Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Generation of Terrorism

French President Francois Hollande called the recent terroist attacks in Paris an "act of war."  And so they are, provoking French aerial assaults on ISIS's facilities in Syria.  The United States and other Western nations will be ramping their mliitary efforts in Syria and Iraq against ISIS.

The young adults the military will seek to recruit for this new round of fighting were toddlers and kindergartners at the time of the 9/11/01 attacks.  An entire generation has grown up in the era of terrorism, with no end in sight to the violence. 

ISIS, and in particular its leadership, have taken a pummeling from Western air power in recent months, and suffered setbacks in the battlefields.  Most likely, the self-proclaimed caliphate in ISIS-controlled territory will eventually buckle under the assault of the multi-national force that has assembled against it, although this process will need time.

But we know from our years-long struggle with al-Qaeda that terrorist organizations have a hydra-like ability to metastasize.  Indeed, ISIS is an offshoot of al-Qaeda.  If the ISIS caliphate is destroyed, little ISIS cells sprinkled around the world will likely continue the insanity.  Western air power can't drop smart bombs on every disgruntled, radicalizing teenager.

After a generation of struggle with terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, it's clear that military measures aren't alone enough to suppress organizations like ISIS or al-Qaeda.  Even though al-Qaeda has lost its hideouts in Aghanistan, it has resurfaced in a number of other places.  Killing and capturing terrorists, and seizing their territory and assets, hasn't stopped them.

The key to destroying ISIS, al-Qaeda, and others of this ilk is to destroy their ability to recruit new members.  More than money, territory, weapons or other resources, terrorists need new recruits.  As long as they can recruit, their wars, suicide attacks and other outrages can continue indefinitely.  Cut off their recruits, and they're finished.

The coalition of nations aligned against terrorism needs to focus more, and probably much more, attention on undermining the terrorists' recruiting process.  This includes aggressive measures, such as arresting and imprisoning the preachers of violence, prosecution of those that engaged in or aiding terrorist activities, shutting down terrorist websites and social media accounts, and hacking into and destroying terrorist databases and computer systems.  Knock the bad guys off the Internet, and in today's online-dependent world, they're probably done for.

Also necessary are kinder and gentler measures that address the reasons why disaffected young people answer the call of the terrorists.  Tolerance and acceptance for immigrants and those of differing religions may be diminishing.  But more is needed, not less.  Young people who might recruited by the killers need to be brought into the mainstream of society, not marginalized or rejected.  Offer them respect and dignity, with a fair chance in the work place, and the purveyors of hate will be left behind in the dust.

Look at today's toddlers.  Look at how cute and lovable they are.  Think about what it would be like to see them, fifteen years from now, climbing in the future equivalent of a Humvee, hoping that there's no IED or ambush waiting for them down the road.  Think of them coming home with blown off limbs or PTSD.  Think of them being buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  Three volleys and Taps aren't much of a substitute for a vibrant, live young person.  If we can deprive ISIS and other terrorists of recruits, we win the war.