Foreign or Domestic?


That's the crux of the debate over exactly where the bulk of the Iraqi resistance comes from, with implications for how U.S. forces should respond. Foreign means you ramp up interdiction, domestic and you work the local population. My wild-ass guess: both.

But it is good to see these kinds of things are being aired by commanders without having a conclusion imposed on them by politicians—yet.

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  1. “…it’s going to take some real extreme violence to intimidate these people.”

    Slaughter all the males down unto the sucking babes, and unto foreigners give the women as chattel upon which they will breed a new people.

    Works for me.

  2. That’s cute Tom, but strategically it’s not quite compatible with painting schools and planting the seeds of democracy.

    But then again, I’m old fashioned in the belief that the military should be employed only in defense of our country.

  3. R.C. Dean-

    As to whether police are civilians, the main point is that they are government targets.

    Whether that means anything, or makes any difference, is another issue.

    Some define terrorism as large-scale acts of violence against non-government targets for allegedly political goals (I say allegedly because however much terrorists may claim that they’re fighting “the Zionists” or “the Great Satan” or whatever, at heart they’re just sociopathic thugs). In that sense, attacks on police stations would not be terrorism.

    But since the same people who will use unconventional tactics to kill civilians will also attack government targets with the same tactics (e.g. on 9/11 they attacked business offices in NYC and also military targets in the Pentagon), and because they show little discretion for civilians when attacking gov’t targets (e.g. they attacked the Pentagon with a plane full of people who didn’t work for the government), many people also use the word “terrorism” to denote attacks against government targets. Also, many attacks against gov’t targets cause havoc for civilians (e.g. attack a police station and there will be fewer cops arresting thieves and rapists).

    So do attacks against police count as “terrorism”? Well, using a more restricted definition of the word, such attacks aren’t terrorism. (They’re still reprehensible, they just need a different word to describe them.) Using a broader definition, that emphasizes large-scale and indiscriminate violence via unconventional tactics, the word “terrorism” would be appropriate.

    And regardless of the choice of target, the goal is usually to create fear. They can’t actually hope to prevail on the battlefield, and the attacks aren’t in support of a more conventional military campaign.

  4. “and because they show little discretion for civilians when attacking gov’t targets ”

    Many people in Viet Nam would argue that the US Govt. did the exact same thing. Which makes us terrorists. The only difference between “defense” and “terrorist” is which side you’re on. Try to look at it with an outsider’s perspective and things become clearer, something you certainly refuse to do if you want to label yourself a “patriot”.

  5. Tom from Texas, that sentiment reminded me of a brief sentence in a book about Arthurian legend – when asked to describe how he cleaned the land of the scourge of Vikings, he said “Half a baby in a ditch…”

    While (of course)I am not at all declaring that we need to go to such extremes, I do think that it is time to either move out, retighten boundaries and move back in againg with door-to-door searches for the rats remaining OR start putting A LOT of money on the streets and let the lesser rats start sniffing.

  6. LauraN,

    My post was only partly tongue in cheek. It is a fairly recent (and largely Western) idea in warfare that you let a defeated enemy go home when organized hostilities end. Cultures from the Assyrians to the Mongols to the Zulus were more wont to put into practice the idea of eliminating the males and enslaving the females, thus wiping that particular tribe/culture/nation off the books.

    The article’s author mentions Gen. Pershing, who after World War I virtually predicted a future conflict with Germany because a piece of paper was signed and German soldiers basically just went home (and then joined the Freikorps) to look for excuses as to why they had “lost”.

    “They did not know in the streets of Berlin that they were defeated,” Pershing said. This was the major problem with the end of Gulf War I; Saddam had lost what to him was a battle, but not the war. And so here we are again.

  7. Alright, rethinking my definition of terrorist here. I was actually keying off of the notion that deliberate attacks on police and other civilians by soldiers can be a war crime.

    By excluding attacks on government targets, I guess we would say that Timothy McVeigh was not a terrorist. I am a little uncomfortable with that. Also, government targets would presumably include things like, oh, VA hospitals, which are owned and operated by the government, to take care of ex-soldiers, even.

    As for the bombing of civilian targets in (formal) wartime, to the degree that these are not the intended targets, I don’t think it qualifies as terrorism or a war crime. Targeting factories and other strategic assets (like ports being used to transship war materiel) strikes me as legitimate. Targeting civilian workers does not. I might throw in the caveat that you are entitled to respond to an aggressor in kind, so that if Hitler bombs London, Churchill is free to bomb Dresden.

