Tag Archives: International Relations

The Challenge of Looking Beyond The Islamic State: Trump’s Foreign Policy Inheritance

21 Dec

jihadists

Is the Islamic State Worth Destroying?  From a moral standpoint, one can’t help but answer the question in the affirmative.  How can one sit idly by, as the world did when Fascism spread throughout Europe and Southeast Asia?  Then again, none of the major powers really became heavily involved until either a surprise attack befell them, and/or their treaty obligations with another major power required them to act.  Even then, the British merely sent an Expeditionary Force and the U.S. steered clear of major combat operations in Europe, until the enemy’s weaknesses could be favorably exploited.  Nonetheless, acting against modern-day fascists is a worthy cause.  And fascism is precisely the term to describe the so-called Islamic State and their ilk.

Continue reading

Potentially Misleading Statistics on Global Terrorism

30 Jun

Potentially Misleading Statistics on Global Terrorism

Recently, the 2015 statistics were released by the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), hosted at the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).  Prior to making the data publicly available, of course, scholars associated with START took the liberty of publishing their own articles while access was monopolized.  The State Department also got a head-start on putting out its 2015 report on terrorism, based largely on START’s work.  This is somewhat fitting, as START’s funding comes exclusively from federal dollars.  Aside from a little monopolization of publicly funded databases, there are some important misleading conclusions that the layperson might be inclined to draw.  I will explain how and why this is the case.

In considering the recent GTD data release, Andrew Flowers (of FiveThirtyEight) did interpret something correctly when he observed that “Terrorism Declined Last Year- but Not in the West.”  In his brief article, he correctly cited START’s GTD statistics that support the claim that terrorism was reduced abroad from the previous year (2014). However, in his search to understand why, he interviewed the GTD’s program manager, Erin Miller, who stated that “it’s possible that ‘2014 was just a really bad year and 2015 was still violent but somewhat less so by comparison.'”  This is somewhat incomplete, because it doesn’t take into account the shifting sands, so to speak, in the battle against the Islamic State (IS) transnational terrorist army.  For instance, the introduction of Russian Airstrikes would have had some impact on the Islamic State’s ability to act effectively in carrying out terrorist attacks in the region.  Additionally, the combined efforts of the Iraqi/Iranian governments and U.S. (and allied) air support had to have hindered some of the key logistical elements that IS would have needed to attack locally.

Another area in which START’s GTD is less than helpful is in their methodology.  The GTD claims, and Ms. Miller is cited by Flowers as stating that, the classification for terrorism includes “threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a nonstate actor…”[Emphasis added.]  The problem is that the database doesn’t include failed or foiled attacks; many of which were Islamist-inspired.  In 2015 alone there were at least 56 arrests on ISIL-related charges in the U.S. (note that the figure might be higher, as the report only covered the period ending November 12, 2015).  This statistic is not captured in GTD’s database, while many of the alleged “terrorism” events didn’t meet their own criteria to be so labled (6 out of 38, or 16%).  Yet, Flowers cites Miller’s example of church arsons in what appears to be an effort to claim racially motivated (read: right-wing) violence.  The implication one might incorrectly discern is that there are fewer instances of Islamist violence, or planned violence, than other sorts of terrorism, or suspected terrorism.

A more appropriate set of conclusions to be drawn are two-fold.  First, terrorism abroad has been hindered in the Middle East as a result of a broad offensive against its primary perpetrators.  Much of the IS-related attacks in the region have been carried out as operational-level strikes that support the ongoing insurgency.  The second conclusion is that domestically, terrorism has been on the rise, but Islamist-inspired terrorist plots have been disrupted far more frequently as a result of law enforcement’s due diligence.

Although Mr. Flowers mentions “the killing of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina” as the “fourth-deadliest attack in the U.S. last year,” he doesn’t mention that even the GTD doubts it was motivated by anti-Muslim hate.  Absent in many discussions of global terrorism trends (including the piece under review here) is that of the 10 most deadly terrorist organizations in 2015 a full 90% were Islamists (mostly allied with IS and a couple with al-Qaeda).  This is, of course, obscured by focusing on the extremely rare instances in which Muslims are killed by non-Muslims and ignoring the patent fact that most Muslims (and many non-Muslims; especially in the Middle East and Europe) are victims of Islamist terror.

