Coalition of the Killing: Conservative Foreign Policy Increases Terrorism

If you believe what they say, combating terrorism requires no-compromise leadership and a willingness to get your hands dirty. When the threat of terrorism about, real leaders (who are real men), know we can’t get hung up on luxuries like freedom or privacy: instead, we have to do what it takes to win. John Howard knew this – he infamously said that Al-Qaeda would be praying for Barack Obama to win the US presidency. Abbott understand’s this too – he has let us know that, because terrorism, the balance between freedom and security “may have to shift”. And apparently voters love it: shortly after Tony Abbott raised the terror alert level to “high” and staged the largest-ever police raids, his personal approval rating jumped by a healthy six points. Perhaps the cushy appeasement politics of the left simply has no place in a world threatened by terrorism?

Facts, however, beg to differ. Overwhelmingly, the evidence is that you can’t fight terrorism with tanks. Terrorism is a hydra, and for every putative success, more sympathisers are radicalised, and more attacks are likely. More heads grow back.

This is, at least, the view offered by Baroness Manningham-Buller, head of MI5 from 2002 to 2007, in her evidence to the UK Iraq War inquiry:

"The Iraq war heightened the extremist view that the West was trying to bring down Islam. We gave Bin Laden his jihad."

US Intelligence concurs. From the 2006 US National Intelligence Estimate, Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States:

“the Iraq War has become the ’cause celebre’ for jihadists…and is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.”

Australia’s ASIO reasons similarly. Their report to Parliament for 2012-13, tabled by Attorney-General Brandis, declares

“…Australia’s military deployments over the last decade, the Syrian conflict, or a belief that the ideals of Australia are in direct conflict with their extreme interpretation of Islam, fuel the radical views of [those who believe an attack here is justified]…”

The causality is clear. These terrorists say the West is at war with Islam as part of their recruitment effort. When the US, with Australia in its tow, to send troops to Iraq, it strengthens their claim. The Iraq war didn’t only provide a good rhetorical angle for recruitment efforts: it created a field laboratory in which Jihadists could train and develop new techniques. For example, suicide bombings were unheard of in Afghanistan before 2005, according to Hekmat Karzai, an Afghan terrorism researcher. Yet in 2006, 118 such attacks took place in Afghanistan – more than in the entire preceding history of the country. These consequences – and the fact that terrorist attacks increased sevenfold following the March 2003 invasion of Iraq – are dubbed the “Iraq Effect”.

I wonder if Jihadists understand this – that they in fact depend upon pugilistic authorities like George Bush and Tony Abbott to remain relevant and compelling. As for George Bush and Tony Abbott though, I suspect that they just don’t get it. Conservatives tend to think in terms of “direct causation”, which means that they are far more likely to think “A is a bad person, therefore A became a terrorist” than to wonder about the impact of racism, poverty, or xenophobia on such decisions. Within this rather narrow and myopic worldview, it does actually make sense to try to kill terrorists, because, after all, a dead terrorist is preferable to a living terrorist (and never mind the body count.) If drone strikes and civilian deaths may be a systemic cause of terrorism, that’s probably too complicated to factor in.

I’m no authority on these things, and I realise that stopping terrorism isn’t as simple as building more wells and painting inclusive murals. And I would really like to live in a world in which people aren’t beheaded, or bombs set off. I guess I’m just wondering: if part of stopping terrorism is reducing the gross flow of financial resources, maybe another part is making it harder for them to recruit. Police raids, harsh rhetoric, and troop deployments make for great domestic politics, but the evidence shows that they make us less safe. Let us pray then, for a leader humble enough, and insightful enough, to understand what you can’t fight fire with.



  1. Bush´s wars cost more than Korea, Vietnam, World War I | Dear Kitty. Some blog - September 30, 2014

    […] Coalition of the Killing: Conservative Foreign Policy Increases Terrorism […]

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