Terrorists Do Need States

Fareed Zakaria has an interesting arguments on how terror groups have transcended the idea of the state in Newsweek this week. It’s an interesting concept, and one that’s frequently used, but I don’t necessarily believe it’s true.

Zakaria argues that:

I asked an American official closely involved with counterterrorism about state sponsorship. He replied, “Well, all that’s left is Iran and to a lesser extent Syria, and it’s mostly directed against Israel. States have been getting out of the terror business since the late 1980s. We have kept many governments on the list of state sponsors for political reasons. The reality is that the terror we face is mostly unconnected to states.” Today’s terrorists are harbored in countries like Spain and Germany—entirely unintentionally. They draw on support not from states but private individuals—Saudi millionaires, Egyptian radicals, Yemenite preachers.

Now this is largely true, except state-sponsored terror should not be discounted. Iran and Syria are the two largest sponsors of terrorism in the world (with Saudi Arabia running closely behind). State-sponsored terrorism doesn’t have to be in the form of overt support – in the age of global terrorism simply giving a terrorist group safe harbor is enough.

And that’s precisely why President Bush told the world that "you’re either with us or with the terrorists". It was as much a statement of fact as it was an ultimatum. Neutrality is not an option in the global war on terrorism. Terrorists need equipment, logistics, manpower, and funding, but above all they need safe harbor. They need places where they can train, gather their strength, and hide in times of trouble. In other words, they need at least the tacit cooperation of a state in order to stay alive.

That is why states still do matter. We have to continue to put absolute political, economic, and if necessary, military pressure on states that continue to fund and harbor terrorism. That means that Egypt’s parade of televised hate needs to result in no foreign aid so long as the Egyptian government tolerates such actions. That means that the screws need to be tightened on Bashar al-Assad in Syria, letting him know that if he doesn’t stop supporting Hamas and Hizb’Allah, he’s next to be pulled out of some snakehole. That means supporting the pro-democracy movement in Iran with whatever support we can give, moral, financial, or otherwise.

Terrorists flock to failed states. They use whatever weaknesses they can find to infiltrate states and use them as a base of operations. It is imperative that all states fully cooperate in keeping terrorists out, and ensuring that they are spared no quarter. When necessary, it means using military force to dislodge terrorists from areas where the local government can not or will not remove them.

More importantly, it means making it absolutely clear that the concepts of negotiation, compromise, and appeasement are not used in terrorism. Placating al-Qaeda is not an option – weakness invites attack, and capitulating to terrorism as Spain did this month is more than counterproductive, it is dangerous.

The concept of terrorism will likely haunt us for some time, but by taking concrete actions now, we can make Islamist terrorism go the way of the Barbary Pirates or the Red Brigades – terrorist groups that were crushed and destroyed by a campaign that ensured that terror was given no quarter.

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