Written by J Baird
This week, the New York Times has provided online columns on August 8 and August 9 dedicated to brainstorming new ideas on how Jihadists can attack and kill Americans. The New York Times author, Dr. Steven Levitt, a writer on economics, used his online August 8 column "If You Were a Terrorist, How Would You Attack?" ....
to offer some new ideas to Jihadists on ways to murder Americans, and suggested some specific tactics that Jihadists can take to improve both the level of terror and effectiveness of such murders. Then Dr. Levitt invited the general public to offer their own suggestions on how Jihadists might be able to kill Americans, stating "I'm sure many readers have far better ideas. I would love to hear them." And disturbingly, many hundreds of readers obliged Dr. Levitt by offering horrific suggestions to help Jihadists. This was not yet enough for the New York Times, and so on August 9, Dr. Levitt wrote a second online column "Terrorism, Part II", where he defended his right to recommend murder ideas to terrorists, by explaining that there are a "virtually infinite" number of American vulnerabilities, and by claiming that the "terrorists are incompetent" or the "terrorism threat just isn't that great".
Not once in either column does Dr. Levitt ever use the word... "Jihad" or "Jihadists". In Dr. Levitt's view, the threat is only from incompetent criminals that he calls "terrorists", and that view of terrorists as mere "criminals" was echoed the same day by former NATO leader Wesley Clark in another New York Times column "Why Terrorists Aren't Soldiers".
America's Propaganda Vulnerability
The New York Times' online column brainstorming for ideas to kill Americans does point out a massive vulnerability for America -- the fact that during wartime, such a column was editorially acceptable and legal for public distribution.
The real question that Americans should be asking is WHY it is legal and editorially acceptable - not only for the Steven Levitt columns, but also for the Hezbollah and Hamas editorials. This goes back to the fundamental unresolved questions in the minds of a segment of the public as to: (a) is the USA at war or not, (b) if so, who is the enemy, (c) what is our war strategy against the enemy.
Wartime Responses to Aiding the Enemy
Nearly 6 years after the 9/11 attacks, the idea that we as a nation still have large segments of the population that not only don't believe the nation is at war, but also can't identify the enemy is truly disturbing. The imperative need for clear and precise executive government communication on this war is demonstrated by such New York Times and Washington Post columns. Yet there is no public outrage by the government, no public anger by the government, and nothing but silence on these columns.
Would it have been tolerable to President FDR during World War II or to President Woodrow Wilson during World War I, if the major news media were publishing editorials by the enemy, and publishing suggestions on how the enemy could best attack the nation during war? Basic American history clearly answers these questions: FDR had an Office of Censorship and Woodrow Wilson urged the creation of the Sedition Act of 1918. These were wartime measures, because the nation was at war. Moreover, the news media voluntarily complied with the WWII Office of Censorship, and worked with the government towards the shared goal of defeating the enemy.
By contrast, in today's war, the U.S. government has had to struggle to legally have the right to monitor potential saboteurs and sympathizers, and has had to struggle to retain laws to allow the FBI to effectively investigate such enemies. And the news media publishes classified information on U.S. government war strategies and on sensitive information on financial tracking of the enemy.
The Unresolved Questions That Allow Others to Define America's Position
The war against transnational Jihadists and their myriad organizations poses unique challenges in effectively defining America's wartime positions. Unlike WWI or WWII, the current war does not readily allow a nation state or nation states with a publicly recognizable army that can be defined as the enemy to be defeated. These unique challenges require greater clarity, greater precision, and greater communication from the government to the nation than any time in America's history -- regarding the state of war, the identity of the enemy, and the war strategy.
The State of War
The enemy has been precise about its goals and its objectives. Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda has declared written war on the United States not once, but twice, once in 1996 and once in 1998. These Jihadist declarations of war have been rarely discussed in the news media or in government discussions about the war. The Washington Post published the 1998 war declaration on September 21, 2001 - 10 days after the 9/11 attacks.
Moreover, Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith has also documented its goals in the Jihadist war against the United States, as well as Al-Qaeda's stated goal to kill at least 4 million Americans.
On the American side, the declaration of war was "The Authorization for Use of Military Force" ("AUMF") (Public law 107-40) passed by Congress on September 18, 2001, authorizing the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001. The authorization granted the President the authority to use all "necessary and appropriate force" against those whom he determined "planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups.
The AUMF should have provided sufficient war-justification for both the American public and the news media, should the enemy be sufficiently identified. However, the AUMF never used either the word "Jihad" or "Jihadists" in defining the enemy.
The Identification of the Enemy
The AUMF provided the rationale for the current war in Afghanistan, based on American intelligence of the role of the Taliban Jihadist camps in training the 9/11 attackers, as it calls for the right to use military force against those who "planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the 9/11 attacks.
However, like this week's New York Times columns by Dr. Steven Levitt, the AUMF also did not use the word "Jihad" or "Jihadist". Moreover, the effort to fight the Jihadists then became tagged with the general term the "War on Terror". Furthermore, many of the government leadership speeches regarding the war have referenced the enemy as "terrorists", as "evil", and as "extremists".