David Firester is the founder and CEO of TRAC Intelligence (Threat, Reporting, and Analysis Consultants), which is a premier threat analysis firm. TRAC Intelligence provides threat assessment in the private sector.

 

 

 

The Obama Administration Must Reinforce Words with Deeds

9 Sep

In a recent Huffington Post Op-Ed (29 August 2012), Alan Dershowitz had opined that although President Obama is committed to the “preventive military option” he faces a credibility gap between his declaratory statements and what the Iranian regime believes will transpire.  The “faction” within the Obama camp that sees little use for military action sustains this gap, according to Dershowitz.  In their view, “saber rattling” is an impediment to peace.  Intuitively, they are correct.  In reality, they are not.  Here is why: credibility hinges on demonstrable force factors.

If Iran (and even Israel) believe that the force of the American President’s bellicose words are sapped by domestic ideological opposition, both are inclined to disbelieve what they hear.  The only way to mend such a fissure is to act with more credibility than one’s target state is hearing in one’s rhetoric.  To supplement words with deeds grants one’s opponent the opportunity to reassess their own message decoder.  If, however, words and deeds are in stark contradiction then the ambiguity (whether accidental or intentional) may be perceived as domestic dissonance, consequently revealing a potential noncommittal posture.

So, what is the United States actually doing (or failing to do)?  Perhaps it is best to view purely military actions as either helpful or unhelpful in reinforcing the credibility of one’s attendant verbal expression.  On the former, it has recently been reported that the American Navy is increasing its presence in both the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.  This fact would be a clear example of American resolve.  The Iranian response of an intent to deploy its own naval forces to the Atlantic is not (“Iran Reiterates Resolve to Anchor Off US Coasts.” FARS News Agency 5 September 2012).

On the other side of the U.S. credibility ledger, a recent U.S.-Israeli joint naval operation, Reliant Mermaid (reported by the BBC and Jerusalem Post 20 August 2012), was focused on “search and rescue.”  As this was not specifically geared in the direction of offensive action, it should not be counted as credibility enhancing.  Another recent American-Israeli venture, Operation Austere Challenge 12, might have been a more credibility-boosting maneuver if the American headcount hadn’t been severely reduced by the U.S. Pentagon (as reported on 31 August 2012 in Time online, “Exclusive: U.S. Scales Back Military Exercise with Israel, Affecting Potential Iran Strike”).  This is an unfortunate exercise in credibility diminution.

Perhaps the disparity between word and deed are part of a conscious effort to de-couple American and Israeli action versus Iran.  Whatever the merits of such a policy preference, there are sure to be signals and indices that suggest that a chasm between allies is open for exploitation.  Further, a degraded U.S. commitment is tantamount to wavering.  For deterrence to work the Iranian regime must conclude that the cost of developing nuclear weapons far outweighs their purported benefits.  In order to influence their calculus the regime’s survival must be in jeopardy.

Kenneth Waltz believes that deterrence would stick if Iran became a nuclear state in his recent article, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb” (Foreign Affairs, Jul/Aug2012, Vol. 91 Issue 4, p2-5).  His assertion rests on a history of U.S.-Soviet nuclear peace.  Unfortunately, he conflates the logic of states that already possess the doomsday weapons with that of those who are fixated on procuring them for messianic and annihilative purposes.

The most plausible American fear likely consists of a nuclear-armed Iran forcing the U.S. to remove its military from the region, thus having the effect of Iranian regional domination.  The impact of this potentiality does not rest well with Iran’s Arab adversaries.  For Israel, this scenario presents a palpable existential threat, as they are a ‘one-bomb country’ (as Charles Krauthammer has recently pointed out in his 30 August 2012 Washington Post opinion article, “The ‘Deterrence Works’ Fantasy”).

In order to deter an Israeli preemptive/preventive attack, the Obama administration must combine both words and deeds in an effort to convince both friend and foe of American steadfastness.  To fail in this regard is to welcome misinterpretation, misperception and possibly grave misfortune.

%d bloggers like this: