Monday, November 14, 2016

Strategies Against Extremism

This post is written in response to many of the social media posts and comments I have encountered in the last few days.

I also want to make clear that this is not an objection to protests, which I have defended in an earlier post. It is a discussion of strategy. More importantly, it discusses strategy not only as a practical concern, but a moral concern.

I would like to compare two strategies.

The first is Obama's strategy against ISIS.

One principle he used was that of isolation. Obama refused to use the term "Islamic terrorism" because he did not want to associate ISIS with 1.6 billion people, many of whom were willing to work with us against this contagion. He argued that we were far better off with these people as our allies in battling ISIS than we are by forcing them and ISIS into the same camp.

The other principle actually seems to be better illustrated by those who stood opposed to the drone strikes. Their message is that the drone strikes can only be expected to cause the communities that suffer the results of these strikes to hate us all the more. We can well understand why they strike us, the opponents to drone strikes argued, given what we have done to them.

On this latter point, I would say that the Obama administration was aware of and shared these concerns. They saw themselves as having two competing objectives. One was to disrupt plans to launch another terrorist strike by taking out their leaders and assets, while another was to avoid risking the propaganda effects of harming civilians. Sometimes they judged that success in realizing one objective required a sacrifice in obtaining the other objective.

The second strategy I want to examine is found in reactions to Trump's victory in the election.

One principle I find here is to be to target responsibility for Trump as broadly as possible. Republicans, "people who voted for Trump", "People who failed to vote for the only candidate with a chance of defeating Trump," "People who did not support Sanders" - the objective seems to be to create the largest target group possible. This is in contrast to an the anti-ISIS strategy which, in this application, would be to isolate Trump and his immediate associates and say to as many others as possible, "We know that you are better than this - so we refuse to associate you with this racism unless you do so explicitly yourself."

The other principle that I have seen people defend applies to the protests against Trump's presidency. Some have defended and argued for acts of violence. This comes from people who seem to think that random violence against others is a way of earning their cooperation and respect.

Unlike the case of the drone strikes, we cannot say that the people who would commit these acts of violence perform them reluctantly because they have some other, more important goal to promote. Their "greater concerns" are not concerns that require violence - particularly violence against random targets. Their strategy would be like a drone strategy that simply targeted random buildings for destruction as a way of protesting our disapproval of acts of terrorism.

The ironic thing is that there seem to be quite a few people who, at the same time, support and defend the first strategy (ideological isolation and minimizing harm done to civilians) and the second strategy (ideological bundling and using violence to demonstrate disapproval).

It is true that the drone strikes are deadlier, and this is a significant moral difference. Yet, I would not expect those who oppose the drone strikes to suddenly cheer them if the government announced that they were only going to destroy property.

In fact, imagine Trump going on the air to announce a new strategy to battle terrorism. Trump announces that he has directed the military to direct their drone strikes against random buildings and other property as a way of protesting terrorism. I have no doubt that a lot of people would quickly brand that as one of the stupidest ideas in the history of stupid ideas.

I would have to agree.


FredT said...

Thanks for the post but

There is nothing random in violence. It is we do not understand their logic and/or thinking.

The US first need to understand and second needs the antidote, which the US is unwilling to apply. Many of us know what it is but fear of change, fear of logic and science prevents application of the truth.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

FredT . . . I have no idea what you were trying to say.