Oct 1 1996

Terrorism ‘Experts’ Strike Again

Among the elite of media pundits are the “terrorism experts,” whose authoritative pronouncements are almost never challenged by the news outlets that rely on them. Many of them (including Richard Haass of Brookings and Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies) were featured in a Sept. 1, 1996 New York Times piece by Steven Erlanger–a good example of the illogic that “terrorism experts” can dispense. Here’s an excerpt:

…Some suggest that America’s threat to retaliate lacks credibility. Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan, finds it absurd that Washington merely demands that Libya turn over the men indicted for the 1988 Pan Am bombing. Mr. Reagan, after determining Libyan complicity in an attack on American servicemen in a Berlin discoteque in 1986, ordered the bombing of Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s residence in Tripoli. “We were serious about it and retaliated in a way Qadaffi understood,” Mr. Perle said, “and he behaved differently for years.”

Notice the sequence of events: Libya, according to the U.S. government, is behind the Berlin disco bombing in April 1986. The U.S. then bombs Libya (failing to hit Qadaffi but killing his infant daughter). In December 1988, Pan Am 103 is destroyed, and the U.S. blames Libyan-backed terrorists.

Perle’s argument is that the U.S. attack on Libya deterred Libyan terrorism–for 20 months, at which point Libya purportedly ordered a much more devastating terrorist attack.

This seems like better evidence for the idea that “retaliation” does not prevent terrorism, but merely perpetuates a cycle of violence. But Erlanger couldn’t seem to find an “expert” who made that argument.