The Corner

National Security & Defense

How to Defeat the Terrorists: Step One

I have written several times in these pages about defeating Islamic terrorism. We need to do a number of things simultaneously, persistently, and (preferably) with some degree of bipartisan unity. These include:

  • Identify the enemy and confront his ideology; expose and challenge the enemy’s view that the preferred future of humanity is his boot in everyone else’s face. We might even want to advertise the idea that our society’s beliefs about the Almighty are superior to the enemy’s, because, rich as the diversity of acceptable American religious opinion may be, it does not include the belief that God approves, and automatically admits into Heaven, those who engage in suicide attacks on innocent civilians.
  • Enlarge the size of America’s Army, and keep it busy around the world, training, advising, and assisting with logistics and intelligence, the forces of countries that are or may be targets of the enemy. I doubt that the Army will have to engage in large scale, direct combat, but we should certainly be willing to embed Special Operations Forces with allied troops, and we should not be concerned if people in American uniforms have occasion to personally shoot the enemy.
  • Use America’s air power, manned and unmanned, to watch and, where indicated, kill the enemy wherever we find him.
  • Robustly collect intelligence.    
  • Take reasonable steps to ensure that people who come to the United States, especially from places where the enemy is highly active, are fleeing the enemy, not bringing him into our midst.
  • Destroy the enemy’s sources of revenue, and isolate and sanction financial institutions, regimes, or movements that knowingly aid or facilitate transactions that support the enemy. 

Now, I don’t underestimate the difficulty of these things. But, in terms of raw power, doing them is well within the capabilities of the United States alone, much less in combination with the rest of the non-barbaric world. 

Victory will, unfortunately, entail some casualties, but not many relative to other wars. It will also require a small fraction of our national wealth which we would certainly rather spend on other things. On a tactical level, we will sometimes have to make unpalatable choices over which reasonable people can disagree, like drawing the right line between personal privacy and intelligence collection. 

It would be wonderful if our leaders in this war were wiser than other leaders have been in other wars. But fortunately (unless, God help us, we do too little for too long and the enemy acquires weapons of mass destruction) the power ratio between us and the enemy is such that victory requires, not that we have brilliant leaders, but only that they exercise a modicum – a small degree, really — of unity, commitment, and common sense. 

Which brings me to the point of this post: When we do manage to capture enemy soldiers, and particularly if they are dedicated soldiers, and even more particularly if they are high value enemy operatives, can we please, please, not let them go?

Jim Talent is a former U.S. senator for Missouri and a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

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