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19 April 2013


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Peterson's work looks impressive and surely has some value. However, the long pragraph quoting him raises some questions.

1. His stress is on the complexity of individual personality/attitude in relation to experience and recent/current environmental conditions. Yet, he talks about counter-insurgency policies that are geared to organizational factors - decapitation, etc. This is illogical. Both the mindset and the circumstances of the types he is studying pretty much ensures that those tactics will not work when employed by those trying to suppress it. All the evidence of the past 12 years confirms that surmise. Just how OBL figures in this is hard to imagine. His 'disappearance' and then killing seems to have had no meaningful bearing on anything.

2. There seems no differentiation between individuals who carry out terrorist acts and those who plan insurgencies using elements of terror. And in the first category there is a difference between suicide bombers (+ 9/11 crowd) and others. Terrorism makes sense in certain circumstances as has been discribed and much analyzed. The readiness to kill innocents (especially if one is the agent) does pose challenging psychological issues but not the strategy per se.

3. To put into one category the Iraq or Afghan insurgencies, on the one hand, and isolated acts of terrorism, on the other, makes no sense. It's not very difficult to understand why Iraqi Sunnis took up arms against the US and the government we put in place. Whether the al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia faction conducted more acts of 'terror' is probably correct. Why the greater willingness to do so must consider religious, psychological, and organizational factors. On this Peterson seems to have something to say - IF he asks the question in that way.

4. Given the rather widespread resort to terror in a variety of circumstances, is it reasonable to treat it as some abominable perversity that defies understanding?

5. As to the Islamic factor, lets not forget that suicide bombing was inaugurated by a Hindu woman from Sri Lanka.

6. As to the calculated use of terror, history is replete with literally hundreds if not thousands of examples.

7. Then there is this jargonized mumbo-jumbo:
"A potential major risk is that SOCOM will continue to under-invest in "non-kinetic" SOF who specialize in foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare missions because of the prestige and wealth accruing to JSOC flavor of direct action. These might be just the sort of low profile, intelligence intensive, relationship building forces you want to engage with +/-2s, especially during the period of waiting for interests to align."

My first reaction is that Peterson has spent too much time with the counter-insurgency professionals for someone primarily interested in the psychology of terrorism or insurgency. Second, there is reason to question the ability of JSOC to do non-kinetic stuff. As the Colonel has pointed out, there are few people with the temperament as well as skills to do that. Moreover, how do you draw the line between that and nation-building in the places where we are engaged. Lawrence did exactly what he has in mind in regard to relationship-building. But that was on an individual basis among a literal handful of people. To create entire "forces" to build relationships is, if you'll excuse the bluntness, simply ridiculous. Third, it is hard to visualize where we have a compelling national interest to even try this. We were kicked out of Iran friendly Iraq and will be kicked out of Afghanistan. So,Yemen?

Finally, the corrupting influence of the GWOT seems to have no limits. Now we are seeing closed feedback loops serving to perpetuate it and its warped thinking.


I have not read Peterson, but sounds interesting. Thank you.

I have spent some time in the Chechen borderlands with Georgia and Chechens strike me as mountain tribesmen, with all that entails (re Col Lang's piece on How to Talk to Tribesmen). I think one of the key things in the situation - one of the emotional drivers perhaps - is family.

As Col Lang said, religious and national identity are inseparable in Chechnya. So is family. Family and specifically family honor are deeply ingrained into anyone with a Chechen upbringing. The family of the subjects (family=extended not nuclear) reportedly is spread out across several continents and has some serious internal conflicts. Their uncle in MD said they were a bunch of 'losers' who had failed to assimilate and succeed in America like he had, and their sisters and other US and Canada based kin were all obviously more successfully integrated into their new home than they were. Plus their father is in or at least near the homeland. Again, this is not about I-hate-mommy or other 'personal' or 'pyschological' issues as we in the West would think of them. Family honor in places like Chechnya is like religion and national pride and indeed is hard to separate from them. People there fight and kill to restore their family honor all the time, and fighting for your religion or your nation is a common way to accomplish this.

My guess is that their motives were some toxic combination of jihad, nationalism, and family honor. On the latter, the brothers perhaps saw waging jihad in Boston like this as a way to assert themselves as the most honorable members of their family, and just as if not more importantly to simultaneously dishonor the rest of their family, especially those Note that these are all 'positive' or at least affirmative emotions.

William R. Cumming

Thanks TTG for excellent post, new resource and personal rememberance. AndProfessor Brenner for useful comments.

Both lead to perhaps a very ignorant and naive question?

