Deception & Misdirection

Terrorists: They know what they’re doing

[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]

We’ve been reminded in recent weeks of the depths to which Islamofascist terrorists will go, from the December murder of 132 schoolchildren by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistani Taliban) to the January immolation of a captured Jordanian pilot by ISIS, an act that was shown to the world in a professionally edited video.

These acts seem to make little sense. Why would the terrorists commit atrocities that seem likely to backfire on them, to rouse their opponents to action?

Indeed, the website Catholic Online noted ( ), regarding the school attack:

Analyst Peter Bergen believes this attack could backfire most spectacularly against the Afghanistan Taliban. While the group may have gained a lot of publicity, Bergen says, this attack on schoolchildren is seen as beyond the pale. The ripples will be felt through Pakistani politics.
“If the intent was to get the Pakistani military or the Pakistani government to back down, that is just not going to happen,” he said. “I think the level of outrage in Pakistan right now is off the charts.”

Regarding the killing of the Jordanian  pilot—he was put in a cage and set aflame—the International Business Times reported ( ):

Retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen says  . . .  the video released last week showing Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh being burned to death in a cage could be considered a tipping point in the battle against the terrorist Islamist group. . . .

Asked if the video released last Tuesday backfired, Allen responded, “Absolutely it did.”

“It’s a very important moment for our Arab allies in the [anti-ISIS] coalition,” he added.

Allen, President Obama’s special envoy to the coalition, said the ISIS atrocity has “galvanized the coalition” and unified it. King Abdullah II of Jordan has indicated he wants to do more to eliminate the terrorist group.

Gosh, those terrorists must be really stupid!

Or maybe not.

Currently, Islamofascism may be in its best strategic position in hundreds of years. Imperialist Islam held territory in the region that’s now Spain and Portugal (plus part of France) during the period from 711 to 1492, and reached as far as the gates of Vienna in 1683. Today, ISIS controls an area bigger than the U.K.; Iran-backed Houthis have taken Yemen; Iran is about to get the atomic bomb and, perhaps, missiles that can reach the U.S.; Boko Haram controls Nigerian territory the size of Belgium; and, if demographic trends continue, we’re a few decades away from a Muslim France.

They’re winning. The terror they inflict is part of a strategy that’s working.

Terrorists—those who commit violence against civilians, creating a climate of fear, in order to achieve political goals—know that the atrocities they commit are unlikely to bring down governments directly. What they’re counting on is for governments to react in ways that are detrimental to themselves.

It’s a principle that is important in game theory.

In The Art of War, the ancient Chinese treatise attributed to Sun Tzu, we are instructed to make ourselves appear to be weak where we are strong and appear to be strong where we are weak, so that the enemy will mistakenly attack us where we are strongest.

The key to winning a game of chess is to lead your opponent into making a mistake. Indeed, if two players play perfectly, a chess game will always end in a draw. Likewise, football is a game based on trickery, on drawing the other team into making mistakes. (Seahawks fans know what I’m talking about.) The game of terrorism and counter-terrorism may be far more serious than chess or football, but the same principles apply.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote last week ( ):

Why did they do it? What did the Islamic State think it could possibly gain by burning alive a captured Jordanian pilot?

I wouldn’t underestimate the absence of logic, the sheer depraved thrill of a triumphant cult reveling in its barbarism. But I wouldn’t overestimate it either. You don’t overrun much of Syria and Iraq without having deployed keen tactical and strategic reasoning.

So what’s the objective? To destabilize Jordan by drawing it deeply into the conflict.

At first glance, this seems to make no sense. The savage execution has mobilized against the Islamic State and given it solidarity and unity of purpose.

Yes, for now. But what about six months hence? Solidarity and purpose fade quickly. Think about how post-9/11 American fervor dissipated over the years of inconclusive conflict, yielding the war fatigue of today. Or how the beheading of U.S. journalists galvanized the country against the Islamic State, yet less than five months later, the frustrating nature of that fight is creating divisions at home.


Terrorism is a strategy used by forces that, on the surface, are hopelessly outmatched, in order to trick the terrorists’ enemies into defeating themselves.

(That, by the way, is why the term “War on Terrorism” is a misnomer. Calling our conflict with Islamofascism “the War on Terrorism” is like calling the war against the Nazis “the War on Tanks.”)

Often, governments under terrorist attack react by restricting people’s freedom, or by instituting security measures that drain their pocketbooks. Such governments grow more powerful, and inevitably more corrupt. Over time, people get fed up and demand that their governments sue for peace with the terrorists, or, in extreme cases, people throw out the existing government in the hope that whatever comes next will be an improvement.

The 9/11 attacks drew the U.S. into a war in Iraq that altered the balance of power in the region. For one thing, it eliminated Saddam Hussein’s government as a counterbalance to Iran. (In simple terms, the U.S. had spent years maneuvering Iran and Iraq into fighting each other instead of going after us.)

In Spain, the Madrid bombings of 2004 occurred three days before the election; the government blamed the attack on Basque separatists, then got caught in a lie when it turned out to have been committed by Islamic terrorists. The socialists were elected, implemented “green” and otherwise socialist policies, and crippled the country’s economy so badly that Spain’s condition did significant damage to the entire European Union. Still stinging from their loss of Spain hundreds of years ago (they still call it “Andalusia,” its occupation name), the Islamofascists celebrated the country’s plight.

In the U.S., the stress of the Iraq War—the drain on the economy, the loss of life and limb—brought extremists to power in Congress in 2006. Two years later, they took the White House. President Obama helped bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt (temporarily, fortunately for us), waged an illegal war in Libya (effectively on the side of Al Qaeda), and tried to intervene illegally in Syria (which would have helped ISIS). Just last week, the President made the case that the Christian-dominated West lacks moral authority to stand up to the Islamofascists. We shouldn’t get on our “high horse,” he said. Without the 9/11 attack, which led directly to the Iraq War, it’s highly unlikely that Americans would have elected an extremist as President.

Another effect of the government’s response to 9/11: illegal spying by government agencies, such as the NSA’s systematic violation of the 4th Amendment, which undermined Americans’ faith in their own government.

In countless ways, we are a weaker country today than we were before 9/11. We are poorer and less free, and less able to oppose the Islamofascists in the struggle for the hearts and minds of Muslims and people in the Muslim-dominated world.

The Islamofascists know what they are doing. They are in it for the long haul. As I’ve half-joked, these are people who refer to events of the 11th Century in sentences that begin, “Recently…”

Monsters they are. Fools they are not.

Dr. Steven J. Allen

A journalist with 45 years’ experience, Dr. Allen served as press secretary to U.S. Senator Jeremiah Denton and as senior researcher for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. He earned a master’s…
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