The Intelligence of Terrorists

So I’m listening to the local news tonight while doing dishes and they are talking about the West Chester man that was beheaded in Iraq on video. Leaving the moral implications of this action aside for a moment, lets just take a look at the sheer intelligence of this move as a strategy for incurring change vis a vis the situation in Iraq.

There are basically two possibilities as to who could have perpetrated this crime: some Iraqis or some members of Al Qaeda (possibly with Iraqi aid). Lets start with the case of the Iraqis first.

Should it have been some Iraqis, they have just set the treatment of their countrymen back about 6 months. Things were looking good for them lately: people all over are calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation, soldiers were going to go before courts marshal, American generals were speaking in their defense, video of mistreatment was making rampant rounds in the media, etc, etc. However, what the people who perpetrated this act obviously didn’t know is that a story about some Iraqis getting beaten up and humiliated way over in Iraq is not worth nearly as much as a story about one lone American getting beheaded on video with respect to the interests of the average American. This story will certainly override the allegations of prisoner mistreatment in the zeitgeist of America. As well, another benefit that could have been reaped by the Iraqis before today’s events was that, being an election year, the plight of the Iraqi citizen could have persuaded Americans to vote for Kerry in enough volume to supplant George Bush et al. This is no longer the case.

Remember back in the mid- to late-80’s when everyone was afraid of the Japanese and their growing economy and how it was going to destroy America’s prosperity? Well, that was a galvanizing threat for the Americans. This led them to face the issue of economic and intellectual inferiority head on and overcome it. Take a look at the economies of America and Japan now: we’re back on top, with a vengeance.

What the perpetrators of this crime have unknowningly done is to galvanize Americans against the average Iraqi. The actions of the few speak for the many, and the beheading of an American civilian will surely speak to the fact that “Iraqi’s don’t deserve our help” in the minds of a lot of American voters.

As well, in case you were wondering, this kind of thing can only prolong the assignment of American troops to Iraqi details, thus enlarging the already ridiculous number of incidents of attacks on American convoys, mistreatment and false arrest of Iraqi civilians and just geneal chaos which is basically bred from a mutual distrust of the other faction.

As far as the motivation behind such an egregious act, that’s probably the least important factor in this whole situation. Whether it truly was for revenge (which I believe definitely was a factor) or for some notion of the ability to change the situation in Iraq, it really doesn’t matter. The perspective of Americans on this issue will not take their intentions into account. In this, too, they have failed.

Bottom line: With respect to the attempt at changing the situation in Iraq, this was probably the least intelligent thing that they could have done. The media will run with this until its totally dry like they do with everything else, and the allegations of prisoner abuse will come up only in relation to Rumsfeld and Bush’s chances for re-election. It will no longer be a pertinent issue for the average American because the “Iraqis” (and I mean the view of Iraqis by Americans) will no longer garner the kind of emotional attachment that they would have had should this murder not occurred.

But, what if the murder was perpetrated by the likes of Al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood or some other such terrorist group? Well, this would be more interesting, but unlikely to produce a significantly different overall outcome.

Terrorists ostensibly produce terror in order to affect a change in the behavior of the targeted group(s). In this case, however, I fail to see how this could create much “terror”, as such. The beheading of a American civilian, unarmed and alone way over in Iraq, isn’t likely to create a lot of fear of reprisal in the American conscience for being in Iraq. The act was too easy to perpetrate (5- or 6-1 odds or some such; anyone would be overcome and easily killed with those kind of odds) and, while particularly gruesome, not especially out of line with the kinds of violence that happens every day in major cities across the US. Living in Detroit, one could easily be stabbed and die during a mugging.

So, as far as producing terror in the minds of Americans, this act is an unequivocal failure. And if they were trying to produce terror in those Americans already in Iraq, well, that’s just plain stupid. They’re already getting shot at and attacked all the time and knew what the situation is in Iraq these days. Good luck, pal.

At any rate, it seems clear to me that whoever perpetrated this act was not very intelligent, as they failed to take into account the subsequent reaction from the opposing faction (that would be the Americans) to an act of this nature. They would have been much better off just letting Rumsfeld (and by extension, Bush) and his cohorts to fry in the court of public opinion. At the very least, they set back the plight of the average Iraqi quite a bit and produced no tangible benefits for their cause.

Basically, terrorism is only effective for a very small subset of situations, and this wasn’t one of them. Next time, they might try using a screwdriver to turn screws, not a hammer.