Is the War on Terror?

Terrorism Quiz

by Jim Walsh
19-Apr-04


Dr Jim Walsh is Exec Director of Harvard University's Managing The Atom project at the John F Kennedy School of Government. Dr. Walsh's research and writings focus on international security , and in particuar, topics involving weapons of mass destruction,terrorism, and the Middle East. His comments and analysis have appeared in the NY Times, the Washington Post, LA Times, the Times of Londonn , the Christian Science Monitor ETC!
You see him on CNN a lot.
We're very pleased that he comes and talks to us and keeps us current everrytime he's inLos Angeles.
He wrote this Terrorism Quiz and the War on Terrorism Quiz for this site.

Terrorism Quiz

True or False?

I. Iraq, Terrorism and Rogue States

1 Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden collaborated prior to the 9/11 attacks, and Hussein may have played a role in 9/11.

False.

Although polls have shown that approximately 70% of Americans believe that the two worked together, Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that he had never seen a "smoking gun" or "concrete evidence" of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq and President Bush conceded that Saddam was not involved in the 9/11 attacks.

Moreover, since the occupation of Iraq over a year ago, no new documents, interviews, or evidence of a partnership between the two have surfaced. An alliance between Bin Laden and Hussein prior to 9/11 seems unlikely, given their ideological differences. Bin Laden is an Islamic extremist whose goals include replacing leaders like Hussein with governments run by clerics. Hussein was secular nationalist in the tradition of other Arab nationalists such as Egypt?s Gamal Nasser and Libya?s Muammar Qadaffi. Indeed, Bin Laden has repeatedly described Hussein as an infidel and information from captured Al Qaeda operatives suggests that Hussein did not work with the Iraqi leader.

If anything, Hussein?s support for terrorism waned in the decade following the Persian Gulf War, particularly after 1994. Although he extended moral and diplomatic support to many terrorist groups in the Middle East, Hussein was deterred from directly supporting terrorist operations. Instead, he hoped to have the economic sanctions lifted, and avoid a direct confrontation with the United States.

2. Rogue or other states are likely to transfer weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups.

False.

At no time in modern history has a government transferred any weapon of mass destruction ? chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear ? to a terrorist group. National governments are particularly guarded about who controls such weapons. From a government?s perspective, a terrorist group is an especially unreliable partner. Terrorists often turn on their patrons, and for their part, governments frequently hang their terrorist friends out to dry when it is politically expedient. In short, governments are highly unlikely to share their most precious weapons with violent, unreliable, non-state actors.

Recent events, however, point to a few scenarios in which a country?s WMD might fall into the hands of terrorists. The relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda is suggestive of one such scenario. Had the Taliban ruled neighboring Pakistan rather than Afghanistan, it is certainly conceivable that they would have shared their (in this case, Pakistan?s) nuclear stockpile with Al Qaeda. One can also imagine a scenario in which a country like Pakistan collapses and its nuclear stockpile falls into terrorist hands. Finally, recent revelations about Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan and his nuclear black market suggest the possibility that terrorists could acquire WMD from private firms or individuals. In short, the danger is not "rogue states" like Iraq or Iran transferring WMD to terrorists. These are functioning states with something to lose. Instead, the real danger is from 1) failed states or states that have been co-opted by terrorists (e.g., Afghanistan), 2) nuclear weapons states that have collapsed (e.g., the former Soviet Union), and 3) the nuclear black market.


II. Al Qaeda and Terrorism

3. Al Qaeda is a small terrorist group and unrepresentative of most of the world?s terrorists.

True (prior to 2002).

Prior to 9/11 Al Qaeda was in a category by itself ? a transnational terrorist organization. By contrast, most terrorism has been local, not international. It is conducted by local groups, with local recruits, over local grievances, and directed at local targets. Al Qaeda was one of the few organizations that had a global agenda and a global reach. While Al Qaeda trained up to tens of thousands of aspiring terrorists in its Afghan training camps, its core membership was comparatively small, in the hundreds.

