- - Wednesday, January 14, 2015


The terrorists struck again, and some Americans, such as Howard Dean, once again refuse to believe them or their purpose. In foreign policy, as in life, it is often wiser to take at face value someone’s pronouncements as to who they are—especially when they make their point with a gun. Rather than wring our hands in self-blame over causation, Americans must truly understand the motives of terrorist regimes.

After the Paris terror strike, former Vermont Governor and one time Democrat Presidential contender Howard Dean said he had “stopped calling these people Muslim terrorists.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser for Jimmy Carter, chimed in and said, in effect, that we need to avoid giving them a reason to dislike us.

Both of them profoundly misunderstand the nature of these terrorists and, more importantly, the regimes that foster them.

First, the West needs to come to grips with this basic understanding. As Will Durant told us, historically, internal freedom varies with the level of external security. Consistent with that, threats to a state have been used throughout history to consolidate government power, especially among dictators. In fact, history is littered with examples of totalitarian dictators who build their power base by declaring their state is under severe threat by a particular culture or peoples.

Perhaps the most famous of all was Hitler. He consolidated his power, in part, by convincing Germans that the Jews were an existential threat. Long before him, in the third century, the Roman Emperor Diocletian took over industry and imposed government controls over the economy and state. To do so, Diocletian cited the barbarian threat. Putin is demonizing the United States internally today to justify his actions in the Crimea and other places. In each case, a threat is used to convince people to give up freedoms they otherwise would not logically surrender.

Osama Bin Laden, the Mullahs of Iran, and the leaders of al Qaeda and ISIS are no different. They want power. They want dictatorial power in its most brutal sense. To get that power, they have to take away the freedom of others.

They do that, in part, by threatening eternal damnation unless they comply with their cultural edicts. Like many before them, they also target a culture and a people as “evil.” The United States and its culture are their bogeyman. They use the U.S. and its culture to justify their totalitarian state. If you combine all of that, you understand why, from the beginning, they have railed against American culture.

In addition, because they need a bogeyman, they target American influence and power. Yes the U.S. is powerful. However, it wouldn’t matter how reasonable we are, how much the United States appeased them or withdrew from the international stage. The facts no more matter to those radical extremists than the facts mattered to Hitler. They will carry on their jihad regardless.

Plain and simple, these terrorists need a bogeyman to consolidate their power. Once we understand that true motivation of these regimes and their killers, we can discard the silly notion that we should blame ourselves for their actions. We can then also understand why they use terrorism against us to recruit more to their side.

Americans also need to recognize that it is human nature to try to explain—and hope to correct—others’ actions through our own experiences and values. As an attorney who specializes in partnership-breakup litigation for almost three decades, I can tell you that many innocently wronged parties cannot believe that someone could cheat them. They are certain the bad guy can be made to see the light and apologize. What they fail to understand is that the bad guy doesn’t see himself as bad. He doesn’t hold their values – and never will. He prefers to see himself as merely “aggressive,” or someone who believes his ends can justifies his means.

At the murderous end of the spectrum, Genghis Kahn ravaged a continent, not thinking he was “bad”—just being the person his culture trained him to be. Attila the Hun, Mao, and Stalin believed in their goals. No amount of civility or American values would have persuaded them to be decent or lay down their arms. If history tells us anything, amongst its lessons is the fact that there are people who are evil and will do anything for power.

If we understand all of those lessons, we can also understand that when someone tells you who they are, why they are doing something violent, you should take them at face value—especially if what they do is a common occurrence.

In other words, we need to stop disbelieving the terrorists who fervently believe in their means.

Thomas G. Del Beccaro served as Chairman of the California Republican Party between 2011-2013.

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