Supporting the Global Campaign against Terror
by Michael Rubin
The fight against terrorism is no closer to success today than it was a decade ago when, in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks, President George W. Bush declared a Global War on Terrorism. The problem is not simply that Western agencies are outfoxed by state sponsors of terror and trans-national groups, but rather that Western governments and international organizations continue to suffer self-inflicted wounds. These include a failure to reach consensus on what terrorism is; political correctness that leads Western officials to downplay or ignore the religious component to terrorism; the legitimization of terrorists' grievances; and a failure to recognize that diplomacy often does more harm than good.
Until and unless Western governments recognize that terrorist ideologies, religious or otherwise, must be delegitimized and that the military must have the primary role in defeating terrorism, then terrorists will continue to scourge Western societies. Talk cannot fill vacuums or deny terrorists control over safe-havens. While many diplomats argue that it never hurts to talk, negotiation with terrorists and legitimization of their sponsors often undercuts counterterrorism and can do far more harm than good.
Why Terrorism is like Pornography
Terrorism is a tactic of choice for state sponsors and rogue groups when its ability to achieve political aims outweighs the costs. The lack of consensus over the definition of terrorism complicates the fight against terrorism. A 1988 study found 100 different definitions of terrorism used by professionals. More than two decades later, Alex P. Schmid, editor of Perspectives on Terrorism, compiled 250 definitions. In many ways, terrorism's definition parallels U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's 1973 quip about pornography, "I shall not today attempt further to define [obscenity]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…."
The UN has been no more successful at defining terrorism. In a 1994 resolution, the UN General Assembly defined terrorism in part as "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public," while a bit over a decade later, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said terrorism was any act "intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a Government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act." Neither definition, however, enjoys codified status or recognition as law. A proposed UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism has gone nowhere as states seek to exempt their pet causes from the terrorism label. In effect, they argue, that if they are sympathetic to the cause, the ends justify the means. While most states condemn terrorism, they make exceptions for the groups with whom they sympathize.
The willingness of diplomats to negotiate with terrorists or engage with their sponsors bolsters terrorists' legitimacy, validates their tactics, and shields terror groups from consequence. Turkey, which Western diplomats look at as a model for Arab states in transition, provides a case in point. Its premier, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has repeatedly embraced Hamas as a legitimate political entity. Less than a month after Hamas won the Palestinian Authority election, Erdoğan invited Khalid Meshaal, the head of Hamas' most militant faction, to Ankara. The decision to receive a senior Hamas delegation prior to that group's renunciation of terrorism legitimatized both Hamas and its tactics. Yet, even as Erdoğan celebrated Hamas, he denounced any suggestion of parallels between Hamas and the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK], a group as vicious in its targeting of civilians. The PKK seized upon the precedent. "Is it not blood that is shed in the fighting between the Turkish army and the Kurdistan freedom movement, just like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?" asked Murat Karayilan, a senior PKK commander. The Turkish Foreign Ministry's argument that elections should cleanse Hamas of its terrorist label falls flat as pro-PKK front groups repeatedly dominated elections in major cities in majority Kurdish cities like Van and Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey.
The desire of diplomats and human rights activists to take, in effect, an a la carte definition of terrorism has given solace to terrorists and made a mockery of counter-terror efforts. A decade ago, for example, histrionics were running high at the United Nations. After enduring months of Palestinian terrorism, Israel launched a military operation to root out bomb makers and their factories in the West Bank. Human rights activists and diplomats cried foul, and promoted the myth of the Jenin massacre. Professor Derrick Pounder, part of an Amnesty International investigative team, suggested civilian deaths would rival what had occurred in Bosnia and Kosovo. "I must say that the evidence before us at the moment doesn't lead us to believe that the allegations are anything other than truthful and that therefore there are large numbers of civilian dead underneath these bulldozed and bombed ruins that we see," he told the BBC. Of course, this was nonsense. Pounder was off by a factor of 5,000: 28 Israelis and 52 Palestinians dead, only a handful of who were civilians.