Since 9/11, however, the picture has changed. Al Qaeda?s core leadership has been damaged, but anti-American and anti-Western terrorism by Islamic extremists has spread. In testimony before Congress, the Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, warned that Al Qaeda has now evolved into a "movement." The result has been the development of little Al Qaedas. What has fueled this transformation? According to American intelligence officials, Al Qaeda and others have been able to take advantage of an unprecedented level of anti-Americanism, particularly in the Muslim world. The combination of the Iraq war and the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have helped terrorist recruiters bring new members to their cause. Unfortunately, the result has been that Al Qaeda-style terrorism is increasingly representative of terrorism in general.

4. The FBI reported that there are 5,000 Al Qaeda members and sympathizers in the United States.

True.

In February of 2003, the FBI suggested that there were nearly 5,000 Al Qaeda members and sympathizers in the United States" This figure was used cited by Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

5. There are 5,000 Al Qaeda members and sympathizers in the United States.

False.

Few terrorism specialists took the FBI?s claim seriously, and the agency offered no evidence to back up its contention. By July of 2003, the government and the FBI rescinded the earlier claim and instead suggested that there were only a hundred or so Al Qaeda sympathizers (not operatives), and that none of them posed imminent threats. The FBI even switched strategy, indicating that they would simply monitor suspects instead of arresting them.

6. Terrorism is a new challenges the U.S. faces in the Post Cold War era.

False.

The challenge of terrorism has been around for decades. Indeed, the presence of metal detectors in US airports prior to 9/11 had its origins in the spate of airplane hijackings the U.S. suffered during the 1970s. In fact, there were more terrorist attacks during the 1970s and 1980s than in the1990s. The good news has been that prior to 9/11, the number of terrorist attacks has dwindled in each successive decade. The bad news is that the lethality of the attacks has increased. The character of terrorism has changed over time, with recent decades witnessing the rise of religious inspired terrorism, rather than the ideological terrorism that was the mainstay in the past (e.g., the Bader-Meinhoff Gang, the Red Brigades, and the PLO).


7. Prior to 2003, most acts of terrorism against Americans occurred in the Middle East and were directed at military or government targets.

False.

Most attacks against Americans occurred in Latin America and were directed at businesses.


III. US Efforts to Reduce the Threat of Terrorism

8. America can ?eradicate? terrorism

False.

Terrorism is a tactic employed by many groups and people ? individuals like the Una-bomber, non-state actors like Al Qaeda or right wing paramilitary groups in Latin America, and even governments. All have used terrorism as a tactic. The good news is that U.S. can do quite a lot to minimize the threat of terrorism, both by reducing the capability of terrorist organizations and by doing a better job at defending itself (e.g., protecting nuclear material so that it does not fall into the hands of terrorists.) The U.S. has had success against terrorism in the past, as have many European governments, but "eradicating" or eliminating terrorism is not a realistic goal.

Finally, it should be pointed out that several people in policy circles have begun to argue that the U.S. needs to collaborate with "unsavory characters" or bad guys who are themselves terrorists or engage in violent activity. Advocates of this change argue that we have to work with these people in order for American intelligence to collect information about other terrorists. At the least, this questionable tactic will have the effect of supporting some terrorists ? not eradicating them.

9. Fighting terrorism is the US government?s top priority.

False.

The top priority of the US government is Iraq, and in particular, fighting the insurgency. Whenever the U.S. is at war and US soldiers are dying on the battlefield, that becomes the immediate priority of an administration. These priorities are then reflected in the way the government spends its time, attention, and resources. During the war in Iraq, for example, money, intelligence assets, translators, and military forces were diverted from Afghanistan and counter-terrorism to Iraq.



10. The US government has not significantly reduced the danger of a terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological).

True.

