Ten years after a band of sadistic bastards leveled part of the New York City skyline, bin Laden is sleeping with the fishes and al-Qaida has been scattered â€“ two victories buried in the disproportionate response to a single terrorist attack.Because the United States lacked a cohesive response strategy, our country has expended enormous amounts of blood, money and political capital on militarily fighting the War on Terror, and has incurred deadly costs to our global position as a direct result. One effective alternative to military responses to terrorism is the use of psychological operations (PSYOP).
A recent study by Brown University found that more than 8,300 American soldiers and military contractors have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 150,000 being wounded.
The financial cost is estimated to be between $3.2 trillion and $4 trillion, and continues to increase daily. Obviously, the military should be deployed judiciously and with much strategic forethought.
If you donâ€™t think these figures will directly affect you, think again. It is our generation that will be required to foot the bill for every destroyed Humvee and dead soldier lost to the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of course, there were far better alternatives than fumbling and costly methods which we employed.
After being confronted by the gruesome images of helpless people jumping out of the burning towers, Americans naturally came together to confront the terrorist threat. Most of us can remember precisely where we were at the time of the attacks ten years ago, and certainly can recall the climate of fear which al-Qaida was intending to produce. We were glued to our televisions as members of Congress and President Bush shook their fists and directed their rhetoric toward the Taliban and Iraq, which were not linked to the 9/11 attacks. Celebrating the deceptively positive results, we cheered at the images of the American military marching victoriously into Baghdad amidst falling statues of a violent dictator. Our nation was witness to the tactical prowess and formidable power of the U.S. military, to be sure, but here was the strategy behind extending the conflicts in the Middle East beyond the annihilation of al-Qaida and its affiliates?
Nation building, infrastructure modernization and social activism are neither proper nor effective reasons to deploy our armed forces. Clearly, if there was a strategy from the start of the conflict, it was obscured and badly distorted by political interests. Military interventions that are unfocused in such a way are costly and largely ineffective. A more effective mode of warfare should have been used as a primary method of deterrence against al-Qaida and the extended terrorist networks of Islamic radicals: psychological warfare.
When analyzing the 9/11 attacks, we must keep in mind that the attacks were carried out by civilians, through a civilian infrastructure, against civilian targets. Otherwise normal men were snatched from the harsh realities of life in their home countries and radicalized to participate in al-Qaidaâ€™s mission of jihad.
Forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman found in his study of 400 al-Qaida members that they had â€œnormal psychologyâ€ and â€œnormal group dynamics.â€ He added that â€œthe right normal people, given the right circumstances or right set of friends, can become suicide bombers,â€ and that â€œthese are the best and brightest of their society in many ways.â€ Sadly, terrorists are simply men caught in ideological prisms and social structures which make their horrific behavior quite predictable. As psychologist Philip Zimbardo wrote in his book The Lucifer Effect, â€œany deed that any human being has ever committed, however horrible, is possible for any of us â€“ under the right or wrong situational circumstances.â€ In Zimbardoâ€™s famed prison experiment, he showed that perfectly normal people could become monstrous and abusive simply based on their environment and social support structure.
Understanding this, it is clear that the best way to stop terrorism is to stop terrorists from being made; terrorists are made, not born.The use of PSYOP tactics against crazed clerics and their ilk would help to deter the spread of radical Islam. Without a violent belief system and a social structure that supports it, many of the men who would otherwise become terrorists should be able to peacefully say prayers toward Mecca without the obligatory â€œdeath to the infidels!â€
Maj. Ed Rouse of the U.S. Army (retired) is a former PSYOP specialist and runs a website detailing the intricacies of psychological operations. He writes, â€œUtilization of PSYOP can prevent needless bloodshed, destruction and misery. That is why we say, with conviction, that psychological operations, or PSYOP, is truly a humane weapon.â€
Psychological operations may not be as effective as Jedi mind tricks, but the best way to dampen religious fanaticism is with a healthy dose of science and a bit of insight into the human brain.