Reflections on Terrorism, Dumb and Smart

Peggy Noonan’s observation in the Wall Street Journal that the most recent jihadist mass murderer is “an idiot”—unlike the men who perpetrated 9/11, but like all who have struck us since—provokes more thought than likely went into it. align=”left” Part one of a special four-part series. Read part two, part three, and part four. Noonan correctly notes that 9/11 led us to expect more attacks with comparable planning and execution. Instead, we’ve been hit by random idiots, the most sophisticated of whom (the Bataclan murderers) operate at an elementary infantry level.

So what? Our ruling class concludes that more and better policing has precluded attacks on the scale of 9/11, limiting Islamist terrorism to a level with which we can live. But this lumping of terrorism into a single category misunderstands how very different 9/11 was from what has followed—different kinds of perpetrators, different bases of support, a different relationship with Islamism, and different in the dangers they comport for us. Hence they misunderstand what military and police action can accomplish.

Focusing on these differences—especially in the light of the recently released Osama Bin Laden documents and their emphasis on al-Qaeda’s latter-day relationship with Iran—invites us to cut through the establishment’s parrot-chorus of “what everyone knows” about terrorism and to unravel the complexity what we are really up against. The following is the first of a four-part attempt to do this.

Far from idiots or zealous amateurs working from Afghan caves, the men who planned and ran the 9/11 attack forged passports, and used the international banking system, sophisticated intelligence, and logistics. With the sole exception of Mohammed Atta, they did not expose themselves to danger. So good was their security that, to this day, we do not know who most of the hijackers were: The names on the passports they used to board did not match the security camera photos and, whereas Atta sent the remainder of the money from the plot to an account linked to Bin Laden—openly—the world’s banking sleuths have been unable to determine from which accounts the money had come.

Wiping out records of money transfers is akin in sophistication to producing and altering passports—the kinds of things done not in Afghan caves, but by sovereign countries’ intelligence services. Though we don’t know who provided the passports with which most of the 9/11 hijackers came to America, we know that Saddam’s Iraq provided the ones with which Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Rahman Yasin came to America for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and that the crew who organized 1993 ran 9/11 as well. We know that, unlike the “idiots” who have hit us since, these people had no history of Muslim devotion. They were professionals, with the resources of sovereign countries’ intelligence services.

The billions of dollars in barbed wire, badges, intelligence, and policing inflicted upon America since 9/11 have neither prevented nor thwarted any plans to attack the United States with the sophistication and on the scale of 9/11. The primordial fact is, no one has tried.

America’s physical vulnerability is unalterable. Inflicting simultaneous catastrophic damage on ten oil refineries, or truck bombing ten large schools, would take less planning and coordination than did 9/11. There may well be zealots who dream of such things. But translating them into reality requires a state sponsor. Since 9/11 no state has chosen to make war on America in this way. Perhaps what the American people pressed the U.S government to inflict on the Taliban in 2001 and on Saddam in 2003 helps explain why.

But the Muslim world—its states and its people—are waging a terrorist war on America as never before. Mobilizing millions of “idiots” is affecting us perhaps more seriously than 9/11, though less dramatically.

The Muslim world’s states and terrorists have always lived symbiotically. Because mobilizing for full-scale war exposes these states’ congenital internal fragility, they have always fought through proxy groups. Hence, willful ignorance has been required for the American ruling class to maintain the fiction that terrorist groups are independent. That fiction has served our ruling class’s ideological predilections and has provided terrorists the sine qua non for their operations. That is why the Bin Laden papers’ discussion of al Qaeda’s relationship with Iran (about which more in another article) is such a valuable reminder of reality.

Where did these Islamist “idiots” come from? Islam did not produce them until, beginning in the 1950s and turbocharged since the 1978 Iranian Revolution, the Muslim world’s regimes began fostering denunciations of Westerners in general and, lately, of Americans as the embodiment of evil. As Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi sect founded mosques in the West, it helped radicalize the Muslims who were migrating there. The Euro-American ruling class, for its part, has facilitated the migration, provided the migrants with welfare, and have done its best to shield these Islamist “idiots” from Western society’s immunological rejection.

Hence, by acting as an immunosuppressant, our ruling class has enabled the terrorists to infect Western societies with a sense of helplessness that may prove more lethal than shocks such as 9/11.


About Angelo Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla was a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He was professor of international relations at Boston University and the author of several books including To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).

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10 responses to “Reflections on Terrorism, Dumb and Smart”

  1. “The Euro-American ruling class, for its part, has facilitated the migration, provided the migrants with welfare, and have done its best to shield these Islamist “idiots” from Western society’s immunological rejection.”

    “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” – Abraham Lincoln

  2. The radical Muslims tell us who they are and of their intent to spread their version of Islam throughout the world by force yet many Westerners foolishly invite Muslims to enter their countries. There is a war going on whether we recognize it or not. Wahhabi Islam must be destroyed.

    • Don’t forget the Shiite threat; Iran, Iraq, Hamas, Hezbollah…

      • Yes! In fact, one could read some hints in this first installment: Saudi funding and diplomatic help?, Iranian help in planning?

  3. And while Americans sleep, terrorists continue their planning & training!

  4. These sorts of issues were discussed at length in the years after 9/11. Now they are forgotten. Everyone from Donald Trump to Pat Buchanan assumes that terrorism today is the same phenomenon as before 9/11, that the regimes of Saddam, Assad, Qadafi and Arafat were secular and had nothing to do with terrorism, and that they would have been happy to act as America’s enforcers against their Islamist kin if only we had let them. You do not need to be a neocon to see these conclusions are wrong.

  5. Um, that means that the real enemy is the ruling elitists, right?

  6. Once all the elites are swinging from lamp posts, the terrorist problem (and the countries producing them) will go away…permanently.

  7. The 9/11 attacks were a call to Moslems to rise up. They worked marvelously for that and the terror lords don’t need another. They just need to keep expanding lower level attacks. Which is one reason the idea that terrorism isn’t Islam is so harmful. If the terrorists were really hijacking Islam they would need another 9/11. Instead they know they’ll get plenty of popular support.