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Going Soft on Terrorism

Oct 07, 2008
On the brink of an election where one major candidate has proposed the possibility of staying in Iraq for anywhere from a hundred to ten million years,1 and the other has retreated several steps from his primary-season promises,2 we may be certain there will be no disengagement of military force in Iraq during the next administration. Furthermore, both candidates have pledged to increase troop levels in Afghanistan.3, 4

And so the hemorrhaging of money and American lives, and the displacement, injuries, and deaths of countless civilians will continue into the foreseeable future. In a recent post,5 we noted that terrorist activity has been defeated by military force in only a scant seven percent of cases since 1968. Now from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace comes a paper entitled Saudi Arabia’s “Soft” Counterterrorism Strategy: Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Aftercare, by Christopher Boucek.

Following an upsurge in terrorist activity in 2003, the Saudi government concluded that “violent extremism cannot be combated through traditional security measures alone,” and they got busy implementing others. “Central to the Saudi strategy is the message that the use of violence within the kingdom to affect change is not permissible.” Their three-pronged strategy seeks to deter its people from becoming involved with militant Islam in the first place; to rehabilitate them when they do; and to facilitate their reintegration into society after their release from custody. The Ministry of the Interior oversees the program, and involves many other ministries and agencies, including Education and Labor.

Though we are no friend to dictatorial regimes that indulge in vicious public punishments of those who threaten it, we are nevertheless impressed by the intensive efforts adopted by the Saudis in attacking the root of the problem rather than futilely hacking away at its myriad shoots and branches. By alleviating poverty, reforming education, redesigning prisons to facilitate rehabilition, caring for families while one or more of their members are in the judicial system, and treating adherents to radical Islam as victims rather than transgressors, the Saudi methods have succeeded in almost eliminating recidivism.

It is too soon to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the program, but it has been impressive enough that variations of it have been initiated throughout the Middle East and even by American forces in Iraq.6

Side Note: Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements remains one of the most brilliant analyses of the personalities and motivations of those who align themselves with violent religious and nationalist organizations. In a day when we are burdened by a terrorist government within and many terrorist threats from without, every citizen of the world should read it.
1 McCain Said ‘100’; Opponents Latch On, by Kate Phillips, from the New York Times, March 27, 2008 (Accessed October 4, 2008)
2 Obama’s Non-Plan for Ending the War in Iraq, by Anthony DiMaggio, from Counterpunch.org, August 12, 2008 (Accessed October 4, 2008)
3 Obama, McCain Offer Quick Reaction to Bush’s Troop Leval Plan, by Alexis Matsui, from the Online NewsHour at PBS.org, September 9, 2008 (Accessed October 4, 2008)
4 McCain Wants More Afghanistan Troops, by Adam Aigner-Treworgy, from MSNBC.com, July 15, 2008 (Accessed October 4, 2008)
5 Where Will It All End?, All Together Now, September 24, 2008
6 Detainee Operations Changes Command Leadership, from the Multi-National Force Press Desk, June 8, 2008 (Accessed October 4, 2008)
tags: Terrorism

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