It was against this backdrop that on April 15, 2002, the United Nations Human Rights Commission – at the time led by former Irish President Mary Robinson – passed a resolution endorsing "the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle." France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Sweden all supported the resolution. While diplomats may have voted for the resolution with Palestine in mind, the precedent enables terrorists to justify their actions in international humanitarian law. In effect, the UN commission engrained in humanitarian law the right to use car bombs or attack kindergarteners. Sympathy for terrorist causes and a tendency to favor David over Goliath continues to corrode the international legal response.
A la carte exceptionalism extends even to Al Qaeda. Not only did the U.S. Treasury Department label Saudi businessman al-Qadi a "specially designated global terrorist" for his support of al-Qaeda, but the United Nations Security Council also placed him on its terrorism list and demanded that all countries freeze his funds. Enter Turkey's prime minister: After Turkish newspapers reported that Erdoğan confidant Cuneyd Zapsu had donated money to al-Qadi, his former business partner, Erdoğan declared, "I know Mr. Qadi. I believe in him as I believe in myself," and refused to discipline Zapsu or freeze al-Qadi's funds in Turkey.
Diplomacy Undercuts the Fight against Terrorism
The United States is not blameless in pursuing policies which undermine the fight against terrorism. The problem is not the alignment of U.S. foreign policy, but rather premature recourse to diplomacy. Between 1995 and 2000, Clinton administration diplomats—up to and including a cabinet-level official—argued that the best way to address Al Qaeda was to negotiate with the Taliban. During the course of those six years, American officials and Taliban representatives met on almost three dozen occasions. American diplomats embraced such theories that if only they could convince the Taliban to send its clerics to "moderate Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia," the problem might resolve itself. The Taliban was never sincere in its talks, however. While American officials drank tea with their Taliban hosts, Al Qaeda used Taliban territory to plot the 9/11 attacks.
Current efforts to resolve the Afghan situation diplomatically by negotiating with the Taliban simply repeat the past. Blessing a Taliban office in Qatar merely allows the militant group easier access to donors. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that Taliban attackers are drawn from groups to which the Americans reached out.
The American experience is not exclusive. Pakistani authorities long sought to strike a deal with the Pakistani Taliban. In February 15, 2009, they reached an agreement to effectively hand the Malakand District over to a local Taliban group. Rather than end their struggle, however, the Taliban used the territory as a springboard to expansion. With their safe-haven established, the Taliban doubled the number of forces in the Swat Valley to at least six thousand, enabling their march southward, forcing the Pakistani army into a much broader military operation than Pakistani authorities had ever expected.
Diplomacy undercuts counterterrorism in other ways. Too many senior statesmen exaggerate the efficacy of dialogue and approach terrorism as an inconvenient obstacle to diplomatic deals. On August 1, 1996, against the backdrop of evidence showing Tehran's complicity in Khobar Towers attack, former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger testified before a joint hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Judiciary Committee about how, regardless of proof of complicity, diplomatic considerations sometimes triumphed over direct action. In 1986, for example, he described how Reagan ordered retaliatory bombing against Libya for its role in the La Belle disco bombing but, two years later, neither Reagan nor George H.W. Bush retaliated militarily for the Libyan regime's role in the far deadlier Lockerbie bombing.
Diplomatic considerations regularly compromise the fight against Iranian terror sponsorship. In July 2001, an Atlantic Council team led by Lee H. Hamilton, James Schlesinger, and Brent Scowcroft largely dismissed State Department findings regarding the Iran's state sponsorship of terror and advocated lifting trade bans. They further argued for the revision of legislation linking the State Department's Terrorism List to export controls, and continued to argue that the State Department's definition of terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience," unfairly targets only "one strand of the whole spectrum of politically motivated violence," one really not much different from asymmetrical warfare. Rather than hold Iran accountable for terrorism, Scowcroft and his fellow travelers suggested ignoring its terror sponsorship. He castigated automatic sanctions imposed on state sponsors of terrorism, and lamented how the State Department's Patterns of Global Terrorism blamed the entire state apparatus, even when only some factions or groups were involved.
