The last twelve months have seen a record number of terrorist plots targeting the U.S. mainland. Several succeeded or at least slipped past government counterterrorism efforts, failing only because of divine providence and the terrorists’ own incompetence.
Since the near-tragedy on Christmas Day, many have challenged the effectiveness of U.S. policy under President Obama. Some of the criticism has been valid — the mishandling of the no-fly list, moving trials and interrogations to the civilian court system, and the refusal of the administration to call our enemy by name (even in internal documents) are all symptoms of what’s wrong with America’s counterterrorism efforts.
Fighting against terrorists — who reject the basic moral and legal norms of civilized society — is inherently difficult for liberal democracies such as the United States, who must try to balance the protection of civil liberties and the prevention of violence.
Many of the issues in front of our policymakers have previously been faced by Israel, a country that has been under terrorist attack since its inception in 1948. Israeli counterterrorism efforts have a simple philosophy: “Do whatever it takes to identify and defend against potential attacks before they happen.” This approach does not change no matter the politics of the prime minister in power, which is a reflection of public support for the stance — for Israel, the fight against terrorism is a fight for its very survival. Thus its government and citizenry take a different view of counterterrorism, unencumbered by the political correctness which restrains efforts in the United States.
There would never be a debate in Israel regarding whether a terrorist should be questioned by civilian or military authorities — extracting information that will prevent the next attack is paramount. Debate is also virtually non-existent regarding whether certain ethnic groups should be watched more closely than others.
Over 2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote in his The Art of War:
Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal.
Knowing the enemy is a key component of Israel’s counterterrorism efforts — Israel is not afraid to identify its attackers as radical Muslim terrorists. This identification allows its counterterrorism experts to include background and religion as input when trying to predict the actions of terrorist groups, creating an analysis that is sound and useful.
Even before Obama was elected, in many cases the U.S. was too politically correct to include religion as a predictor of terrorist activities. In January 2008, the Pentagon fired Stephen Coughlin, its resident expert on sharia and jihad, because he challenged the politically correct view that Islam had nothing to do with terrorism. As the military expert on sharia, Coughlin taught:
The jihad … is essentially an instrument of revival, employed for the purpose of extending the frontiers of Islam and leading the faithful back to roots.
Beyond predicting the actions of terrorists, freedom to fully identify her adversaries allows Israel to use a very important tool in fighting terror: racial profiling. Racial profiling is used openly by security forces in Israel, and they make no apologies for it.
Anti-terror efforts never have enough resources, and profiling allows security personnel to concentrate only on those most likely to be terrorists. Ethnicity is only one of the factors in a profile: religion, general appearance, and behavior are some the others. Those who are deemed to be “suspect” are pulled aside for more intensive questioning. There has not been a terrorist incident on an airplane leaving Israel since 1970, which may be why profiling generates little protest even from the most liberal of Israeli citizens.
Profiling of passengers is not only performed on outgoing flights, but on people flying into Israel on Israeli airlines such as El Al and on people entering the country through customs and military checkpoints.
The United States is too often bound by the constraints of political correctness to use profiling as a tool. Even the hint of profiling is bound to raise “wrath of God” type implications like fire and brimstone coming down from the sky, rivers and seas boiling, and Al Sharpton.
But what would have happened if the U.S. had used profiling before 9/11? Or if the Times Square terrorist, Faisal Shahzad, was profiled during one of his trips to Pakistan?
As the United States defends against the ever expanding threat of Muslim terror, success depends on throwing off the shackles of political correctness and adopting some of the methods of our ally Israel.
During its 62-year fight against terror, Israel has achieved a balance between protection of civil liberties and the prevention of violence, believing that the sanctity of saving human lives outweighs the targeting and possible inconveniencing of a few.