a result of lots of things, like members growing up and having families, or greater economic prosperity among populations in Ireland and elsewhere that have dried up previously strong sources of support.

Just an idea.
posted by mdonley at 9:22 AM on July 13, 2007


"But it’s precisely the control of symbol that so few terrorist groups do well."

I got shouted down in MeTa by putting forth the argument that both the Coalition and the Insurgency were failing to achieve their objectives, and that further insurgencies and revolutions very rarely achieve their objectives.

Part of what I based that statement on was a comparison of Maoist insurgency in Mexico to that of the EZLN (Zapatistas). The EZLN, through a more nuanced set of objectives and through the "control of the symbol," achieved more of what they had stated in their manifesto than their competing rebel groups, with a lower cost in both lives and resources.

But hey, I live in an intellectual space where the French liberals of '68 were victorious through art...
posted by klangklangston at 10:10 AM on July 13, 2007


The people of Spain (i.e. those who vote) didn't want to go to Iraq in the first place. The conservative government decided to go anyway so that they could score some benefits from being mates with Bush, Blair and co. The bombings had next to fuck all influence on the Spanish people's desire to duck out of that cluster fuck quick smart. Even if the train bombings hadn't happened and the socialists had got in the Spanish would have pulled out. If you doubt this, try speaking to some Spanish people - few, if any thought that being part of Operation : Not Exactly Thought This One Through, Have We? was a grand idea to begin with.

More is the pity that Blair didn't maybe think "Hey, 2 million people have just walked through London saying 'this is a shit idea - can we please not go?' maybe the people I allegedly serve don't all think it's a peachy keen idea to go to the Middle East and fuck it all up again" and then maybe we wouldn't be in this mess. Then again, if we actually got to vote on what we'd like to do ourselves rather than rely on "representatives" we may be able to actually resolve issues. Of course then we'd have the tyranny of the majority...

Oh fuck it. I'm just going to go to plan B and take over the world with the help of gay penguins and sea monkeys.
posted by longbaugh at 10:11 AM on July 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


the French liberals of '68 were victorious through art...

That's just so... so... sweet.

Now then:

All acts have multiple motivations. For any terrorist act, T, there are always n stated motivations, and even more unstated motivations (n+U). Of course, we have to allow for the possibility that some groups actually have fewer unstated motivations than stated ones: so, Al Quaeda may say they care about American hegemony in the world or the plight of the Palestinians, but only really desire (a.) American forces out of Saudi Arabia and (b.) to impress the ladies.

I think we have to acknowledge that failing to achieve n goals does mean that achieving n-5 goals was total failure, especially if some of the stated goals were absurd and the group could only achieve n-10 goals through non-violent means. As I read it, in that scenario, violence achieved 5 goals that nonviolence would have failed to achieve.

By way of evidence: John Brown got his way.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:34 PM on July 13, 2007


Squashing Hiroshima and Nagasaki worked *great*.

Oh right, it's not terrorism when states do it.
posted by LordSludge at 1:01 PM on July 13, 2007


Somehow I missed a very important not:

failing to achieve n goals does NOT mean that achieving n-5 goals was total failure
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:02 PM on July 13, 2007


Al Qaeda Is Getting Stronger - Richard Engel Says “It’s All About Iraq”
posted by homunculus at 2:05 PM on July 13, 2007


I got shouted down in MeTa by putting forth the argument that both the Coalition and the Insurgency were failing to achieve their objectives, and that further insurgencies and revolutions very rarely achieve their objectives.

Knock it off. Sorry to dredge this up but you started here. I must remind everybody That was not your thesis.

The discussion was about the efficacy insurgencies (and the use of small arms specifically against large military) throughout history. Which have been enormously effective.

And you weren't shouted down. You were proven flat out wrong.

And you still can't admit it. Jesus. Klang can you ever admit when you're wrong for Christ sake.
posted by tkchrist at 7:12 PM on July 13, 2007


The Terrorism Enhancement: An obscure law stretches the definition of terrorism, and metes out severe punishments.
posted by homunculus at 1:14 PM on July 14, 2007


White House Spying Subpoena Showdown Looms
posted by homunculus at 3:47 PM on July 14, 2007


Oh, TK, all this love you've got for me is getting embarrassing. I mean, that you have to make up things just to get my attention! The discussion was actually about gun control, and insurgencies have not been nearly as effective as you'd like to think (especially not ones who target civilians)— mostly because for every insurgency that wins and we remember, there are five that are put down and everyone forgets.

(And you'll note that since it started here) my point was exactly that both the Iraq insurgency and the American occupation are failing to achieve their stated objectives.)

But hey, don't feel like you ever have to admit that you're wrong either, or that you just make stuff up when it suits you, because that would cloud the whole TK Christ mystique, man. You keep on rockin'!
posted by klangklangston at 10:20 AM on July 16, 2007


“I got shouted down in MeTa by putting forth the argument that both the Coalition and the Insurgency were failing to achieve their objectives, and that further insurgencies and revolutions very rarely achieve their objectives.”

That, in particular, is a hot button topic. Very emotional. Depending on how one looks at the objectives of the invasion it can be either a failure on many levels, or a fantastic success (e.g. Halliburton, et.al).

From the perspective of a guerilla - different story. The only objective can be simply to resist. In terms of the revolutionary, combat is just one of the tools. Franklin’s effort with the French, for example, was crucial for the American revolution. And that was all about control of symbol. But you needed to show victories in the field (I’ll get back to that point).

Any insurgency, particularly a popular one, is going to be able to outmove any given occupying force. There are a number of counterstrategies to negate this (none of which we’re using in Iraq) but if that force is not willing to engage in brutality itself (or attrition), not willing to absorb and foster dependancy of the host population, or not willing to ‘win hearts and minds’ - that is, work with the host civilians to force insurgents into brutality (negating their popular support) then they’re going to stalemate. There are a number of tactical responses as well. The Boer war (second) basically created modern counterinsurgency defensive warfare by creating stations, sectioning off the country and running sweeps in force rather than having scattered patrols chasing tail all over the veld (sound familiar?) supplimented by Kitchener’s use of guerilla tactics (raiding the Boers) using intelligence from local civilians (itself a victory).
But the Boers got self-government and a bunch of money to rebuild - which is why the Maritz rebellion later failed. So you get this sort of “well, who won?” thing because it’s reconcilliation that ultimately carried.
Would reconciliation have occured without the violence?

Things are as they are because people think that is how they are. They stop thinking that way, it stops being that way. Violence is just one tool to acheive that. But you can lie about violence and even if you get your ass kicked in the field, lie convincingly enough about your victory - you win. Which is what Franklin did. (Not to mention the gallantry shown by Washington to the Hessians, et.al - a great number of symbolic victories there)

Similarly, the Boer bitter enders lost in the field, didn’t achieve any of their objectives, but they eventually wound up running SA for 50 years through the national party (aparteid, all that) by working within the system.
So what the hell happened there? Win? Loss?

It’s tough to pin a tail on these kinds of engagements because it’s at the intersection of where warfare meets politics and it’s an ongoing process.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:20 PM on July 17, 2007


Related
posted by Smedleyman at 12:26 PM on July 17, 2007


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