We are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy
that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influenceon
infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections,
on intimidation instead of free choice
With these words, uttered just over twenty-five years ago in the aftermath
of the failed U.S. invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs John F. Kennedy
signaled that start of what has been called "the counterinsurgency
era." The fiasco at the Bay of Pigs convinced the new administration
that it was unprepared for the "limited" conflicts it would
need to fight in order to save friendly regimes from the growing number
of wars of national liberation. In early 1962 a special White House
committee was set up to develop counterinsurgency doctrine and guide
the foreign affairs community in implementing it. The effort was to
be two-pronged. Counter-guerrilla warfare would hold back the "scavengers
of the modernization process" (as antigovernment insurgents were
called), while Washington urged reform on threatened regimes and pumped
in development assistance. Communism was said to be "a disease
of the transition to modernization"; counterinsurgency was its
For the military, this implied a radical break with existing doctrine,
which was premised on seizing and holding territory from behind well-defined
fronts of battle. In a guerrilla war, there were no fronts, no occupied
territories; guerrillas had to be fought everywhere. Accordingly, the
Pentagon created elite counterguerrilla forces such as the Air Commandos,
the Army Green Berets, and the Navy SEALS, and trained them for combat
with only the weapons they could carry. Ideally, these forces were also
to be involved both in "advising" local armies and in assisting
local civilian populationsan adjunct to U.S. development assistance
designed to win "hearts and minds." Failing this, there were
"strategic hamlets," heavily fortified areas to which villagers
were relocated lest they aid the insurgents with food, intelligence,
and recruits"to dry up the sea of friendly peasantry,"
in the parlance of the time.
Much of the intellectual groundwork for this policy had been laid in
Boston at the MIT Center for International Studies, which was set up
in 1952 in cooperation with the CIA to research political, economic,
and social change throughout the world. The ties between the center
and the Kennedy administration were considerable. Both McGeorge Bundy,
Kennedys national security adviser, and Richard Bissell, whose
report led to the special White House committee, had helped create the
center and maintained informal connections. MIT professor Walt W. Rostow,
who invented the "transition to modernization" model, went
first to the White House and then to State; in each place he developed
and promoted counterinsurgency doctrine. The National Interdepartmental
Seminar, which delivered special instruction in counterinsurgency to
the foreign affairs community, was staffed with faculty drawn from the
Counterinsurgency theory, elegant as it appeared on paper, lost favor
upon Kennedys death, and the whole enterprise ran aground in Vietnam.
In its prime, it had received the attention and financial resources
of a significant portion of the social science establishment; afterwards,
many defense intellectuals moved back to big-war issues like arms control,
conventional warfare in Europe, and the security of Persian Gulf oil.
But under Ronald Reagan, interest in small wars (now referred to as
"low intensity conflicts") has resumed, propelled by current
preoccupations with Central America, East Asia, and certain Arab states.
Besides counterinsurgency, a second kind of low-intensity conflict,
pro-insurgency, has caught Washingtons fancy, resulting
in covert wars against unfriendly regimes (in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia,
Chad, and Nicaragua) on a scale not imagined since the "rollback"
policy of the early 1950s. However, the biggest change in government
policy has involved a kind of conflict which was previously overlooked
by the Pentagon: terrorism.
It is worth recalling how this change began. On April 3, 1984, President
Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 138, secretly authorizing
preemptive and retaliatory action against terrorists and states sponsoring
terrorism. The signing occurred one year after a car bomb destroyed
the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, wiping out the entire CIA station and most
of Washingtons intelligence capacity in Lebanon; and eight months
after another car bomb leveled a U.S. marine barracks there, killing
two hundred and forty-one soldiers and ultimately forcing U.S. military
withdrawal. This second bombing led to the creation of a defense department
commission which concluded, much as the Kennedy White House had years
before, that the United States faced "a new form of warfare"
requiring "an active national policy . . . to deter attack and
reduce its effectiveness," and "supported by . . . a wide
range of timely military response capabilities." The immediate
result was Reagans 1984 directive. No longer would counter-terrorism
be a matter for the intelligence and law-enforcement communities alone.
Now the U.S. government had a military policy of counterterrorism.
The measures undertaken to implement the new policy have also been
reminiscent of the counterinsurgency era. Elite units such as Special
Force Delta and its successors were set up in the Army and Navy to carry
out commando raids on hijacked airliners and terrorist groups. Antiterrorist
training has been given to local forces in over a dozen countries, and
in one country, Lebanon, a hit squad was set up under CIA direction
to attack anti-American terrorists. Troop training has since 1984 incorporated
material on terrorism and ways to defend against terrorist attack.