    Resistance fighters as terrorists? This is the tough one, where I have a very hard time coming up with a principled distinction. I believe that Hamas is a terrorist organization, even though it is “resisting” the Israelis. Maybe it boils down to “winner’s history.”

  8. Tom, you’re right, of course, that we left before finishing the war the first time. I think everyone knew that shortly after the decision was made. The fact is that we’ve been practicing a “polite” war this time. I adore the fact that our tech permits fewer casualties to civilians but if the targets are now looking like civilians we’ve no choice but to consider every one of them a potential threat and treat them that way.

    Those who tire of it will be more likely to surrender the few that are prolonging the BS. They only hitch in that is the – as mentioned – tribal nature of the people. It is what I think we didn’t count on – that the loyalty there would supercede the desire for peace, health and wealth. It is an older mindset and one we’ve left behind, generally. But it will trip us up each day until we find a way to make it work for us.

  9. R.C.-

    I’m sure the more historically savvy and philosophically inclined will dispute me on the fine points here, but here’s my take on the definition of terrorism:

    Earlier in this thread I tried to define terrorism by its targets: Government rather than civilian. But it sure seems like Tim McVeigh and the guys who attacked the Pentagon belong in the same category as the guys who attacked the WTC (I have a hunch that somebody will take issue with that, but I’ll deal with that when it happens).

    Now, we could just say that different bad guys get different categories, but they’re all bad. Fine. But then there’s really no need to have labels, just call them all bad guys and be done with it. But the word terrorism seems useful to many people, to distinguish Ted Bundy from Ted Kascinsky (I’m sure I misspelled his name). Bundy killed for his own purposes, and Kasc…um, that crazy mathematician killed to “send a message” against modern society. And since they seem (in the opinion of many) to pose distinct types of threats, we want to maintain some coherent meaning for the word terrorism.

    So maybe the best way to define terrorism is by the attacker’s objectives rather than targets. Their goal is not a conventional victory in the sense of “the leaders are dead, the troops have surrendered, the territory and infrastructure is occupied, etc.” They can’t hope to achieve that. They can only hope to scare people and create havoc, and maybe (just maybe) scare people into some sort of compliance.

    Seen in that light, a self-described resistance fighter (for whom the label may be accurate or inaccurate, depending on the situation) who bombs a police station to “send a message” is a terrorist.

    On the other hand, a self-described resistance fighter who bombs a police station to create havoc in the capitol city while a conventional army lays siege outside the gates is probably not a terrorist. His goals are military in nature: Soften up a target. His cause and methods may be heinous or righteous, but his objective is concrete, unlike the nebulous goal of terror.

    Likewise, European resistance fighters in WWII were not terrorists because they were softening up a target. If they could keep Nazi troops busy they draw resources away from the front lines, making life easier for the advancing allied armies.

    As another example, Nazi saboteurs sent to the US in WWII would probably not be considered “terrorists”. I’m not trying to downplay their evil, I just want to keep a firm understanding of the various types of villains in the world. They wanted to do damage to the US from the inside to draw away resources that would otherwise be used against Nazi armies in Europe.

    Now, take your favorite cause around the world. Maybe you think the Palestinians are getting the short end of the stick. Or that the Catholics in Northern Ireland are oppressed. Or that some Balkan group is oppressed. And maybe you’re right. (Or maybe you’re wrong.) But if your favorite “resistance fighters” have no hope of victory on the battlefield, then their violence probably belongs in the category of terrorism. The best they can hope for is to scare away their enemies, since there’s no way they can vanquish their enemies outright.

    I’m sure somebody will take issue with me, but that’s the best I can do in defining the word terrorism.

  10. “We’re trying to determine the nature of who these people were. But I will tell you, I would assume that they’re either/or and probably both Baathists and foreign terrorists.”

    Glad you were listening when I talked in the rose garden yesterday. And glad you agree.

  11. I’m not sure how the “bulk” if the Iraqi resistance can come from both foreign and domestic sources, but let that pass. Clearly, we are facing a mix of foreign terrorists and domestic Baathist bitter-enders.