The Iran example is the rule rather than the exception. An as blatant case of prioritizing diplomacy over accountability involved the George W. Bush administration's desire to remove North Korea from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. With the Iraq war so unpopular in 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided to double down efforts to win a breakthrough on North Korea in order to cement a positive legacy for Bush. When American and North Korean diplomats met in Beijing, Christopher Hill—the Bush administration's point man on North Korea—offered to remove North Korea from the state sponsors of terrorism list. Rice scrapped the Clinton administration's demand that Pyongyang provide a written guarantee that it had ceased terrorism, would acquiescence to international agreements combating terrorism, and would address its past terrorism.
Rice's decision—motivated by a desire to facilitate a diplomatic breakthrough—in effect let North Korea off-the-hook on its terror sponsorship. North Korean terror complicity may not have been as blatant as the Rangoon and Korean Air bombings of the 1980s, but the North Korean regime refused to provide full accounting of its kidnappings of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, a major factor in the listing. While the communist regime returned five surviving abductees in 2004 of the ten it eventually admitted seizing, the Japanese government maintains Korean agents kidnapped 80 Japanese. Rice pressured Tokyo to tone down its objections, though, and told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the White House was under no obligation to classify the kidnappings as terrorism. The White House and State Department proceeded to brush off evidence that North Korean kidnapping of South Korean citizens was even greater. Appeasing the enemy had trumped honoring the allies.
North Korea's delisting came despite testimony from French, Japanese, South Korean, and Israeli sources who alleged robust North Korean involvement with both Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Ali Reza Nourizadeh, a London-based Iranian reporter close to the Iran's reformist camp, described North Korean assistance in the design of underground Hezbollah military facilities in Lebanon, assertions supported by a diverse array of reporting. Such tunnels allowed Hezbollah both to shield rockets from Israeli surveillance prior to the 2006 war. Moon Chung-in, a professor at South Korea's Yonsei University, has also reported Mossad allegations that Hezbollah missiles included North Korean components.
North Korean efforts to aid the Tamil Tigers were even more blatant. The Far Eastern Economic Review reported in 2000 that North Korea has supplied the Tamil Tigers with weaponry, citing intelligence sources in Bangkok. The State Department's Patterns of Global Terrorism made similar claims in 2001, 2002, and 2003, making subsequent claims that Pyongyang had abandoned the terrorism business curious. Three times between October 2006 and March 2007, the Sri Lankan navy intercepted cargo ships flying no flag or identifying marker found to be carrying North Korean arms. For Rice and Bush, though, diplomatic considerations trumped the reality of North Korean terror sponsorship.
Sri Lanka presents another case highlighting how counterproductive a diplomatic strategy to counter terrorism can be. In May 2009, the army of the South Asian island nation of Sri Lanka did what decades of UN diplomatic intervention and State Department pronouncements could not do. It ended its 26-year war against the Tamil Tigers. The war not only extracted a tremendous economic cost, but had a massive human cost—the UN estimated that the death toll might exceed 100,000. In the end, Sri Lankan action was both merciless and effective. The army reconquered Tamil Tiger-held territory and slaughtered the group's leadership. The final battle was messy, but with the Tigers gone, both Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Tamils can get on with their lives and, with luck and persistence, build a strong, democratic, and prosperous state. War is hell, and the Sri Lankan army was brutal during the war's climax, but this brutality was well-justified, ended the conflict, and ultimately saving lives. The Tigers seldom if ever abided by the laws of war, and so it is rich to upbraid the Sri Lankan army for showing little restraint. Rather than sully a victory over terrorism, the West should celebrate it. And rather than condemn a struggling nation and an ally, Western diplomats and UN bureaucrats should congratulate the Sri Lankan government for accomplishing what outside diplomats had long failed to do.
Planning and taking action against global terrorist networks
Two unresolved debates regularly undercut international action against terrorist groups. The first is whether the West should consider terrorism a judicial rather than a military threat, and the second is whether the best long-term strategy to counter terrorism would be to resolve terrorist grievances.
