Gaza and Terrorism

Yglesias: “The oddity of terrorism as an enterprise is that, in essence, it’s an effort by a weaker party to trick the stronger party into weakening [itself] by engaging in panicky overreactions.” Excepting nuclear terrorism, this is exactly right, and it’s really what’s so upsetting for me about the Gaza situation (in addition, of course, to the death and suffering). Everyone knows this is how terrorism works (it’s right there in the name!) and yet it still seems to work every time. It’s troubling because we (i.e. Israel and America) have learned the historical lesson of how terrorism succeeds, but we still repeat the same mistakes. I don’t know whether it’s because terrorism is uniquely psychologically effective or because our societies are structured to incentivize overreaction, but it’s important to be able not only to learn lessons, but to apply them and adapt.

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5 Responses

  1. Hi mike, I’m reading your awesome blog now. Just thought you should know.

  2. These things are moderated!!??

  3. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/world/middleeast/13israel.html?_r=1&hp

    and the elections are coming.

  4. Yay! And yeah, but only for your first post, because of spam

  5. Oh, and about that article, I guess you mean that maybe “we” haven’t learned the lesson of terrorism. I think that’s probably a fair point, since looking at the worldwide dialogue there isn’t anything close to a consensus on what Israel should be doing at the moment. But in a more abstract sense (when the rockets aren’t falling on your country) I think there is more of a consensus on what terrorism is and how to deal with it.

    As I see that consensus, terrorism is defined as violence against civilians for a political purpose. It sometimes works by directly breaking the will of the civilians (as in the 2004 Madrid bombings), but just as often hardens the resolve of the civilians, and only succeeds when it provokes an excessive and counterproductive response (as with 9/11 or the 2006 Lebanon war). Or it provokes a slightly less excessive response and just makes everyone miserable (e.g the Tamil Tigers, the IRA, the Basques).

    As for how to deal with it, I don’t have an easy answer, but start along the lines of using the increased national resolve and avoiding the excessive counterproductive response.

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