    Ultimately, of course, the goal is to have the Iraqis police themselves, including their borders, so they can protect themselves against both foreign and domestic terrorists. This means that the long-term strategy for dealing with both home-grown and domestic terrorists is to build up an effective Iraqi government as quickly as possible so we can let them provide for their own security.

    The key words are, of course, “effective” and “possible.”

    In the short term, I would be interested to know what we are doing to close the borders with Syria and Iran, as border control strikes me as a more appropriate role for our military than policing the cities. I would point out that Syria’s admission that it cannot control its own borders to stop the flow of terrorists permits the US, under accepted international norms, to cross the border to address this problem.

    I call them terrorists and not “resistance fighters” or whatever terminology is fashionable these days because they are, true to form, targeting civilians. That last round of attacks in Baghdad was against exclusively civilian targets.

  12. Border control is an illusion. The US can’t do it, East Germany and the soviets couldn’t do it, even ancient chinese dynasties couldn’t do it with the great wall! Sadam was probably the best at controling his borders, no one in their right mind wanted to enter the country unless they are into torture for pleasure and suicide by execution!

  13. According to multiple news sources from 9/27, the US has begun turning over control of Iraq’s border with Iran to Iraqi troops. (See, e.g., and )

    As for the “last round of targets”, assuming you mean the bombings of the last three days only the Red Crescent office was a truly civilian target. The other three bombs were aimed at police stations.

  14. Jack, I got news for you – the police are civilians. They are not members of the armed forces, under international law or under any common-sense definition of armed forces and police.

  15. Fascinating, R.C. So the French, Polish, etc. resistance movements during WW II were terrorists? (The killing of civilian collaborators, including police, was a not uncommon act on their parts.)

  16. Mark Bowden’s article last year in the Atlantic Monthly on the life of the Dictator was extremely valuable in helping understand how Saddam rose to power, and how power is distributed in Iraq, especially outside of Bagdad.

    The tribal aspect of Iraqi society is not discussed much in the context of the resistance. Tribes have thousands, even tens of thousands of members, and have existed for ever. Of course, because one’s tribe is also one’s extended family, loyalty isn’t even an issue.

    I suspect that tribal affiliations, rather than Baath party ties, are what allowed Saddam Hussein to escape and remain hidden. Also, tribal society condones revenge killings, lootings, theivery, so long as these acts benefit the tribe. There’s no rule of law, but rather custom, tradition, and of course the final say of the sheik who is the tribal leader. Saddam governed by imposing a tribal model on the whole country.

    If tribal affiliation is actually the organizing principal for most of the domestic Sunni resistance, then it’s really gonna be a long hard slog, and it’s going to take some real extreme violence to intimidate these people.

  17. Who says “resistance fighter” and “terrorist” are mutually exclusive? Some resistance fighters are terrorists, some aren’t. Some terrorists are resistance fighters, some aren’t. Resistance fighter refers to a militant’s goals. Terrorist refers to his tactics. Someone who puts a bomb in a hotel in order to replace a genocidal tyranny with a liberal democracy is a liberal, democratic terrorist. No contradiction.

    WWI was not a war against massed infantry. It was a war against Germany (for the US).

  18. I didn’t mean to imply that “resistance fighter” and “terrorist” are mutually exclusive. I just used the phrase “self-described resistance fighter” as a qualifer because I had a hunch somebody would say “if you suggest that a terrorist is a resistance fighter you’re glorifying terrorists.”

  19. Back in the late 70s, I tended to follow the activities in Rhodesia closer than most in my age group. A good college friend of mine was Rhodesian and was over here as a 23-year-old freshman after he had served a stint in the military battling Robert Mugabe’s and Joshua Nkomo’s “freedom fighters”. My friend routinely referred to them as “terrs”, short for terrorists, which seemed pretty much the overall white Rhodesian view.

    From my friend’s description of military operations, the “terrs” only like to hit soft targets such as isolated whites and black civilians. They were reluctant to face Rhodesian troops, white or black, in a stand up fight.

    At least the French Resistance and Eastern European Partisans in WWII took on the German military. That in my book would not qualify them as terrorists.

  20. EMAIL:

    DATE: 12/10/2003 05:20:15
    Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

  21. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/20/2003 09:32:43
    Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.

  22. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/09/2004 01:58:57
    Make it your guiding principle to do your best for others and to be trustworthy in what you say. Do not accept as friend anyone who is not as good as you. When you make a mistake do not be afraid of mending your ways.

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