Saturday, September 04, 2004
Go for the headlines. Grab a soft target, full of civilians - hundreds, or better yet thousands. Wait for the media to arrive. Let it be known that your hostages are suffering horribly, and refuse any assistance. When the inevitable police raid comes, kill as many hostages as you can.
That, apparently, is the new mode for the Chechen separatists who, completely unable to face Russian forces on the battlefield, now use a wide range of terrorist tools against the Russian people. Airplane bombings, truck bombings, suicide bombings, and from time to time (because all of that is apparently now mundane) a mass hostage-taking guaranteed to become a bloodbath.
When George Bush lies about progress in the "war on terror", or reverses (with no one in the media batting an eye, let alone accusing him of "flip-flopping") his accidental confession that you can't actually win a "war on terror", I can't imagine that he doesn't know what he is doing. Rumors to the contrary aside, he can't possibly be that stupid. He's pitching an absurd line of propaganda that, shamefully, our media puffs and conflates into a psuedo-reality. Why? Perhaps the truth won't sell newspapers. Perhaps the people who compose our media suffer the same sort of cognitive dissonance Bush wishes to create in the voting public - even if at some level they know it is a load of crap, they aren't comfortable thinking about the alternative. Maybe it's "too hard to explain".
This, however, seems to be the new face of asymmetric warfare. Putin falsely declared his own "war on terror" five years ago, to partially justify his invasion of Chechnya. Since that time, Russia has used absolutely atrocious tactics to try to end that conflict on terms they deem favorable, and with each new Russian atrocity (all's fair, after all, in a "war on terror") terrorism has increased.
Of course, this phenomenon is not isolated to that conflict - it is more that the Chechen terrorists have been willing and able to take on some major civilian targets in Russia, whereas in most conflicts the terrorists are either fighting in their own lands or are unable to reach the softest targets in their enemy's land. Perhaps in the past, and perhaps with some terrorist groups, there's also an element of being "unwilling" to engage in such acts, but I sense that any such "scruples" are fading.
Atrocities, whether committed by the military power or by the terrorists, are used by each side to paint the other as pure evil - under the rationale that "anything goes" when you're fighting evil. And that self-justification is usually punctuated with, "... so we have no choice." And so each side ratchets up the amount of violence and misery it is willing to inflict on the other side's civilians and innocent bystanders - because there is "no choice". Until it becomes okay to bomb a densely populated civilian neighborhood in the hope of assassinating a single suspected terrorist leader, or okay to send suicide bombers into a public stadium or to take hostage the entire student body of a large school with every intention that the end-result include mass casualties.
Ask the side of the military power what they think of the latest military atrocity, and you'll hear those same rationalizations... "We're good; they're evil", "We had no choice", "We weren't trying to kill civilians, so it was a purely military mission", "They brought it on themselves", "There are no civilians on their side - they're all terrorists". Ask the civilian population targeted by that military and, as the conflict escalates, you will find fewer people willing to speak out against the terrorism, save perhaps in the form of, "I oppose the terrorism, but...." Followed by "We're good; they're evil", "We have no choice", "We can't reach military targets, and really - given what they're doing - they're all legitimate targets". And so it goes on, ever more violent, with peace becoming more remote with every new "military operation" or terrorist bombing.
Meanwhile, don't expect Bush to speak about the significant increase in U.S. military deaths and injuries in Iraq this past month. Don't expect him to speak about the increased use of terrorist tactics against coalition forces, foreign civilians, or the interim government. Because, after all, "we're winning".