The Bush administration has claimed that its main accomplishment in this area is the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (an idea first proposed by Democrats and resisted by the President). The work of DHS has focused primarily on reorganizing the government?s already existing efforts. Very little has been spent on actually upgrading our defenses. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of terrorism with nuclear weapons. The Department of Energy reports that the countries of the former Soviet Union possess over 600 metric tons of material that could be made into nuclear weapons, less than half of which has anything but the most rudimentary protection. The unprotected material could be stolen, fashioned into a crude weapon, and smuggled into a US port. At the current rate of "progress," it will be over a decade before this material is secure. Thus, while the Bush administration says that stopping WMD terrorism is a top priority, the reality is that it will spend 50 times more in Iraq this year than it will spend on protecting nuclear material.




12. We are fighting a "war against terrorism."

False.

The war metaphor employed by the government is both misleading and inapplicable. Wars, by definition, are between two governments (not a state and a non-state organization). Wars are inherently finite events ? they have a beginning and an end (marked by a peace treaty or armistice). The "war on terrorism," however, has no end. Thus, any civil liberties or other rights that might be suspended during wartime would, in a war against terrorism, be permanently suspended. The war metaphor also seduces the listener into believing that counter-terrorism is first and foremost an issue of military strategy. It is not. Effective counter-terrorism will require a variety of policy tools including law enforcement, diplomacy, financial strategies, public communications to counter terrorist ideology, defending vulnerabilities (e.g., securing cockpit doors), use of technology, and the like. The use of military force is an important but extremely narrow piece of counter-terrorism.

Moreover, the use of the "war" metaphor has proven to be highly elastic. Though we are in a "war," the government refuses to treat the detainees at Guantonimo as prisoners of war.

Terrorism is a crime, and the U.S. should seek to bring terrorists to justice, to undermine their capacity to inflict harm, and to defend ourselves against attack. The U.S. and other countries have fought terrorists successfully in the past and will no doubt be successful in the future (if we don?t play into the hands of terrorists by making it easier for them to recruit members). Use of the war terminology, while common, only confuses our thinking and our ability to fashion effective counter-terrorism strategies. It also provides demagogues and opportunists with the ability to justify their own policy agendas in the name of national security.

To defeat terrorism, we will need to be clear and precise about our objectives and tactics. The language of war offers neither clarity nor precision.

13. Thanks to actions by the US government, Al Qaeda is weaker today than prior to 9/11.

True and False.

Al Qaeda is weaker today for a variety of reason. The U.S. has removed the Taliban, and thus eliminated a state-sponsored sanctuary for Al Qaeda training and operations. It has killed or arrested numerous members and has put the central leadership on the defensive .

On the other hand, it appears that Al Qaeda has adapted and is doing as well or perhaps even better than before in the areas of fundraising and recruitment. More ominously, Al Qaeda has and appears to be morphing into a "movement." Bin Laden, with the help of the war in Iraq, may have achieved one of his longtime goals ? radicalizing a larger segment of the Muslim world. The appearance of little Al Qaedas is worrisome. While these new, largely autonomous organizations lack the resources and capacity of the original Al Qaeda, the growing numbers suggest that more people than ever before are willing to take up arms against the United States and its allies.


14. When it comes to terrorism, the key question is are we safer today than we were before 9/11?"

False.

A more important question is "are we as safe as we should be?" Have we taken all the measures we could have to protect America? The answer is "no." Nuclear material remains unsecured; ports remain vulnerable; states and cities have layed off police and firefighters; we have been slow to reform intelligence and slow to examine what went wrong before 9/11.

Moreover, after 9/11, instead of focusing our efforts on protecting the homeland and stabilizing Afghanistan, the government instead pursued a war in Iraq ? thus undermining our efforts against terrorism. Indeed, the real question may be "Are we safer in 2004 (after the Iraq war) than we were in 2002 (after 9/11)?. Here the answer would have to be a resounding "No!"



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