Commentary Magazine


Topic: global counter-terrorism forum

What is Terrorism, Anyway?

Rich Richman and Jonathan Tobin are both correct to lambaste the Obama administration’s exclusion of Israel, first from the global counter terror forum in Turkey, and most recently from the most recent counter-terror forum in Spain. That Obama and Clinton would allow the exclusion of any democracy and victim of terrorism does a great deal to legitimize the very terrorism that the White House says it is against.

Still, any counter terrorism conference is a sham until diplomats and policymakers actually come to an agreement on what terrorism is. This past April, I gave an address to the Counter Terror Expo in London in which I tried to address the problem:

Terrorism is a tactic of choice for state sponsors and rogue groups when its ability to achieve political aims outweighs the costs. The lack of consensus over the definition of terrorism complicates the fight against terrorism. A 1988 study found 100 different definitions of terrorism used by professionals. More than two decades later, Alex P. Schmid, editor of Perspectives on Terrorism, compiled 250 definitions. In many ways, terrorism’s definition parallels U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s 1973 quip about pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define [obscenity]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it….”

The chance that diplomats will ever agree at a round table on a definition of terrorism is between zero and nil.

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Rich Richman and Jonathan Tobin are both correct to lambaste the Obama administration’s exclusion of Israel, first from the global counter terror forum in Turkey, and most recently from the most recent counter-terror forum in Spain. That Obama and Clinton would allow the exclusion of any democracy and victim of terrorism does a great deal to legitimize the very terrorism that the White House says it is against.

Still, any counter terrorism conference is a sham until diplomats and policymakers actually come to an agreement on what terrorism is. This past April, I gave an address to the Counter Terror Expo in London in which I tried to address the problem:

Terrorism is a tactic of choice for state sponsors and rogue groups when its ability to achieve political aims outweighs the costs. The lack of consensus over the definition of terrorism complicates the fight against terrorism. A 1988 study found 100 different definitions of terrorism used by professionals. More than two decades later, Alex P. Schmid, editor of Perspectives on Terrorism, compiled 250 definitions. In many ways, terrorism’s definition parallels U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s 1973 quip about pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define [obscenity]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it….”

The chance that diplomats will ever agree at a round table on a definition of terrorism is between zero and nil.

Too many countries continue an a la carte approach, in which they condemn all terrorism except when conducted in pursuit of causes for which they agree. But, then again, there is no reason beyond the State Department’s peculiar culture that the goal of the United States should be to convene other parties and hash out a definition through discussion.

Many countries still seek U.S. counter-terrorism assistance. Take Turkey: It seeks U.S. help against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which it calls a terrorist group, yet it bends over backwards to legitimize and assist Hamas simply because Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agrees with Hamas’ platform and goals. Before the United States gives an iota of assistance to Turkey, it should force Turkey to enshrine in Turkish law a standard definition of terrorism, for example, that “terrorism is the deliberate targeting of civilians for political gain.” If Turkey acquiesces to such a definition, then it would have to stop treating Hamas as anything other than a terrorist group; if it does not, then perhaps Turkey is more a terror sponsor than a terror victim and so should be un-deserving of U.S. assistance.

The same holds true for any number of other states. If Pakistan wants anti-terror assistance, then first it should have to agree to a no-nonsense definition that gives no flexibility to the myriad terrorist groups that it now supports. Iran wants assistance against Jundullah and Baluch terrorists? Well, then, it must forever dispense with its “legitimate resistance” nonsense that it uses to justify the most violent terrorist campaigns.

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have tried to transform America into a global follower. It is time to once again become a global leader. If we do that one state at a time, then we can have far greater affect in the diplomatic fight against terrorism than any fleeting photo opportunity at an international conference will bring.

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Nothing Done, But Still Committed!

The State Department struggled again yesterday to explain why — a month after the U.S. committed itself to having Israel included in the “Global Counterterrorism Forum” (which Secretary Clinton formed last year and which the U.S. co-chairs with Turkey) — Israel was excluded from the Monday conference of the Forum, which 29 other nations attended.

Asked about this by A.P. reporter Matt Lee the day before yesterday, the State Department spokesperson pled ignorance, but said he would look into it. Yesterday, Lee returned to the subject:

QUESTION: … going back to the question I raised yesterday about the Global Counterterrorism Forum … did you get an answer on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, as we said at the time, Matt, that our idea with the Global Counterterrorism Forum was to bring together a limited number of traditional donors, frontline states, and emerging powers to develop a more robust yet representative counterterrorism capacity-building platform. A number of our close partners with considerable experience counting and – countering and preventing terrorism are not included among the GCTF’s founding members. We’ve discussed the GCTF and ways to involve Israel and its activities on a number of occasions, and we’re committed to making this happen. [Emphasis added].

QUESTION: Okay. That last line is exactly what was in the taken question from, I believe, June 8. Can you say –

MR. VENTRELL: And that’s exactly where we are today.

QUESTION: Okay. What was done between then and this last meeting, which was just yesterday? … I’m just wondering what did the CT Bureau or whoever’s in charge of this do in the interim to get Israel included?

MR. VENTRELL: We continued to discuss it with the GCTF. …

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I’d just like to know what you did in the interim between June 8 and July 9 to work on this, on your commitment to getting Israel involved.

MR. VENTRELL: I imagine it was raised at a number of different levels, but let me check for you, Matt, and get back to you.

Hopefully Matt Lee will return to the subject once again in today’s press conference, and hopefully the Department spokesperson will have a more informative answer than “I imagine it was raised at a number of different levels.”