Until Western states consider terrorism a military matter to be resolved primarily by force of arms, terrorists will win. The reasons are many: If terrorism is simply a criminal matter, then states cannot use military force to counter it. Exposing intelligence to conform to judicial proceedings compromises sources and threatens future defense which might rely on the same sources or codes. Differences in treatment of evidence also matters: While a military approach is proactive, judicial proceedings are necessarily reactive. In order to protect intelligence, convictions would require forensic evidence gathered in the wake of an attack. Successful counterterrorism, however, should prevent attacks, not simply punish them. Certainly, the Pentagon perceives terrorism as a military matter, even if the State Department is less sure. "This is both a battle of arms and a battle of ideas," the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) declared. The report continued to argue that defeat of terrorist networks depends upon augmenting human intelligence, surveillance, special operations, and willingness to conduct irregular warfare. The 2010 QDR was less explicit, but did argue that "successful COIN [counterinsurgency], stability, and CT [counterterrorism] operations are necessarily the products of strategies that orchestrate the activities of military and civilian agencies."
Little does more to undercut effective counter terrorism than the urge to address terrorist grievances. Indeed, beyond international organizations and multilateral coalitions' inability to define terrorism, little does more to undercut the fight against terrorism than embracing a grievance-centric approach to the resolution of conflicts. It has become fashionable for academics and diplomats to believe that resolving terrorist grievances. University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape, for example, has argued that resistance to occupation motivates most suicide terrorism. Quipping "It's the occupation, stupid," he argued that "suicide terrorism such as that of 9/11 is particularly sensitive to foreign military occupation, and not Islamic fundamentalism or any ideology independent of this crucial circumstance." End occupation, he suggests, and terrorists will cease striking at Western targets.
Pape's willingness to discount ideology is a fatal flaw in his arguments, however. Occupations have spanned centuries, but suicide bombings are a relative new phenomenon, one which has grown alongside Saudi Arabia's oil wealth and the Islamic Republic's export of revolution. While adherents of the grievance school argue that resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict is the key to stopping Islamist terrorism, the record suggests otherwise. In 1946, the Military Intelligence Division of the U.S. War Department—the predecessor of the Defense Intelligence Agency—asked its analysts to speculate on long-term threats to global security. The result was prescient. Even before the United Nations considered the partition of Palestine and two years before Israel's independence, the Division identified Islamic fundamentalism as a growing threat to U.S. interests. The problem was not grievance regarding U.S. foreign policy; U.S. involvement in the Middle East was minimal. Rather, the concern was ideological. "There have appeared in Egypt and elsewhere several societies that stress Islamic culture; these are openly anti-European and secretly anti-Christian and anti-Jewish. The best known is the Ikhwan el-Muslimin," the Muslim Brotherhood.
When it comes to Al Qaeda and most terrorism in the Middle East and South Asia, religion matters. Islamist radicals terrorizing young women in Paris housing projects, bombing nightclubs in Java, and beheading journalists in Pakistan act not in reaction to occupation, but rather on an embrace of a once radical, but increasingly common strain of Islamic interpretation.
A politically correct and whitewashed understanding of jihad further obscures the ideological motivation for terror. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a self-described Muslim advocacy group which often hews close to the Muslim Brotherhood's line, for example, declares, "Jihad means to strive, struggle and exert effort… There is no such thing as 'holy war' in Islam." John Esposito, a Georgetown University professor whose program is largely financed by Saudi donors, is more nuanced, but still obfuscates. "Jihad in Islam means the struggle to be a good Muslim," he told PBS, although he acknowledged. "Jihad also means the right, indeed the obligation, of a Muslim to defend himself."
Both claims mischaracterize traditional Islamic jurisprudence. During the Golden Age of Islam between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, most theologians understood jihad to be military. The ninth century Islamic scholar Muhammad bin Isma'il al-Bukhari, compiler of the most authoritative collection of reports about the Prophet Muhammad's life, dedicated one-third of a volume to jihad as holy war.
In the 1970s, against the backdrop of the oil boom and concurrent influx of luxury goods into the newly-affluent Saudi society, Saudi theologians promoted the idea that Western goods—color televisions, Cadillacs, and cosmetics—represented an assault against Islam as menacing as any military threat. They described a deliberate Western "cultural attack" seeking to undermine Muslim faith. To these paranoid preachers, David Hasselhoff posed as much a threat as an F-14 fighter over Mecca.
