Interesting article – I don’t know if I agree with each and every example - specifically, I don’t think we have any numbers on the effect of Israeli tactics on terrorism recruitment either, even if we do have data on attacks on Israel – but I do agree that the little trope of “conventional wisdom” that we are off creating more terrorists is a pure guess.
If people are going to throw this around like it’s a fact, perhaps we should have some proof…
Where Do Terrorists Come From?
Pundits keep maintaining that George W. Bush’s policies are creating more terrorists than John Kerry would. How’s that?
by Jonathan V. Last
11/01/2004 7:20:00 PM
BY NOW, you have no doubt heard that President Bush is “creating more terrorists” with his neoimperialist wars on terror, Iraq, Arab nationalism, etc. The meme has gotten so out of control that even mostly sensible people such as Mickey Kaus are spouting it. Sayeth Kaus:
"In the larger war on terror, however, it's no contest. Both candidates will hunt down and kill existing terrorists. The issue is how many new terrorists are we creating. . . . Let's say that n is the number of net new terrorists who'll come online in the next four years. Isn't it obvious that n is a lot lower if Kerry is president than if Bush is president?"
Obvious how? The creation of terrorists is one of those perfect little Rorschach tests since, as Reuel March Gerecht recently pointed out, there is (a) no data on how many terrorists there are today; (b) no data on how many terrorists there were yesterday; and © no foreseeable way to collect data on how many terrorists there will be tomorrow. In other words: You can take whatever position you want with utter confidence because nobody will ever be able to prove you wrong.
Kaus theorizes that terrorists are like the brooms in Fantasia–and he may be right. But he has no evidence–statistical or anecdotal–to support him and his conclusion is far from obvious.
What do we know?
Prior to George W. Bush, American policy towards Islamic extremism was basically one of malign neglect. This policy–the adverse of Bush’s–seems to have created very many terrorists. Or at the very least, it seems to have created very many terrorist attacks. See September 11, 2001.
Kaus and others theorize that America’s war on terrorism is helping recruit many new terrorists. Maybe, maybe not. There’s no proof either way. There is proof, however, that soft American policy in Somalia–again, the opposite of Bush–was used as actual al Qaeda recruiting propaganda. (Remember that bin Laden called America the “weak horse.”) So it would seem that, at the very least, the terrorists thought the old, softer, American policies were good for helping them create new terrorists.
There’s another country which has some applicable experience in these matters: Israel. Under Ehud Barak–the Israeli Bill Clinton / John Kerry–terrorism in Israel skyrocketed. This may well have been accompanied by an increased number of terrorist recruits. Under Ariel Sharon–the Israeli Bush–terrorist attacks dropped precipitously. It seems possible–maybe even obvious!–that terrorist recruiting also suffered.
So where do Kaus and the rest of the world get this strange notion that confronting, fighting, and killing terrorists only makes more of them? Partly it comes from confusing anger with recruitment. Arab Muslims may be angrier at the United States under Bush, but that does not mean, ipso facto, that they will all subsequently go and sign up at the al Qaeda chin-up bar.
The other factor is an implicit belief that Islamism is different from other pathologies. I doubt Kaus would have argued in 1944 that killing Nazis was only going to create twice as many of them. But he, and others, seem to believe that there is something about Islamism that causes its adherents to be less-than-rational actors.
Whatever the case, the world should let go of this silly trope.
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard and runs the blog Galley Slaves.