Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Everybody Needs A Mentor

We were discussing in the comments of an earlier post the role of technology in the Islamist world. One commenter wrote about terrorists' use of the Internet, how many terrorist websites have sprung up over the last decade or so, and another commented on what a shame it is that regimes such as Iran don't use technology to benefit their citizens, but rather fear its potential to give information to the masses, so they end up arresting bloggers and destroying satellite dishes. It's an odd combination, don't you think? One arm of Islamofascism fears the effects of technology, and the other is anxious to use it for their own twisted purposes. One can only hope that what Jesus said in Matthew 12:25, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand," applies to terrorists, fascist regimes, and the Internet.

Anyway, the comment about mushrooming terrorist websites made me take note of this Weekly Standard article, by Emily Hunt, who writes about the effectiveness of terrorists who forgo the usual camp training and go in for do-it-yourself bomb making and the like. What she has to say is on some levels encouraging. She makes the case that Internet-trained terrorists generally turn out not to be very good at it. Bomb-making is apparently a tricky business, frought with peril:

Even the savviest of terrorists have a low attack success rate, and Murphy's law--that everything that can go wrong, will--applies to terrorists and law enforcement alike. Inexperienced individuals are especially prone to error during the planning stage, and bomb construction remains one of the most daunting obstacles. Minor miscalculations in constructing an explosive device can result in significant setbacks, injury, or even death. Since September 11, hundreds of aspiring terrorists all over the world have been killed by the premature detonation of their own bombs.

Hunt says that it's not just the practicalities of bomb-making and the like that cyber-trained terrorists lack. She explains the benefits of learning from seasoned instructors:
But the psychological benefits of training and mentorship may be as important as the tactical ones. Learning from an expert can provide a novice with the necessary confidence to keep his cool and evade law enforcement. Time at a training camp also creates an opportunity for ideological indoctrination and interaction with a community of dedicated militants, which can galvanize the will of a young operative.
Okay, so the ones who go it on their own are going to be more likely to crack under scrutiny, and bail on the whole "martyrdom" thing when the chips are down. Good. That's what I like to hear. I vote for the do-it-yourself movement. Maybe more of these poor deluded souls will lose their nerve before they reach the actual exploding stage of their self-imposed missions, or at least be dumb enough about it that they get caught before the big bang.

If only that were the end of it. While Hunt's assertion that isolated individuals picking up the terrorist trade from online instructions lack the skills and will required to make their plotting truly effective is something of a comfort, her article doesn't stop with a big sigh of relief. On the contrary, she looks at where the proper training is to be had. It turns out, many terrorist roads lead to Pakistan. The recent arrests of the would-be plane bombers have led straight to Pakistan, and highlighted Pakistan's, and President Pervez Musharraf's, bi-polar approach to terrorism:
Pakistan has a history of supporting militant groups in the region that long pre-dates Musharraf--a policy originally conceived to help counter-balance India's regional power. However, in the post-September 11 environment, Pakistan now has an interest in reining in those same militants, both to avoid provoking the United States and to assure the stability of Musharraf's regime. Simultaneously, the Pakistanis wish to maintain the militants as leverage against neighboring countries.
Hunt points out that the U.S. is generally pleased with the Pakistani government's cooperation on terrorism. The latest airplane plot was foiled with their assistance. However, and here's where it gets weird, the Pakistani government fears the terrorist element because of that cooperation, and yet wants on some level to keep them around as a way to keep India in check. Once again we are faced with a house divided. Pakistan is going to have to make up its mind on this one, hopefully coming down on the side of denying the terrorists a place to lay their heads. Hunt suggests that the recent arrests in London, which, as I said, lead back to Pakistan, should urge the U.S. to apply pressure in that direction:
This thwarted attack suggests that the United States must exert more pressure on reluctant states to crack down on terrorist sanctuaries and sympathizers. At the same time, the Bush administration must do more to assist those states that have the will but not the capability to fight terrorism. From Pakistan to Lebanon to the Sahara desert, this week's close call demonstrates that denying terrorist's sanctuary has never been more important.
Clearly, Hunt is right. If terrorists truly are less capable of carrying out their wretched plans without the benefit of mentoring, and the camps which provide the environment for that mentoring, then President Bush's original premise that we must confront any nation that gives them haven is even more crucial. I also think she is right in calling for the administration to assist those nations that have the will but not the capability to fight terrorism. What's been happening in Lebanon springs quickly to mind. Not every nation that has terrorists wreaking havoc in their land are inherently agreeable to the situation, and we don't need to threaten to bomb them to kingdom come to elicit their cooperation. As we've already determined, learning, oddly enough, from the example of terrorists, everybody needs a mentor. Some of these countries we really just need to stand firmly beside, without wavering, and assure them of our determination to assist them in their struggle--and then back it up with the actual "standing beside them" part. (Much like the U.N. is not doing in Lebanon.) Herein, of course, lies the rub. Determination and not wavering in our aid of them, as we take our mutual stand, can only happen if we ourselves are not a house divided. Judging from U.S. politics of late, that's a pipe dream. We're not only a house divided; the parts of the house are on floating islands growing farther apart by the minute. What I'm hoping is that there are enough of us on the "determined" island to make us able to stand, that our combined wills can bring us to anchor, and that the place we come to anchor is the right one.