If I were a terrorist, I would have some New Year’s resolutions. I would be heartened that my recent efforts in places such as Mumbai were a propaganda success but discouraged that the U.S. has relegated me to hiding in my cave, looking constantly over my shoulder and wondering how my financial influence has dwindled.
I would have three resolutions. The first would be to resolve to be more patient. Dr. Marvin J. Cetron and Owen Davies of Forecasting International Inc. (who forecast in 1994 that terrorists would fly planes into buildings) published “55 Trends Now Shaping the Future of Terrorism” in February 2008. The authors predict that terror organizations need to wait a little longer for things to go their way. The U.S. did a number on their networks in Afghanistan and Iraq, but didn’t follow through and created a movement of sympathizers. New converts are joining the ranks every day, making terrorist organizations stronger, not weaker.
In addition to the growth of extremist fighters, homeland security experts are concerned with another disturbing trend. In the 1980s, many street-savvy, violent criminals were incarcerated for their involvement in the drug trade. While in prison, some of these inmates converted to Islam. Many of these prisoners will soon complete their terms and be paroled back into an American society that offers them very little hope. These criminals will serve as a ready pool of potential extremists for terrorist organizations.
The second resolution would be to work toward legitimacy. According to Cetron and Davies, terrorist organizations often provide for people those things ineffective governments can’t provide. Their generosity wins their cause a lot of friends.
Not long ago Hamas was just another terrorist organization. Then its political arm began to provide food, medical care and security to the population. Its efforts won it an election and now it rules Palestine. As current events show us, Hamas threatens our allies in the Middle East.
If terrorists work to legitimize themselves in places such as Iraq, Pakistan, and other wobbly “-stan” countries, they could easily reproduce Hamas’ success. If terrorists legitimize themselves in the right country, they could end up with a nuclear bomb. The authors sum it up like this: “When terrorists become the government, all terrorism is state-sponsored.”
The final resolution would be to simplify operations. Grand plans of flying planes into buildings or gassing thousands on subways are expensive and risky. The Mumbai shootings and the Beslan school attacks in 2004 are far easier to carry out, just as terrifying and very hard to detect. While the use of a weapon of mass destruction is probable (some predict a WMD will be used on U.S. soil during the next five years), simplistic attacks that produce mass casualties are a more likely scenario. An open society can be easily exploited through shootings, kidnappings and bombings.
In the end, a terrorist’s resolutions of patience, legitimacy and simplicity will make life a lot harder for the U.S. As Americans, we should take a long-term view of these terrorists’ resolutions. Pressured terrorists will change their tactics in a vigilant world. We need to be wary of combat operations’ third order effects and how they can turn global opinion against us and add to our enemies ranks.
Our press and public must be critical of terrorist organizations trying to gain legitimacy. They will talk a good talk and even walk a good walk, but their intentions will be sinister. We have to see through their ruse. Lastly, we must prepare and fund our first-responder community to thwart and respond to simplified attacks on the homeland.
Maj. Darryl W. Lyon of Bangor is an assistant professor of military science with the University of Maine’s ROTC department.