Into this xenophobic tinderbox came a spark in the form of a Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood adherent named Abdullah Azzam. After landing a job at Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, he took a young Osama Bin Laden under his wing. Azzam added a new dimension to the discussion of the Western cultural assault: He argued that every Muslim had a duty to defend Islamic lands against the penetration of infidels, whether in the form of armies or over the airwaves. The Muslims' obligation to fight was not optional, but rather was as mandatory as the Ramadan fast or daily prayer. Western academics may explain jihad is purely defensive in nature, but they should not assume that they and the Islamist enablers of terrorism share their view of what defense means. It is intellectually dishonest to apply a 21st century rather than 11th century notion of jihad to extremists who seek to rebuild a social order 1,000 years in the past. Likewise, it is important to remember that when jihadists and Western diplomats might discuss 'defense,' they can have very different understandings.
Diplomats may want to address grievances, but terrorists are not willing to compromise upon ideology. Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing, declared, "There is no truce in Jihad against the enemies of Allah." When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda in Iraq's leader declared in January 2005, "We have declared a bitter war against democracy," there simply was no way to appease him. No government should be willing to sacrifice democracy for peace. Likewise, it would be suicidal for Israel to strike a deal with Hamas, when the Hamas charter calls for Israel's eradication and when the terrorist group underlines its unwillingness to abide by any agreement with Israel. Still, many in the West try to force other countries to make concessions, especially when the negotiating chit is not their own society. This backfires. The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review was correct when it observed, "Victory will come when the enemy's extremist ideologies are discredited in the eyes of their host populations and tacit supporters." Few remember the Baader-Meinhof Gang simply because its ideology was so roundly discredited. If terrorists can claim victories, however, they gain adherents.
Validation bolsters terrorism. Terror sponsors and leaders calculate cost and benefits before undertaking terrorism. Every terrorist action or attack creates forensic evidence which increases the vulnerability of terrorist leaders or provides evidence to link them with their sponsors. If terror leaders can gain wider support for their cause, greater press exposure, of political concessions, they calculate that the net benefit is greater than the risk. Engaging terrorists not only legitimizes extremism, but actually encourages it. If the natural inclination of Western diplomats is to compromise with any demand, terrorists simply stake out even more extreme positions. The tendency of diplomats and journalists to condemn disproportionality in response also undercuts the fight against terror. Disproportionality is a deterrent to terrorism. Linkage between equitable distribution of casualties and legitimacy of conflict has little basis in international law. When terrorists understand that the costs of their actions will be far greater to themselves than their adversaries, they will abandon terror and either seek other strategies, or simply fade way.
Implications of Key Threats Emanating from the Middle East
Unfortunately, the Middle East today remains a Petri dish for terrorism. The problems emanate from two main poles: Iran and Saudi Arabia. When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini launched the Islamic Revolution, he sought to export its ideology far beyond the borders of Iran. Today, Iranian leaders interpret the call to export revolution as an endorsement of violence. When, in 2008, former President Muhammad Khatami suggested that Khomeini had sought only to transform Iran into a soft-power utopia, and that Iran should therefore refrain from the more violent aspects of revolutionary export, 77 members of parliament demanded that the intelligence ministry prosecute him. Ayatollah Mahmoud Heshemi Shahroudi, at the time the head of Iran's judiciary and a close associate of the current supreme leader, quashed any further debate. Against the backdrop of the controversy, he emphasized that the export of Iran's revolution was a military strategy, telling the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, "You are the hope of Islamic national and Islamic liberation movements."
The threat from Tehran will only worsen as the regime strengthens. Too many Western officials misread regime trajectory. After uprisings in 1999, 2001, and 2009, there is a common assumption that once the genie of reform is out of the bottle, it cannot be returned. Iranian officials, however, beg to differ. Declining birthrates benefit the regime. When Khomeini seized power, he suspended Iran's family planning programs, and the birthrate skyrocketed. During the Iran-Iraq War, it was not uncommon to see posters depicting a good Islamic family with a mother, father, and six or seven children. Soon after the war concluded in 1988, however, the Iranian government realized that it could not handle such rapid population growth and authorities again authorized birth control. According to UNICEF, Iran's average annual growth rate was 3.4 percent between 1970 and 1990, but declined to 1.6 percent in the following decade, and was just 1.1 percent in the first decade of the 21st century. The result is that the post-revolutionary baby boom generation is now in their late twenties, many out of school but not yet with their own families. In five years, however, many of these protestors will settle down and begin to focus more on concerns such as salary and rent checks rather on grand notions of liberty and democracy. The regime realizes that the next generation of university students and recent graduates will be far smaller and more easily contained. It is quite probable that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believe that if the Revolutionary Guards can suppress protests for just a couple years, the Islamic Republic can guarantee itself decades more.
