Within hours of the terrorist attacks in Paris, politicians and presidential candidates in America and abroad have stated their desire to ramp-up military “involvement” in the Middle East. Given the horrors we witnessed, it’s certainly understandable on a certain level. But before jumping on the “tough on terrorism” bandwagon, we should reflect on the lessons learned in the 14 years since the 9/11 terror attacks and consider what actually works to counter this global problem and what doesn’t.
We can’t kill our way to victory:
There is a role for the U.S. military in responding to terrorism, however counterterrorism policy that relies too heavily on warfare and not enough on addressing the causes of terrorism is doomed to fail. As President Obama said in July:
Countering violent extremism is not simply a military effort. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they’re defeated by better ideas — a more attractive and compelling vision.
While I am generally very critical of the president’s policies in this area, he is exactly right in this statement. There are no easy solutions, but helping countries address the causes of terrorism; including human rights abuses by governments and the rise of extremism, is critical to making everyone safer. Simply killing more suspects and unintended civilians doesn’t do the job but it does fuel terrorist recruitment.
Suppressing human rights creates more terrorists:
In the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States, a panicked U.S. government rounded up thousands of suspects, both at home and abroad, and denied them basic due process rights. Those at home were detained based on minor visa violations as “persons of interest” to authorities.
Overseas, suspects were abused during interrogations, sent to CIA “black sites” where they were tortured, and eventually sent to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in an attempt to circumvent the requirements of U.S. law. That backfired: not only did the Supreme Court eventually step in, but to this day, al Qaeda and ISIS invoke Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and US torture of Muslims in their recruitment propoganda.
That network of global recruitment is what makes terrorists so difficult to defeat. We should not be adding fuel to their fire and we should likewise make every effort to encourage our allies to treat suspects humanely.
We lose critical counterterrorism cooperation from our allies when we don’t respect human rights and the rule of law:
Our allies have refused to share intelligence with us out of concern about the United States’ drone program, and refuse to turn over terror suspects out of concern that they’ll be sent to Guantanamo Bay. The United States should instead be the model of lawful behavior and remind our allies that valuable U.S. cooperation depends on their adherence to the rule of law as well.
Refugees are fleeing the same terrorism we’re fighting, so it’s in our interest to help them and not demonize them:
In the wake of the Paris attacks, we’ve already seen politicians in the U.S. and abroad suggest this is cause for denying admission to Syrian refugees. The opposite is true: Refugees to the U.S. are more carefully vetted than any other immigrant population, and offering them assistance and asylum not only helps desperate people in need, but supports the stability of our allies in the region as well as our own standing in the Middle East which has greatly eroded since 9/11.
The US can’t afford to alienate Muslims:
The post-9/11 mistakes and abuses understandably led many Muslims to mistrust U.S. authorities. We can’t afford for that to continue. If law enforcement and the military want an effective policy to counter ISIS and al Qaeda, it will need to work with and support Muslim communities, both at home and abroad.
Muslims suffer from Islamic terrorism more than any other religious or ethnic group, particularly in the Middle East. As they craft their counterterrorism policies, politicians and presidential candidates need to keep in mind that, aside from the actual terrorists, we’re all on the same side and we will be most effective if we fight terrorism together.