The new policy on counterterrorism could not have come at a better
time for the Reagan Administration. Its effort to end the so-called
"Vietnam syndrome" had blown up in Lebanon. Support in Congress
for the war against Nicaragua was at an all-time low. There was new
interest at the White House in eliminating Libyas Muammar Qaddafi,
but opposition from Congress and from key factions inside the CIA were
blocking a full-scale campaign. Though the 1984 directive had been drafted
with more limited purposes in mind, administration planners now saw
in it a way to resuscitate its foreign adventures.
Yet the policy lacked a rationale large enough to sustain so much.
It was one thing to make a case for commando assaults against hijacked
airliners, quite another to sell military action all over the world
as counterterrorism. What was needed was an ideological framework for
the new policy that would spell out terrorisms threat in way clear
enough to enlist popular sympathy and, at the same time, comprehensive
enough to justify action against all the Third World nations that Washington
opposed. Academics were not lacking to supply the need.
Once again, the Third World was a legitimate arena for direct and indirect
U.S. military force; issues could be discussed that had been out of
fashion since Vietnam. Nowhere has this new intellectual enterprise
been more enthusiastically pursued than at the Fletcher School of Law
Diplomacy at Tufts University, where a handful of scholars are bidding
fair to assume the old mantle of the MIT center.
The Fletcher Schools Program for International Security Studies,
established in the late years of the Vietnam was under the direction
of Professor Uri Raanan, a former Israeli diplomat, and the closely
associated Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis in Cambridge, set up
in 1976 by Raanans colleague Robert Pfaltzgraff, have, with
the generous financial assistance of the conservative Scaife Family
Charitable Trusts, sought to develop an intellectual basis for the use
of American military power in the post-Vietnam period. Politically,
Raanan and Pfaltzgraff have been closely associated with the neoconservative
agenda in foreign policy, and in 1980 both joined presidential candidate
Ronald Reagans advisory team on foreign and military issues. Since
Reagans election, they and their colleagues in Medford and Cambridge
have enjoyed unusual access to Washington officials.
Just over a year ago, Raanan and company sponsored a conference
in Cambridge to give the new view on terrorism its first systematic
exposition. Among the presenters were journalists, current and former
government officials, and foreign affairs consultants, in addition to
faculty members from Raanans program and several other universities.
Their contributions were recently published under the title Hydra
of Carnage by Lexington Booksa subsidiary of Raytheon Corporation,
a Waltham-based military contractor which is a key corporate supporter
of Raanans program.
What is the terrorism doctrine developed by the Fletcher group and
the other conferees? As described in the books introduction, it
is that terrorism is "part of a wider problem of surrogate warfare
against Western and pro-Western governments, with the primary aim of
destabilization and eventual delegitimation." The international
communist conspiracy has, in short, become an international terrorist
conspiracy. The latter is not controlled by the Soviet Union directly,
the way the former was once supposed to be, but is alleged to receive
heavy Soviet support and to serve many Soviet ends. The purpose of the
conference was to describe this "problem of surrogate warfare,"
terrorisms place in it, and the appropriate kinds of tough responses,
including military ones.
Whereas counterinsurgency theory was touted as social science, investigating
ways of building up nations against guerrilla takeover, counterterrorism
theory makes no such pretense. There is nothing here parallel to a theory
of modernization. And concern for the psychological sphere, which figures
prominently in most other treatments of terrorism, is also missing.
Raanan and his colleagues write that, in contrast to such treatments,
they had taken pains to steer the conference away from questions about
"the ostensible causes and political aims of terrorists [or] their
psychological profile, sermons on how to negotiate with
terrorists, . . . and, most of all, regurgitations of morally neutral
definitions of terrorism . . . ." These approaches are considered
worse than irrelevant to the thesis that terrorism is a form of surrogate
warfare; they are said to undermine it, by regarding terrorists and
their victims with "ethical neutrality" and resorting to terminology
which helps "reduce legal governments to a position no higher .
. . than is occupied by those who assail them."
