Legitmizing Terrorist Organizations Will Not Make Them Placid Rulers[The Nobel Committee gave the Peace Prize to President Obama because he can visualize a world without nuclear weapons -or because he isn’t President Bush. Big deal. Since they gave it to Yasser Arafat, it hasn’t been worth “a bucket of warm spit,” to paraphrase John Nance Garner.]
[The Nobel Committee gave the Peace Prize to President Obama because he can visualize a world without nuclear weapons -or because he isn’t President Bush. Big deal. Since they gave it to Yasser Arafat, it hasn’t been worth “a bucket of warm spit,” to paraphrase John Nance Garner.]
The more important story in today’s paper is the public emergence in the Administration of the idea that “political wings” of terror organizations should be recognized as legitimate. Accordingly, the Taliban wouldn’t need to be defeated, just de-fanged. The Washington Post cites a “senior administration official” saying, “The Taliban is a deeply rooted political movement in Afghanistan, so that requires a different approach than al Qaeda.” Hezbollah’s political ascendance in Lebanon was referred to by “some inside the White House” as a positive transformation from a terrorist organization to a political party. Hamas, no doubt, is not far behind.
Press Secretary Gibbs pointed out, “There is clearly a difference between” the Taliban and “an entity that, through a global, transnational jihadist network, would seek to strike the U.S. homeland…the Taliban are, obviously, exceedingly bad people that have done awful things…Their capability is somewhat different, though, on that continuum of transnational threat.”
There are three underlying assumptions: 1) there are separate and identifiable political and military “wings,” the former of which can be persuaded to give up the latter; 2) no matter what crimes an organization commits-against its own people or other people-if some portion of its leadership agrees to participate in politics, the United States will accept it as legitimate; and 3) if it doesn’t threaten Americans at home, we don’t care who else it threatens.
The first is demonstrably untrue. Chickens have “wings,” terrorist organizations have a political leadership that uses military force to impose itself on its own people and make war on others. Hezbollah and Hamas emerged as political players precisely when they had the military force to impose themselves on the Lebanese and Palestinian people respectively-and to make war on Israel. Fatah, before Hamas, did the same. It is unclear in the case of the Taliban who the political leaders are and how/why they should give up their arms. The Taliban is enormously unpopular inside Afghanistan; its ability to terrorize the locals is the only reason it is taken seriously by the United States in the first place.
The second speaks ill of the U.S. government. We used to be (sometimes rightly) accused of cozying up to dictators and ignoring the people they abused at home. The Bush administration tried the opposite approach in Iraq-freeing the Iraqi people from a dictator who was killing people in horrifying numbers, to judge from the mass graves uncovered. Critics condemned “nation building” as colonialist and our efforts in Iraq as “occupation.” The current administration has returned to American form-declining to meet the Dalai Lama as a nod to China; playing footsie with Venezuela, Nicaragua, Egypt and Cuba; and now suggesting we could live with the Taliban even if the Afghans would be returned to the decade-long nightmare from which the United States rescued them in 2001.
The third is shortsighted in the extreme, for two reasons: First, because they haven’t doesn’t mean they won’t. There was a time before al Qaeda could strike us in our homeland. Hezbollah, until 9-11, had killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization-and never killed one of us here at home. Terrorist organizations are parasites that need organisms upon which to feed as they grow in size and capability. The United States is not just at war with al Qaeda, or the Taliban-or Hezbollah, for that matter. We are at war with terrorists and the states that harbor and support them. To the extent that we help terrorist organizations BECOME the states that harbor and support terrorist organizations, we ensconce permanent sources of nutrition for the parasites. Lebanon cannot escape Hezbollah; the Palestinians will never escape Hamas if the United States and the EU engage it; Afghanistan will never escape the Taliban if we legitimize them in government.
Which is the second reason that considering threats only to the American homeland is shortsighted. The ideologically like-minded come together to attack “the other.” Hezbollah, armed and trained by Iran, threatens the Lebanese people, Israel, Egypt and Jordan. Hamas, increasingly allied with Iran, threatens Jordan as well as Israel. Venezuela and Iran support the FARC, which threatens Colombia. The Taliban, with its military and ideological links to al Qaeda, threatens the Afghan people and Pakistan.
If we consider threats to our friends or allies to be irrelevant to us, at some point they will find it worthless-or dangerous-to be our friends or allies.