A Modest Proposal in Response to Terror

If you had a neighbor who dressed in the fashion of one of the local gang-banger outfits, who tended to hang out with similar friends, who - when talking - used gestures typical of the gang-banger crowd, you could reasonably assume that he belonged to the local gang.

Transfer your venue to the Palestinian Territory, and add to the mix that your neighbor frequently fired his Kalishnikov into the air outside his place, and had regular visitors in his home who looked and acted just like him. Would you be unreasonable if you assumed that this neighbor probably belonged to one of several active local terrorist organizations? Or that they might even be operating out of his house?

Make your venue even more general - let it be nearly anywhere on earth, with a few obvious exceptions like Antarctica, South Georgia Island, or Nome, Alaska.

No matter where these groups congregate, unless they are composed entirely of underground members - unless you are dealing with a sleeper cell - the location will stand out like a sore thumb.

It is not that difficult, in other words, to identify the exact location of most active terrorist groups. The exceptions, like al Qaeda, have decentralized so that there really is no one spot that can be called headquarters. Even such groups, however, have exposed cells, collections of active members who clearly advertise their nefarious presence.

Now let's examine a terrorist strike like the recent bomb attack at the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, and the apparently related attempt to shoot down the Israeli airliner with Russian-made Manpads missiles (See "Terror in the Sky - the Manpad Threat," DefenseWatch, Nov. 13, 2002, for a discussion of Manpad attacks).

A previously unknown militant group calling itself the "Government of Universal Palestine in Exile, The Army of Palestine" claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying in a statement that it sent two groups of attackers to Kenya to "make the world hear once again the voice of Palestinian refugees."

Kenyan and Israeli officials said al Qaeda probably was involved, and said they had arrested two people for questioning. The U.S. government said it was too early to determine who was responsible.

This kind of reaction to a terrorist event is quite typical. Shortly after the event, some group puts its hand in the air and takes credit. Investigation often reveals that another group actually did the deed, although usually it turns out to be just one group. It is rare, however, that nobody at all assumes responsibility for the act of terror.

The affected government commences an investigation immediately, of course - usually the United States or Israel - although increasingly, terrorist acts are happening to other countries as well.

The guys who pull these stunts are far from being rocket scientists, so that the investigation turns up significant clues before too long, and eventually a likely perpetrator is brought to justice. This usually happens within weeks or months, but it can take years. Often, by the time trial commences, the world has forgotten about the incident.

Or, the news value of the incident builds so that the fanatics who carried out the sadistic terror become heroes to their fellow terrorists and role model examples for younger wannabe martyrs around the world.

Our system of justice is set up to ensure that an oppressive government cannot trample on the rights of innocents. We deem this sufficiently important that we often focus on protecting the rights of the accused in order to ensure that punishment is meted out only to the guilty.

This works fine in the civilized societies of the West. The process seems to work against us, however, when we deal with terrorism. Here, then is a proposal for dealing with this problem.

When Americans or American interests are victims of an act of terrorism, and when a group takes credit for the act, we should immediately accept their statement as fact and take them out. Should another group also take credit, we should immediately accept their statement as well and take them out, too. If nobody takes credit, which is relatively rare, we should immediately assign credit to the top group in a list of known terrorist organizations that we will have prepared earlier, and take them out.

We should do this swiftly and as thoroughly as possible. By "take them out," I mean to launch an all-out air attack on the most likely location of their headquarters facility, using smart bombs, state-of-the-art missile capability, or even air-burst technology. If this is not possible for any physical reason, we should air drop 10,000 Marines into the immediate area to overwhelm any resistance by pure force.

What about collateral civilian damage? Consider first that not all civilians are innocent. Recall the Palestinian mother who videotaped her son and herself shortly before he blew himself up along with a group of Israeli teenagers. On tape she said she wished she had twenty more sons to sacrifice. I suggest that far from being atypical, this mother expressed the prevailing sentiment in her neighborhood. In my book, this makes her a combatant. I want her gone with the rest of them.

By using the best of technology, we can concentrate the attack against the specific target facilities, but beyond that, we should let the chips fall where they may. Civilians living next door to these terrorist outfits know full well what is happening; they accept the risk by remaining there. If we let the entire world know clearly how we will deal with terrorists in the future, people will get the point, especially after we actually do this once or twice.

Then when terrorists move in, the truly "innocent" local population will move away, creating a no-man's land around the cell.

What about the objections of local governments? Recall what President Bush said shortly after 9/11: Either you are with us, or you are with them. As the world's only superpower, we can and should take whatever action is necessary to protect our citizens. Any local government that objects to our anti-terrorist incursion obviously is not "with" us.

Of course, the world will react with revulsion. America will be hated by all but a few friends, and the rest of the world will try to organize its collective will to punish America for its arrogance and abuse of power.

So what else is new? The only difference between now and then is that the world will be less a few more terrorists, and the rest will be a little less sure of their own future.

As the only remaining superpower on the planet, the United States has an ethical responsibility to use its power to make the world a safer place for everyone. It's time we stopped playing to the private agendas of those who appease terror with payoffs. It's time we became proactive in our response to terrorism. It's time, once and for all, without mercy to rid the world of those who use terror to accomplish their nefarious goals.