For these theorists, the central issue is terrorisms "international
linkages." And not all of those. One looks in vain, for example,
for any mention of terrorist operations by Cuban exile groups based
in the United States. Nor is there discussion of the physical attacks
and intimidation campaigns launched against Korean, Taiwanese, and Chilean
dissidents residing in the U.S. by their home governments, often with
the acquiescence of federal authorities; nor of the victims of state
terrorism in such U.S. allies as Haiti, Indonesia, and Turkey; nor of
the terrorism practices by U.S.-funded rebels in Afghanistan, Cambodia,
and Nicaragua. These omissions were not an oversight. In response to
an incorrect report in the Tufts newspaper that the book included the
United States among governments sponsoring international terrorism,
Raanan replied by letter: "Nothing could be further from
the contents of our work." Indeed, since terrorism is characterized
"as part of a wider problem of surrogate warfare against Western
and pro-Western governments," Washington and its allies would seem
to be exonerated of complicity in terrorism by definition.
The "international linkages" that do fall under the definition
occur at three levels, according to the view expounded at the Fletcher
conference. Terrorism is said to be carried out by a network of terrorist
groups, which work in close coordination; these groups, in turn, are
said to be sponsored by a number of states like Libya, Nicaragua, Iran,
Cuba, and Bulgaria, which provide training, weapons, money, and asylum;
and finally, there is the omnipresence of the Soviet Union, always making
sure that the infrastructure of groups and sponsoring states function
effectively to create a climate of fear in the West.
The Soviet connection is crucial. Once that is established, so is the
danger of national security: an attack by some anonymous extremist group
becomes an act of war by a surrogate of Americas chief enemy.
But while the Soviet connection was repeatedly discussed at the Fletcher
conference, little was added to the considerable speculation that already
fills the popular press. The "first hand" accounts from defectors,
filling much of the latter half of the book, have the same problems
of credibility as all such accounts. Who are these people? What are
their motives? What corroboration can be found for what they say? These
questions are not addressed. And the large number of captured documents
reprinted here, if they can be authenticated, show Soviet support for
the political goals of terrorists perhaps but not for their tactics.
What remains of the case for the Soviet connection rests less on fact
than on innuendo. Consider this argument form journalist Claire Sterling,
whose 1981 book, The Terror Network, was one of the first works
to argue for the Soviet hand in terrorism and who has since been the
main defender of the Bulgarian connection to the attempted assassination
of Pope John Paul II. "In the case of [PLO leader Yassir] Arafat,
you have Palestinian weapons being delivered to the terrorists of Western
Europe, and you have one of the leaders of the Italian terrorist movement,
now a repentant terrorist, in prison, saying, Never, and again,
never, could these Palestinians have given us these weapons, which are
from the Soviet Bloc, without the knowledge and consent of the Soviet
leadership." This "indisputable evidence"
along with "a direct KGB connection" to Libya, which runs
guns in Western Europe, and the fact that these gunrunning operations
"unmistakably . . . serv[e] Soviet interests" makes
it "inconceivable that the countries of Western Europe continue
to refuse to concede that there is a Soviet connection" to terrorist
groups based there. We are never told why we should believe the speculation
of an imprisoned Italian terrorist, what the KGB tie to gunrunning is,
how Palestinian and Libyan gunrunning serves Soviet interest, or why
it is important that it does.
Proponents of the new view on terrorism are only too aware of what
journalist Michael Ledeen called, in his presentation, the "operation
importance" of the debate over the Soviet connection. Thus Pfaltzgraff,
summarizing the "policy implications" of the "international
linkages" invoked at the conference, asserted that on the basis
of the evidence the United States is left with no alternative but to:
"encourage . . . insurgency operations [against] Soviet-supported
states"; "provide on a continuous basis public information
about the extent of . . . Soviet involvement [in terrorism]"; "support
efforts to destabilize and, if possible, replace the present Libyan
regime"; and "develop the required assets necessary to assist
friendly governments threatened by insurgents sponsored by Moscow and
Counterterrorism is the counterinsurgency of the eighties. Yet the
task undertaken by the counterterrorism theorists is much simpler than
that of their sixties forebears. The latter tried to show empirically
how Third World nations could evolve into Western-style democracies
without being taken over during the process by anti-Western insurgents.
They failed, but their theories were falsifiable by the evidence of
that failure. The international terrorist conspiracies proposed by the
Fletcher scholars, like most conspiracy theories, are not falsifiable.
Success or failure seems to be measured here not by how well they conform
to reality while guiding action but by how well they promote popular
support for action. In this respect, the contributors to the Fletcher
conference are not analysts so much as propagandists, setting out articles
of faith. There is a place for that, perhaps, but one wonders about
the appropriateness of permitting it in the respectability of an academic