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The State Department struggled again yesterday to explain why — a month after the U.S. committed itself to having Israel included in the “Global Counterterrorism Forum” (which Secretary Clinton formed last year and which the U.S. co-chairs with Turkey) — Israel was excluded from the Monday conference of the Forum, which 29 other nations attended.

Asked about this by A.P. reporter Matt Lee the day before yesterday, the State Department spokesperson pled ignorance, but said he would look into it. Yesterday, Lee returned to the subject:

QUESTION: … going back to the question I raised yesterday about the Global Counterterrorism Forum … did you get an answer on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, as we said at the time, Matt, that our idea with the Global Counterterrorism Forum was to bring together a limited number of traditional donors, frontline states, and emerging powers to develop a more robust yet representative counterterrorism capacity-building platform. A number of our close partners with considerable experience counting and – countering and preventing terrorism are not included among the GCTF’s founding members. We’ve discussed the GCTF and ways to involve Israel and its activities on a number of occasions, and we’re committed to making this happen. [Emphasis added].

QUESTION: Okay. That last line is exactly what was in the taken question from, I believe, June 8. Can you say –

MR. VENTRELL: And that’s exactly where we are today.

QUESTION: Okay. What was done between then and this last meeting, which was just yesterday? … I’m just wondering what did the CT Bureau or whoever’s in charge of this do in the interim to get Israel included?

MR. VENTRELL: We continued to discuss it with the GCTF. …

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I’d just like to know what you did in the interim between June 8 and July 9 to work on this, on your commitment to getting Israel involved.

MR. VENTRELL: I imagine it was raised at a number of different levels, but let me check for you, Matt, and get back to you.

Hopefully Matt Lee will return to the subject once again in today’s press conference, and hopefully the Department spokesperson will have a more informative answer than “I imagine it was raised at a number of different levels.”

Jonathan Tobin discussed the substantive aspects of this latest sign of the administration’s approach toward Israel, and Mannie Sherberg’s analysis at Boker tov, Boulder! is also worth reading. And here’s another question: why is getting answers to questions about Israel from this administration always like pulling teeth?

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Administration Sticks to Israel’s Exclusion

Back in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caught some flack for acquiescing to Israel’s exclusion from a global counter-terrorism forum. The event was held in Istanbul and the snub to the Israelis was widely believed to be the result of a demand from the event’s Turkish hosts that the Jewish state be kept out of the party even though it has unique expertise in the area. But apparently, the slight to the Israelis was not limited to the event’s initial venue.

As Adam Kredo reports at the Washington Free Beacon, Israel wasn’t invited to the session of the counter-terrorism forum held yesterday in Spain. That was especially telling as Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, delivered a speech at the Spanish conclave titled “Victims of Terrorism.” But not only was an Israeli delegation not present when she spoke, but during her address, Otero never even mentioned the experience of Israeli terror victims. Though Otero’s anti-terrorist sentiments were unexceptionable, the exclusion of Israel, one of the primary targets of international terrorists and among the leading experts in how to deal with the problem, was clearly intentional. As Kredo noted, the State Department spokesperson refused to answer when asked about the omission of Israel from the speech and the conference. Though the Obama administration has been touting the president as Israel’s best friend ever during the election year Jewish charm offensive that followed three years of constant fights with the Jewish state, American diplomats have not gotten with the White House’s political program.

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Back in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caught some flack for acquiescing to Israel’s exclusion from a global counter-terrorism forum. The event was held in Istanbul and the snub to the Israelis was widely believed to be the result of a demand from the event’s Turkish hosts that the Jewish state be kept out of the party even though it has unique expertise in the area. But apparently, the slight to the Israelis was not limited to the event’s initial venue.

As Adam Kredo reports at the Washington Free Beacon, Israel wasn’t invited to the session of the counter-terrorism forum held yesterday in Spain. That was especially telling as Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, delivered a speech at the Spanish conclave titled “Victims of Terrorism.” But not only was an Israeli delegation not present when she spoke, but during her address, Otero never even mentioned the experience of Israeli terror victims. Though Otero’s anti-terrorist sentiments were unexceptionable, the exclusion of Israel, one of the primary targets of international terrorists and among the leading experts in how to deal with the problem, was clearly intentional. As Kredo noted, the State Department spokesperson refused to answer when asked about the omission of Israel from the speech and the conference. Though the Obama administration has been touting the president as Israel’s best friend ever during the election year Jewish charm offensive that followed three years of constant fights with the Jewish state, American diplomats have not gotten with the White House’s political program.

Though President Obama has boasted of his friendship with Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, this is not a theme Democratic campaign surrogates like to discuss. Though the close relations with Turkey are sometimes explained as part of the administration’s efforts to isolate Iran, Erdoğan has made a fool of Obama by continuing his country’s lucrative trade with Tehran and using gold as a method to elude the Western sanctions on the Iranians. But rather than placing extra pressure on the Turks, the president has characteristically sought to appease them with the exclusion of Israel from the counter-terrorism conference as part of the down payment.

Though Israel wisely chose not to publicly complain about the snub, reportedly it did register its views privately and some members of Congress spoke up about the issue last month. But the complaints fell on deaf ears as Otero’s speech demonstrated.

Though this is not a major issue, it is one more sign of the administration’s attitude toward the Israelis. Should the president be re-elected and get the “flexibility” that he has said he would then have to act on foreign affairs, Israel should expect a lot more of this sort of thing if not worse.

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