5 Dec '15     home | more politics

Terrorist Futility, and War

In San Bernardino the other day, two killers believed they were advancing Islam and winning for themselves martyrdom – a place in paradise. They killed fourteen. Revenge might have been at least one of the motives, but revenge doesn't win wars. To win, the terrorists need to capture mass devotion (hearts and minds) faster than dying themselves.

And they are not winning their war. In the world, roughly 440,000 were born and 185,000 died yesterday. ISIS believers are a tiny majority, including in Nigeria where Boko Haram is harassing people.

The US is estimated by authorities to have maybe 300 who actively support ISIS on social media. The FBI has said they have 900 open investigations into home-grown ISIS sympathizers. Let's say ISIS has 2,000 potential soldiers in the US, in a population of more than 300 million, including more than 2.6 million Muslims (as of 2010). At San Bernardino, it was 7 murders for each Islamist martyred. In the long run that could work out to 14,000 innocent people dying in the US – a horrible thought. But 14,000 or 20,000 killed in the US would not win the war for the Al Qaeda or Isis fundamentalist brand of Islam.

The Islamist strategy is crazy. Al Qaeda leaders were admitting as much a few years ago. But today a debate is raging whether ISIS is losing or gaining in its war for a caliphate, while people in the US are concerned about their safety when they leave home for work or wherever.

Some to the left-of-center are saying we should stay cool and rational in order to do the right thing as we pursue defensive measures against our new enemy. A part of that coolness is confidence that our security forces, including the FBI, are doing their best to keep us safe, and a part of the coolness is the confidence that we will defeat today's burgeoning hope for a Middle Ages religiosity. (It was this religiosity that inspired Al Qaeda and then ISIS.)

Republicans running for president are addressing the public's fears. Ted Cruz appears at a shooting range in Iowa and, according to the New York Times says, "We need to target the bad guys." Also in Iowa, Chris Christie says, "What I believe we're facing is the next world war." Jeb Bush says, "They have declared war on us, and we need to declare war on them." Marco Rubio makes a point against Democrats "still out there talking about gun control measures as if somehow terrorists care about what our gun laws are."

And Fox News host Sean Hannity joins the many who criticize President Obama for his unwillingness describe "the enemy" as Islamic terrorists. The president has said that the terrorists do not represent Islam. Hannity asks, "How can we win a war when we can't even name him?" (The answer, the same way we defeated Japan although we made a mess of what we called its people.)

Next, the continuing debate on the best way to defeat ISIS and how we are doing.

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