Kerry Was Right on Terrorism

An Australian blog realizes why too few Americans do–that John Kerry was right on fighting terrorism from the start. Here’s the beginning of the blog entry at Club Troppo:

Militant Islam: Less soldiering, more policing

Posted by D W Griffiths on Friday, January 12, 2007

Back in 2002, then aspiring US presidential candidate John Kerry began arguing that “the war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering law enforcement operation”.

counter_iraq1.jpgTo my ear back then, this sounded like one of Kerry’s more thoughtful contributions. In the struggle against terrors of various sorts over many years, police-style actions of all sorts have usually trumped conventional military force. A series of 20th-century conflicts, not least Vietnam, demonstrates that armoured brigades or infantry platoons do their best work fighting conventional battles. They cannot successfully chase down loose-knit, decentralised networks of militants. Once militants decide to avoid fighting in the open, there are few hard targets for cruise missiles to pick out. Human targets prove even tougher to identify. Most targets are surrounded by civilians who do not react well to seeing Hellfires flying through their neighbours’ windows. You have to convince civilian populations in downtown Islamabad and Mogadishu to turn militants in – a task for which Private John Kryswicki from Duluth, Michigan is almost uniquely ill-equipped. So emphasising intelligence-gathering and law enforcement – “police work”, if you like – sounded the sensible option.

Yet Kerry’s phrase became an embarrassment to his campaign. Through 2004, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney relentlessly argued that September 11 gave the president not just the right but the duty to call out the troops. Declared Bush, to cheering audiences: “After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers”.

I was surprised by this revulsion against law enforcement and intelligence-gathering, not least because I had always thought of US law enforcers and detectives as fairly tough characters. Late-night reality TV shows like Cops depict them charging into situations and slamming suspects against car hoods. I’ve never seen those guys serve papers. What was so wimpy about policing?

The answer, of course, is that Americans wanted a dramatic response to September 11. Promising good police-work simply did not deliver the right gut response. Large-scale war did.

But a half-decade of pandering to US dismay is enough. Now, with the weaknesses of large-scale war against militant Islam horribly exposed, it’s time to find strategies that will work. It’s time to insist on the policing approach.

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