Columnist: How not to fight terrorism — Lessons from Belgium, Turkey and maybe the USA
After the latest terror attack in Brussels, Belgium, everyone’s got a solution, from Western democracies to Middle East dictators to GOP presidential candidates. None of these are likely to work, and may actually make the war on terrorism harder to win.
Belgium was sort of like the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. It was a based used for recruiting and fundraising, but rarely a terrorist attack. The IRA, Hamas and other groups could pass the hat in pubs, or sell cheap cigarettes bought in one state for less than those in states where the tax was sky high.
Both countries could have policed the problem more aggressively, but chose to look the other way with the mistaken belief that tolerating these activities made one less likely to be a target at home.
For the United States, 9/11 shattered that myth. For Brussels, once the ringleader of the Paris attacks was nabbed, others feared they would be next on the list, so they engaged in impromptu terror attacks of convenience, preferring to go out in a blaze of glory rather than rot in a prison cell. Belgium played with fire — and got burned.
Then there’s Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who loudly boasts that he “warned” countries that ISIS would attack the West. But it’s Erdogan’s policies that are helping enable ISIS to succeed.
Much has been made about Turkey being hit repeatedly by terror attacks, without an outcry from the West. It’s not that many Westerners don’t care about Turks. Those who meet Turks know they are some of the best folks you’ll ever meet, and deserve our sympathy just as much as Belgians or French.
But most people outside of the most blindly loyal supporters of Erdogan know that his regime uses terror attacks to justify human rights abuses. Erdogan’s regime accuses bomb blasts that kill Kurds of being detonated — by Kurds. Most of the initial attacks of the 2015 election season killed Erdogan opponents, and the president, prime minister and others in the government blamed … the opposition.
After so many explosions, Turkey’s leaders are starting to admit it might be ISIS. But instead of shutting down ISIS or taking the fight to this terror group, Erdogan continues to target Kurds in Turkey and bomb them in Syria, even though Syrian Kurds are the only ones showing any progress on the ground in fighting ISIS.
And instead of real anti-terror policies, Erdogan has used the climate of fear to round up members of the opposition, from the Gulen group, whose only crime was finding corruption in the Erdogan regime. He’s also cracked down on opposition papers critical of his regime and arrested scholars for calling for an end to the war on Kurds, targeting college tutors instead of real terrorists. It’s hard to say “Ankara olduğumuzu” when you’re expressing sympathy for a tyrant.
In the United States, we’ve seen Ted Cruz call for aggressive policing of Muslim neighborhoods and Donald Trump say we need waterboarding and “a lot more” as our response. Not only do such methods produce ineffective responses, but would undermine one of our best sources of anti-terrorism leads: members of the neighborhood reporting such activity, as noted by research done by Think Progress.
Marching an armed division through Dearborn, Michigan, or torturing someone into saying anything just to stop the pain wouldn’t stop a terror attack. And Trump’s call for the USA to pull out of NATO hands ISIS a long-needed victory: fragmenting the powerful alliance between America and Europe that stood up to Soviet belligerence and has taken the lead in the war on terrorism in the Middle East.
We can and should have a good debate about what to do, but Belgium, Turkey and some American presidential candidates have shown us clearly what we shouldn’t do.