Amplifying the Iranian threat is Syria, Iran's traditional ally and the transit point for supply to Hezbollah. The Obama administration's decision to withdraw from Iraq has risked snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by enabling overland resupply from Iran into Syria. Much more than an end to atrocity in Syria is at stake. Should Bashar al-Assad survive and reassert control over his country, he will solidify a pro-Iranian block which extends from Western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. In such a scenario, the lack of Western resolve to back up demands for Assad's ouster might lead the Syrian President both to believe that he faces no accountability for his future action and to seek revenge using terror networks he has long supported.
Assad's fall may change the nature of the terrorism threat but, thanks to five decades of Baathist rule, it will not eliminate it. The Assads, both father and son, have long played a double game that has enabled not only radical Shi'ite groups like Hezbollah, but has also empowered Sunni Islamists. The assumption that the Assad regime does not support Islamism is rooted in the regime's troubled history with radical Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood established a branch in Syria in the late 1950s. The group remained quiet for two decades but, in 1979, it began to engage in terrorism, most famously when members of the group murdered several dozen Alawi military cadets near Aleppo. Three years later, after some 200 Islamists staged an insurrection in Hama, the Syrian military razed much of the city, killing between 10,000 and 20,000 civilians. In the aftermath of Hama, many analysts note that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence although only the most prescient Syria hands have observed that, behind the regime's veneer of secularism, Hafiz al-Assad subsequently sought to co-opt Islamism.
While the Syrian government has, on occasion, extradited alleged Islamist terrorists to other Arab countries when diplomatic necessity dictated it do so, more often than not, it refused to hand over terrorists, suggesting that Assad lacks a principled commitment to combat Islamist terrorism. In September 2007, U.S. forces in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, twelve miles from the Syrian border, discovered computers and documents that traced more than 600 foreign fighters who had infiltrated into Iraq over the previous year. The files showed that contrary to Syrian protestations of opposing Islamist terror, Syrians coordinated the insertion into Iraq of almost all the fighters listed. While Saudi Arabia shares a far longer—and more porous—border with Iraq than does Syria, even Saudi terrorists preferred to infiltrate via Syria, presumably because the Saudi government was less willing to facilitate Al Qaeda after that group had struck at the Kingdom in 2003 and 2004. Even before the uprising, Syria was far less hostile to Sunni Islamist terrorists than many diplomats supposed.
Saudi authorities may not have been willing to allow Al Qaeda to base itself in the Kingdom or openly transit it, but Saudi Arabia and its Wahabi neighbor Qatar continue to support militancy. Saudi officials may assure Western officials that they have cracked down on terror finance, but Saudi-funded mosques from Turkey to Indonesia continue to fund the most radical interpretations of Islam. Few Islamist terrorists have had no contact with Saudi-funded mosques or organizations.
Qatar is the stealth catalyst for radicalism. Because of his desire to lead from behind, President Barack Obama pushed countries like Qatar to the diplomatic forefront, a move which because of the agendas of Doha's agenda, privileges more militant and Islamist factions inside transitional Arab Spring countries. Qatar, for example, funded the most militant Libyan factions, many of which refused to subordinate themselves to the Transitional National Council in the wake of Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi's fall. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supported not only the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but also the Salafi an-Nour Party. When the Muslim Brotherhood becomes the 'moderate" faction,' it's clear something has gone wrong.
Implications of the evolving nature of Al Qa'ida
Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden's death was a major triumph for Western counterterrorism, but Bin Laden had long ceased to be more than the symbolic leader of global terrorism. The United States and NATO's long manhunt forced him into isolation, cut him off from his network save messages passed to and from by courier. Because Bin Laden was effectively off-the-grid, jihadists had long before begun to debate how Al Qaeda should operate into the future. While some jihadist theoreticians like Abu Musab as-Suri argue for the need for a decentralized structure in order to defeat surveillance and counter-terror efforts others like Abu Bakr Naji emphasize the necessity to possess territory in order to realize their social agenda and, more importantly, to maintain a safe-haven from which they can plan and execute missions unmolested.
