In the latter part of 1989, when terrorists and suicide bombers from the mid-East were beginning to create consistent headlines, I began to think back, 45 years earlier, to the Japanese kamikaze pilots during WWII. For those who have no memory of this group of young Japanese fighter pilots, with their flowing white silk scarfs and their “Banzai” war chant or battle charge, their mission was to ultimately ram their plane into the largest allied fighting ships in the Pacific. At that time I wasn’t surprised by their suicidal acts, nor in reflection am I now, considering the ancient Japanese culture of an honorable death — seppuku or, as we know it, hara-kiri—to restore honor. I came to understand that this particular action was not terrorism, as we define it, but an act of war…instead of dropping the bomb, the kamikaze pilot flew the bomb into the target.
But in 1989-90 what was motivating this new breed of mid-eastern terrorist? There was no ancient mid-eastern honor code to direct sacrificing one’s life to correct a breach of duty or honor. The terrorists who were hijacking airplanes and detonating vest bomb and forfeiting their life were not an “elder” whose misstep brought dishonor. In 1989-90, I could find no ancient scroll to help me understand this new type of terrorism. What I did learn was that there is a long history in the use of terrorism first domestically then as an offensive weapon. One thing that history teaches us, but invariably we fail to acknowledge, is that history does repeat itself—not necessarily verbatim but in some similar form. The President has claimed that ISIS is defeated, and has decided to withdraw our military forces from Syria without consulting our allies. This is a denial of history clearly indicates that he has absolutely no understanding of the facts on the ground or the history of the last 25 years and is tone deaf to the uproar it created.
During a Senate hearing the highest ranking intelligence officials warned that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, was capable of attacking the United States and painted a picture of a still-formidable terrorist organization notwithstanding its loss of occupied territory. The President repeated the very same inaccurate picture during his State of the Union address. Additionally, a released Pentagon report sets out a stark warning that without US military presence and pressure, ISIS could, in all likelihood, regain the territory it lost in Syria within the next six months to a year. One can accurately forecast that with our withdrawal ISIS will re-establish its caliphate left by our disappearing act and its void. There are three things that are on the top of the list of danger zones we presently face either because of a lack of knowledge or not looking at the history of global attacks by terrorism as follows:
The first is Trump’s latest snap decision proposal for a 20-mile safe zone that Turkey will establish. This plan has been made with no process or analysis. This area would encompass all Kurdish areas of eastern Syria. There is no armed force ready to take over that responsibility, nor time to build one, as American troops prepare to leave. And entry of Turkish-backed opposition forces would likely displace thousands of Kurds, as well as threaten vulnerable Christian communities interspersed in these areas. The strategic consequences of Trump’s decision are already playing out: The more Turkey expands its reach in Syria, the faster our Arab partners in the region appear to lean toward Damascus. In addition, Bloomberg news finally reports what very few media outlets seem to understand about Syria: “US troops aren’t even marginally involved in the fight against the biggest remaining jihadi force there — which is al-Qaeda, not ISIS.”
The second point, as reported in great detail in Smithsonian Magazine, more than 17 years after the Global War on Terrorism was initiated by President George W. Bush, it is now truly global. “We found that, contrary to what most Americans believe, the war on terror is not winding down—it has spread to more than 40 percent of the world’s countries. The war isn’t being waged by the military alone, which has spent $1.9 trillion fighting terrorism since 2001. The State Department has spent $127 billion in the last 17 years to train police, military and border patrol agents in many countries and to develop antiterrorism education programs, among other activities.” This is a damming statement, contradicting the claim that the “world is safe”; ISIS has been defeated. We think of ISIS as mid-east phenomena, but that was only a seed from a previously terrorist group that has been replicated and is now embedded across the globe: as I write this commentary, the WSJ reported that ISIS has made a “surprise” comeback in West Africa. Why the surprise? Which brings me to my third thought.
What any historian studying the incubation and evolving of present day international terrorism will list as number one is that, like the amoeba we looked at thru a microscope in high school, terrorist groups have internal conflicts and wins and losses on the battle field that prompt them to split and reorganize. When one group is “defeated” or there appears to be internal conflict, a splinter group develops and takes on its own mantle with a new or adjusted focus and methodology. ISIS is not dead, and with its loss of territory in the mid-East (which it will fill with Trump’s retreat) it will find, as it has done, a different venue to operate and control.
Trump in a repeating tweet, true to form, that in no uncertain terms, he “knows more and better” than his senior security heads. And he continues to declare ISIS defeated by pushing the envelope to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Imagine for a moment the CPA you retain each year for your tax advice and corporate filing. She is about ready to have brain surgery, and prior to the anesthetist saying “count back from 100” she tells her surgeon, in great detail, how to proceed in performing the operation. You would get a court mandate to do both the operation as planned by the surgeon and instantly commit the person to a psychiatric institution… and find a new accountant.