General references to fighting a war against "terrorism", "evil", and "extremists" have enabled widely diverse interpretations by individuals as to who exactly the enemy is, and has allowed virtually every different pundit and commentator to come up with their own interpretation on the identity of the enemy. From the perspective of international relations, this could provide "strategic ambiguity" to allow for tactical realpolitik negotiations among nations that tolerate or host Jihadists to aid in tactical battles in either Afghanistan or Iraq. But it misses the holistic view that for the nation to effectively fight a war - they must be united in identifying the enemy.
Al-Qaeda is a Jihadist Organization
The idea that Al-Qaeda is a Jihadist organization may seem to be obvious, but not to all segments of the public and to organizations influencing the government. This plays another part in the blurring of the enemy's identification. As pointed out in numerous articles, there is a large segment of intelligentsia that seeks to obfuscate the enemy's identification by arguing that there is "good Jihad" and "bad Jihad". Dr. Walid Phares' recent column "Preventing the West from Understanding Jihad" demonstrates how apologist literature has even reached the National Defense University, and how apologists argue that the proper term for "bad Jihad" is "Hiraba". Dr. Phare's column was rebutted by Jim Guiard, who argued that America is not threatened by "Jihadist martyrdom", but "Irhabi Murderdom".
As I have mentioned previously in other postings, the fundamental problem for Americans in identifying the enemy, whether it is the vacillating term "War on Terror", or the unwillingness to call the enemy "Jihadists" comes down a conflict in Americans accepting that an enemy group could be affiliated in any way with any religion. America was founded on freedom of religion; it is inherent in our identity as a nation. But in dealing with the war of Jihadists against America, it is a fact that in identifying the enemy, that the present enemy is motivated by very specific religious beliefs.
Those who seek to obfuscate the identity of the enemy argue that if you call the enemy "Jihadists", then you validate their view as being representative of all of Islam. That is a red-herring that seeks to keep Americans in denial, not only about the identity of the enemy, but also about their very real religious motivations. And so... we are left with merely fighting a "War on Terror".
War Strategy Without Agreed-Upon Enemy Identity
Unlike WWI and WWII, where the enemy was clearly identified, the transnational Jihadists are difficult for the American public to process as an enemy. Moreover, while Al-Qaeda has formal declarations of war on the United States, and other Jihadist groups declare war on the USA on a near-daily basis, the only real war declaration that the USA has is the AUMF, that never once uses the word "Jihad". Therefore, without an agreed-upon enemy identification, the U.S. government and public are at major odds as to what, if any, war strategy there should be, and not only just in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in other parts of the world.
Unlike WWII, where the Nazis were a clearly designated enemy, in 2006, the Washington Post feels no wartime loyalty to preserve classified information about secret CIA prisons holding Jihadists. And that small representative example of the dysfunction in agreeing on enemy war strategy or even the identity of the enemy, has now resulted in major media publishing Jihadist editorials and now publicizing ideas to help the enemy attack and kill Americans.
Enemy Aid is the Price of Ignorance
As I have previously posted, the American public is woefully uninformed as to the scope and the magnitude of the daily World War by Jihadists across the globe. There are easily 20 to 30 Jihadist news stories most days; if the American public on average hears about 2 of those, it would be a miracle. The Jihadist World War is simply not reported as a priority by the American news media, and once again, the Jihadists have not been formally designated as the "enemy". By and large, the American news media finds the Jihadist activities in India, Israel, Somalia, Philippines, Thailand, Europe, UK, and around the world as "isolated incidents" deserving as mention (if at all) on page 30 of foreign news.
This leads to some segments of the population to view that such Jihadists have legitimate "struggles" and are not really "terrorists" either, but are "militants", whose cause deserves a voice in world affairs, as per the New York Times' and Washington Post's editorials for Hamas and Hezbollah.
The more painful realization is that the historical monofocus of Americans on their own affairs makes such world news and world threats to blur from any possible attention spans, except for the occasional suicide bombing in Iraq broadcast on cable news networks. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago, when after writing a story on UK Jihadists threatening the United States, I watched a television game show with my wife, where a premed college student not only didn't know what the capital of the United Kingdom was, but wasn't even sure that the UK was actually a country at all.
Knowing your public is an important part of any public mobilization - whether it is for war - or for any other shared cause. And the New York Times and the Washington Post publications increasingly illustrate how little, 6 years after 9/11, the American public understand about the Jihadist enemy that is at war with the United States.
The price of such ignorance is to tolerate news media, public organizations, and individuals that will promote enemy propaganda, enemy incitement, and will provide information to the enemy on how to harm America, without the laws, the restraint, and the good sense to realize that all of this is unacceptable during war-time. And the price of such ignorance is a nation that is not prepared, not mobilized, and not energized for the long fight against the enemy.
In this war against Jihad, America must decide if it can continue to tolerate the price of ignorance, or if instead it is willing to make the investment in strategic war planning, communication, clear identification of the enemy and its threats, and unified purpose necessary to defeat its enemies.
Febuary 23, 1998 -Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders - World Islamic Front Statement -- Osama Bin Laden's Fatwah Urging Jihad Against Americans (declaring war and plans to attack the United States) -- Published in Al-Quds al-'Arabi