Al Qaeda has spawned four major subunits: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); Al-Qaeda in Iraq; al-Shabaab in Somalia; and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In addition, various Al-Qaeda affiliates and terrorist groups operate from Pakistan: The Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network, and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Pakistan's Punjab province, a densely-populated plain that is home to more than half Pakistan's population, will be the counter-terror battleground of the future. In effect, each of these safe havens enable Al Qaeda to combine As-Suri and An-Naji's vision. Today, Al-Qaeda still has free reign in its Somali, Saharan, Yemeni, and Pakistani safe-havens to plan attacks against Western targets. Attacks by the underwear bomber over Detroit and the Times Square car bomb were planned in Yemen and Pakistan respectively. That they were averted had more to do with luck than counter terror skill. Western failure to deal with the existence of these safe-havens suggests the same lack of seriousness about counterterrorism that marked U.S. and European policy through the 1990s
The West may never eliminate terrorism completely, but if Western officials re-examine base assumptions, they can still triumph over many terrorist groups and convince potential sponsors that support for terrorism carries a cost too great to bear. Western leaders must recognize that just as military action and sanctions have costs, so too does diplomacy. Sometimes the cost of misapplied diplomacy can be even greater than that of limited military action. While international organizations—chief among them the United Nations—stake a claim to be the arbiters of legitimacy, the UN's inability to achieve a consensus definition of terrorism suggests that structured founded more than a half century ago may be ill-designed for a 21st century fight. Multilateralism is no panacea. Unilateralism certainly has drawbacks, but it also has strengths.
Amidst a political culture which often questions military actions and collateral damage, Western officials should remain secure in the knowledge that counterterrorism is the moral fight. Jihadists, for example, work to their own ends; they seldom have the best interests of the local population at heart. Whether in Al-Anbar or southern Afghanistan, they often run roughshod over local culture, burden local populations with taxation and property confiscation, abuse local women, commit robbery and kidnapping as a source of income, and destroy centuries-old balances between local populations and tribes.
Governments which provide safe-haven to terrorists must be made to understand that undercut their long-term survival, whether because terrorists will inevitably turn on them, or because victims of terrorist attacks will hold sponsors responsible for their proxies' actions. Supporting foreign fighters often has economic consequences as well, not only in terms of potential sanctions but also because there is seldom significant investment in areas ruled by shari'a.
As the war on terrorism enters its second decade, resolve will also become a key determinant to success. Al Qaeda succeeded until 9/11 for three reasons: First, the West failed to recognize that ideology mattered. Hesitant to enter a cycle of tit-for-tat violence, the Clinton administration opted not to respond to the 1993 World Trade Center attack or the 2000 strike on the USS Cole. Al Qaeda simply concluded that they could continue their ideological mandate with abandon. Second, the West failed to recognize that terrorists thrive in a vacuum. State failure, no matter how far away, can pose a grave threat to Western democracies. It is against this context that the looming withdrawal from Afghanistan should concern, so long as diplomats and statesmen fail to explain how they will fill the vacuum in Afghanistan should its government topple. Third, strength matters. Bin Laden famously quipped that no one supports the weak horse. Perception means more than reality. A willingness to cede territory to terrorists or retreat under fire, be it in Lebanon, Iraq, or Afghanistan promises not peace but rather greater bloodshed. A return to the status quo ante is an illusion, and a dangerous one at that.
 Alex P. Schmid, Albert J. Jongman et al., Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories, and Literature (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1988), pp. 5-6, as cited in Jeffrey Record. Bounding the Global War on Terrorism. (Carlisle Barracks: U.S. Army War College, 2003), p. 6. For the 1974 International Association of Chiefs of Police definition and the 1976 National Advisory Committee on Justice, Criminal Standards, and Goals definition, see: Stephen Sloan, "Terrorism and Asymmetry," in Challenging the United States Symmetrically and Asymmetrically, p. 174.