By Alan W. Dowd

Terrorism 101

What are college textbooks teaching American students about terrorism? That’s the question Franklin and Marshall professor Stanley Michalak sought to answer in a recent essay for the Foreign Policy Research Institute (http://www.fpri.org/). In the wake of September 11 and the global war it unleashed, the answers are both sobering and worrisome. 

In his survey of ten major textbooks, Michalak found a mix of “sloppy definitions,” warmed-over myths and moral relativism. For example, one text argues that “killing civilians with a bomb dropped on a building…is no different than killing civilians by planting a bomb in a building.” Never mind the motives or objectives. Another textbook defines terrorism as “the use of violence to achieve a political objective.” By that definition, every war ever fought—no matter how just—was an act of terrorism. Still another tells us that “terrorist groups seek the political freedom, privilege and property they think persecution has denied them,” which begs the question: What political freedom, privilege or property did the US Embassy staff deny the Ayatollah’s followers in 1979? Likewise, what did September 11’s victims deny bin Laden in 2001?  

“From reading these texts,” Michalak concludes, “it is not even clear whether terrorism is a significant problem.” But those books that do make such a conclusion offer solutions that range from the obvious to the laughable: One author advises world leaders to “Avoid wars [and] avoid making enemies.” Another urges the reader to understand the motivations of terrorists: “It is often the only way open to them.”  

Given the content of these texts, perhaps our best hope is that college students will live up to their reputations and leave the books on the shelf 

The Philippine Front

After spending much of 2002 training the Philippine army to hunt down and destroy terrorist groups, US troops have been ordered to join the fray directly.

According to Congress Daily, initial US plans for 2003 had called for small teams of Green Berets to participate in jungle operations against Abu Sayyaf, a stubborn terrorist group linked to al Qaeda. About 400 Army troops were tasked to participate, backed up by 600 Marines deployed at the Subic Bay Naval Base.

However, as winter gave way to spring, US plans changed significantly. An additional 3,000 US troops were ordered to the Philippines in February, with a broad mandate to destroy Abu Sayyaf’s 500-strong army. As one Pentagon official told the Washington Post, quite unlike the operations in 2002, “The intent is for US troops to actively participate.” Supported by two amphibious assault ships, the Marines and Special Forces were going to focus on the tiny island of Jolo, at the extreme south of the Philippine island chain. However, when Philippine lawmakers and local officials raised concerns, the expanded US mission was put on hold. In a compromise, President Gloria Arroyo decided to shift the joint counterterrorism operations to other hotspots, such as Mindanao.

Some 1200 US troops were dispatched to the Philippines in late 2001 and 2002 during the counterterrorism-training mission. As in Afghanistan, US-backed forces were able to dislodge the terrorist army from key strongholds, but in doing so the enemy was scattered, which explains America’s expanded involvement.  

Deeper in Colombia

In a faint echo of the initial Philippine deployment, US Special Forces are now training Colombian troops in their ongoing war with narco-terrorists. As in phase one in the Philippines, US forces are not yet cleared to participate in combat operations. However, with a US citizen killed execution-style and others being held by heavily armed rebels, the White House has authorized elements of the military to conduct search and rescue operations.  

In addition, Washington wants US troops to help the Colombian army protect a key oil pipeline from sabotage, which is critical to Colombia’s economy. According to the Washington Post, guerillas “blew up the pipeline 170 times in 2001.” The number of bombings dropped to 42 in 2002.  

One gets the sense that it’s only a matter of time before American troops are drawn directly into the Colombian civil war, just as they have been half-a-world away in the Philippines. 

The Cost of War

Not including the war in Iraq or the strictly domestic costs of homeland security, America has so far spent $28 billion waging the global war on terrorism.  

These costs are certain to rise, especially when new operations in the Philippines and continuing operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan are included. In fact, a recent analysis by the British newspaper The Guardian noted that Congressional officials estimate that deployment costs for a war in Iraq could approach $13 billion. The war itself could end up costing $60-100 billion. Of course, we should keep these economic costs in perspective: As Hudson Institute’s William Odom reminded a New York Times interviewer, “At the height of the Cold War, we used to spend 7.2 percent of GDP on defense and intelligence. We spend less than half that now.”  

Moreover, all of the war’s costs must be weighed against the cost of doing nothing and hoping Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-Il, al Qaida and their kind will just go away. As we learned on September 11, we can either pay these costs with our tax dollars and troops—or we can pay them with our cities and civilians. It’s a stark choice, but it’s a choice our enemies have forced us to make.

Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.