TCS Daily

The Terrorism Funnel

By Arnold Kling - August 10, 2004 12:00 AM

"Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter used the term 'barrel with a bottom' recently when he said that, contrary to popular opinion and military convention, terrorism is not an endless pit, but that there is a limited supply of terrorists and murderers. [Aharon] Ze'evi, on the other hand, believes terrorism is a spring that continuously wells up."
-- Jerusalem Post

This recent controversy in Israel concerned whether the metaphor of a barrel or a spring best describes the phenomenon of terrorism. The two metaphors have very different implications for assessing Israel's security situation.

For the Islamist terrorist threat to the United States, the metaphor that I prefer is a funnel. The top part of the funnel (the broad end) is all of the people who might potentially become terrorists. The bottom part of the funnel (the narrow end) is trained terrorists on their way to commit acts of murder.

The top of the funnel consists of frustrated, disaffected individuals, primarily Arab men. Because many of them are well-educated and affluent, their disaffection would appear to be political rather than economic. Living in autocratic societies, they cannot compete for office or participate in a democratic process. They have no peaceful political outlet. There seems little escape from corrupt governments and backward systems. These disaffected young men are Stage One of the funnel.

Some of these men find their way further down the funnel, into radical Islamic mosques and organizations. They buy into anti-American propaganda and jihadist rhetoric. Radical clerics, journalists, and propagandists are Stage Two of the funnel.

Further down the funnel, some of the radical sympathizers join terrorist networks and receive training. The terrorist organizations and their leaders are Stage Three of the funnel.

When individuals reach the bottom of the funnel, they attempt terrorist acts. That is Stage Four of the funnel.

Bear in mind that I am not a terrorism expert. Perhaps I have got the process that produces terrorist acts completely wrong. In that case, this metaphor is misleading. However, for now it is the framework for my views on terrorism and on strategies for dealing with it.

The Terrorism Funnel

Stage One: Politically Disaffected Arab Men
Stage Two: Radical Incitement
Stage Three: Terrorist Infrastructure
Stage Four: Acts of Terrorism

Different Strategies

One strategy for fighting terrorism is to focus on Stage Four, the terrorists in the process of carrying out attacks. That is, try to anticipate and intercept terrorists who are in the process of planning and executing their missions. The funnel metaphor is meant to suggest that this strategy is bound to fail. No matter how many terrorist attacks that you foil, more will keep coming, and eventually the terrorists will be able to inflict heavy casualties. While it is absolutely necessary to attempt to thwart attacks, this defensive strategy is not sufficient.

Another strategy for fighting terrorism is to focus on Stage Three, the organized terrorist units. The idea is to strike at the terrorist infrastructure, including leaders, state sponsors, funding sources, and training camps. Opponents of the war in Iraq argue that it distracted us from pursuing a Stage Three strategy.

Israel's campaign of assassinations of terrorist leaders can be viewed as a Stage Three strategy. As the article quoted above indicates, there is disagreement over whether it has been successful. Avi Dichter, who heads what might be considered Israel's equivalent of the FBI, believes that by removing Stage Three terrorist leaders they can close off the funnel. Aharon Ze'evi, head of Israel's equivalent of Pentagon intelligence, disagrees, arguing that new leaders and new terrorists keep coming down the funnel.

Another strategy for fighting terrorism is to focus on Stage Two, where the incitement to terrorism takes place. Schools, mosques, and media all portray a demonized view of America, and this propaganda helps keep the funnel of terrorism working. Some, including the 9-11 Commission, have suggested that we can combat this by doing a better job of "telling our story" to the Arab world. However, I am afraid that it will take more than counter-propaganda to win the Battle of the Mosque. I believe that those who stock the arsenals of hatred must be treated as targets for espionage and military efforts.

Finally, there is the strategy of focusing on Stage One of the funnel. The Administration's goal of encouraging democracy in the Arab world is an example of such a strategy. The thinking is that if there were open political competition in Arab countries, then Arab men seeking a voice in the affairs of their countries could use political parties and the ballot box as outlets, rather than turning to terrorism.

Another strategy that attempts to deal with Stage One is appeasement. There are those who believe that by changing American policy to be less supportive of Israel and more restrained about spreading American culture, we could alleviate the hostility of Arab Muslims.

In my view, the Israeli experience demonstrates the failure of appeasement that leaves the Stage Two incitement in place. In the decade following the 1993 Oslo accords, the Palestinian Authority kept up an unremitting campaign of anti-Israel hate propaganda in schools in the media. This campaign made it possible -- and perhaps even inevitable -- for the Palestinians to reject a generous peace offer and instead launch the second Intifada.

Making Conscious Choices

I would like to see strategies employed against all four stages of the funnel. My sense is that everyone agrees about trying to fight Stage Three and Stage Four. It seems as though almost no one agrees with me about the importance of fighting Stage Two. President Bush's approach to Stage One seems controversial, with the Democrats not buying into the strategy in Iraq and apparently seeking an early exit there instead.

In fact, I would like to see a clarification of the Democrats' position regarding Stage One and Stage Two. If they really favor appeasement as a way of dealing with Stage One, then I think that the country should know this. If they do not favor appeasement, and instead they take the same view as the Administration on the importance of democracy, then the differences between the two parties would seem to be more rhetorical than substantive. Finally, if the Democrats favor a Stage Two strategy, that would appeal to me, making me inclined to vote Democratic in November.

I believe that as of now, we are left to guess as to how the Kerry Administration would approach the terrorism funnel. This is unfortunate. In this election, it would be better for the electorate to be making conscious choices than blind guesses.


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