January 25, 2011
US General George S. Patton is often credited with saying “No poor bastard ever won a war by dying for his country.” Perhaps Patton was correct. But a lot of poor bastards had a significant impact on security policies by blowing themselves up for their cause.
Yesterday’s suicide attack at Domodedovo airport in Moscow was another stark reminder that there are people in this world who have (a) extreme commitment to their cause; (b) the will to die for their beliefs; and (c) the twisted moral compass to justify the deaths of others as necessary and legitimate.
These three ingredients are a dangerous combination, and unfortunately they exist in mass quantities among fanatics who have lost sight of their humanity.
I don’t want to get into the chicken or egg argument right now about whether such fanaticism would exist without authoritarian, imperialistic arrogance on the part of major world governments… but suffice it to say that, with each attack on civilian targets, governments step up their military/police efforts in the ‘war on terror.’
It’s interesting how government defense planners always seem to be training their troops to fight the last war. For example, the WW2-style training in the US that lasted for decades which prepared troops to fight against Soviet forces proved largely irrelevant in the jungle warfare environment of Vietnam, or the desert in Kuwait.
Subsequent jungle warfare and traditional desert warfare training proved largely irrelevant in the 1990s peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, and training for peacekeeping operations proved largely irrelevant for Iraq’s counterinsurgency operations.
As the military now focuses its training on preparing troops for yesterday’s counterinsurgency operations, I suspect defense planners are largely ignoring tomorrow’s threats, like cyber- and economic warfare.
Similarly, every time there is an attack on civilian targets, governments come out in force against the threat. When someone tries to explode his shoe, everyone has to take his/her shoes off. When someone tries to explode his underwear, everyone has to go through a body scanner.
The Russian bombing yesterday proved that these reactive tactics are completely ineffective, akin to training to fight the last war.
Soft targets are everywhere, and if government agencies make it too difficult to blow up a plane, attackers will blow up the airport. If they can’t blow up an airport, they’ll blow up a bus station… sports stadium… grocery store… you name it.
Each reactive policy measure only serves to solidify the attackers’ convictions, erode the freedoms of the innocents, and divide the nation into to distinct sides– those who would rather have their freedom and take a chance on safety, and those who are willing to relinquish their freedom in exchange for the illusion of security.
Politicians will always side with the latter, expanding their domain and redefining ‘security’ so that it encompasses the widest possible range of human activities.
Going to a ball game? Security. A nightclub? Security. No more financial privacy? It’s for your security. Listening to your phone calls? Also for your security. Protesting against the politicians? You’re a security risk. 90-year old woman in a wheelchair? Frisk her, she’s a security risk. “Attention WalMart shoppers: rat out your neighbor.” – Homeland Security.
These measures are all readily accepted by society because voters will ask for, and allow, these types of politicians and policies.
After the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis in Russia in which hundreds of hostages and children were killed, the Russian government vastly expanded the powers of its law enforcement agencies, asserted its control over the media, and even unilaterally replaced certain elected federal positions with executive appointees.
Russian society digested these measures in stride, still shocked from the massacre in Beslan.
In response to Monday’s bombing, officials in Russia are already talking about enhancing their security procedures, which will certainly include new government powers. I also doubt that the effects will stop with Russia’s security posture.
The Chinese government already reacted by beefing up security at Beijing’s airport, deploying more police dogs throughout the terminals. I wouldn’t be surprised if governments in North America and Europe used this event as an excuse to initiate their own measures, going further down the slippery slope.
None of these steps really matter in the big picture; loosely organized suicide bombers cannot be subdued with conventional forces or security measures… and for the regular folks who just want to go on living their lives, it’s like being caught in the middle of a battlefield without a weapon.
I’m reminded of Herbert Hoover’s 1928 winning presidential campaign slogan, “A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage.” Perhaps the modern analogy is “a government agent on every corner, a wiretap on every phone.” It is, after all, for our security.