The scary story business

Strategy Page:

The war on terror grinds on, with no agreement on who is winning. Actually, the terrorists are losing, but that’s not news. The reason there’s no agreement on this has a lot to do with how the media business operates, and how politicians react to uncertain threats. To succeed in the news business, you have to get out there with exciting news. If you cover terrorism, that means lots of stories about impending, or potential, terrorist, attacks. Terrorism makes for great news. By definition, terrorism is scary. If you have some active terrorist groups out there, all you need is a few real, or suspected threats from them to provide an ample supply of scary stories.

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So how do you keep score? There are two ways. First, by the number of terrorist attacks being inflicted on your people. Second, by keeping track of how well the terrorists are doing in achieving their stated objectives.

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Meanwhile, the Islamic radicals have seen themselves beaten at every turn. The original goal of the Islamic terrorists was the expulsion of all infidels (non-Moslems) from the Middle East. Beyond that, they wanted to revive the “caliphate” (all Moslem nations united in one large entity governed by Islamic law) and convert the entire planet to Islam. Before September 11, 2001, the United States and Europeans treated the growing Islamic radicalism as a police matter. On September 11, 2001, it became clear that the police approach wasn’t working. Within three months, the United States had invaded Afghanistan and removed the Taliban from power, and al Qaeda from their bases. Al Qaeda members in North America and Europe were hunted down and arrested in large numbers. All this just made the Islamic radicals in the Middle East angrier, and eager for revenge. Then came the invasion of Iraq. Al Qaeda members, and supporters, from all over the Middle East went to Iraq to join the fight. Most of them died. Now there were more infidels than ever in the Middle East. Terrorist attacks against the infidels in their homelands were declining. Local governments in the Middle East were attacking al Qaeda wherever it could be found. Al Qaeda condemned democracy as “un-Islamic,” but free elections were held in Iraq and Afghanistan for the first time in decades.

Most Europeans, and many Americans, disagreed with the Iraq invasion, and continued to believe that more of a police approach was the way to go. We’ll never know if that strategy would have worked, although it certainly failed in the 1990s. What we do know is that the Islamic terrorists are losing. But as long as Islamic radicalism continues to be so popular in the Moslem world, the threat of massive casualties from terrorist attacks remains. It's going to be a long war.
Traditionally you win wars by reducing you enemy's ability to operate militarily in response to your initiatives. The enemy in Iraq has always been weak in this regard. Anytime they have come up against US forces the enemy has been destroyed. Now the enemy rarely attempts attacks on US forces other than occassional hidden bombs. Most of the enemy's recent attacks have been on Iraqi recruits who are signing up for service. The enemy has still been unsuccessful at slowing the interim governments ability to recruit. The enemy appears to be reduced to a strategy that attempts to demoralize by random bombings. Such a strategy might work against a Democrat administration in the US, but it has not shaken George Bush's will. That is why the US election was as important as the one in Iraq.

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