Assuming that terrorism can be defined, and then defined in the context of actual use, and given the modern nation-state and its resources, is terrorism a tool that acoomplishes any long term objectives and goals for those employing terrorism? What is the evidence pro and con?

Perhaps terrorism is largely a tool of those frustrated by the policies or religion of any given nation-state?



"To create entire "forces" to build relationships is, if you'll excuse the bluntness, simply ridiculous" I would disagree and suspect the other old SF men here will as well. It is true that it is difficult to find people with the right mix of physicality, soldiering skills, language ability, cultural awareness and knowledge and empathy for foreign peoples, but it can be done if the force involved is kept small. In fact, that is what was done in the creation of US Army Special Forces in 1953. the force was built by Colonel Aaron Bank specifically for that purpose and was recruited and trained for the mission of liaison and coordination with resistance groups in Europe behind the lines of an advancing Warsaw Pact. This little organization existed in splendid isolation until JFK decided that such skills would be equally useful in the COIN business. This proved to be largely true although a significant expansion brought some men into SF who were unsuited for the "relationships" mission. The emphasis on counter-terrorism that came from congress in the 70s brought these men to the fore in such groups as "Delta." These two aspects of the SOF force have an inherent tension between them and in my opinion are incompatible and should be separated completely because the human resources needed for the two jobs are so different. See Bank's book "OSS to Green Beret." pl


TTG and All

An interesting post as always, but my general disdain for academic studies in the political science field extends to Petersen as well as all others. pl

John Minnerath

100% Colonel.

FB Ali

This worthwhile piece by TTG focusses on the perpetrators of these acts of violence. However, in a local paper there is an excellent article on the far more significant effects of the reaction to such occurrences. The basic argument made is:

"There are bombs. There is panic, there is destruction, there is tragedy and heroism and death. And then there is emptiness........ a profound, disconcerting, lengthy silence....... We look for reason in the misery, and we confront a void. Our political future is often determined by what we pour into that empty interval..... To a surprising degree, the policies and international actions of Western nations over the past century have been shaped by the decisions made, and the narratives constructed, in those blank days after a bomb.

The first word to fill the gap is “terrorism.” For almost a century, by my count, we have been uttering this word the morning after the attack as a first answer – and, more often than not, its utterance shapes and prescribes our actions in response, limiting them to a narrow range of options, usually decided before the nature and magnitude of the threat is fully known, in those days of uncertainty.......

The problem is that, when we call it the same thing, our response tends to become homogenous, too. And year after year, decade after decade, we respond by turning criminal or political atrocities into “terror”.........

Lindsey Graham, an influential moderate Republican senator, declared that the Boston attacks are “Exhibit A of why the homeland is the battlefield,” conflating domestic with international terrorism, and added: “It sure would be nice to have a drone up there,” to spy on domestic threats."

I would recommend reading the full piece at:



"Peterson believes that most academic analysis tends to focus on rational theories that are too straightforward and simple to explain"

simple is a bit over stretched!!

Wondered if Mr. Peterson's research covered; the leading group which pleads the Chechen cause is the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC). The list of the self-styled ‘distinguished Americans’ who are its members is a roll call of the most prominent neoconservatives who so enthusiastically support the ‘war on terror.’

It is ironic where the notion of jihadi/extremism, etc.. is involved, invariably, Zbeig and necons become a foundation to such ideals. wonder if Peterson researched that one?


of course not to mention the likelihood of yet another boiling plot to pop some where down the road. The MEK terrorist who were responsible for killing American service man and civilians, now turned US (congress) friends, as in Friends of Chechnya. Can Mr. Peterson look into his magic and tell us what of kinda terror incidents in US we can except from this diseased marriage between congress and MEK? And who would be blamed for it?


Perhaps Mr. Peterson should study/research the concept of BLOWback!

The Twisted Genius


"To create entire "forces" to build relationships is, if you'll excuse the bluntness, simply ridiculous"

I'm with PL and John Minnerath on this one. These forces that you find as mythical as a herd of unicorns exist in the U.S. Army Special Forces. I included this passage from a Naval War College publication because Peterson, an obvious military outsider, made an astute observation about the nature of and tension between the Special Forces "relationship" capability vs. the JSOC "decapitation" capability. I've made this same point before.

I'm not inclined to read too much into this one Naval War College study as to the validity of Peterson's ideas. That piece was a collaboration done for a COIN centric purpose. I guess even Peterson couldn't pass up suckling on the teat of GWOT funding. I'm more interested in his earlier works which I have not yet read.

The Twisted Genius


In reference to your general disdain, I almost inserted an apology into this post for talking about a professor of political science. I was heartened by Peterson's research methodology for his first work. It seemed more like anthropological fieldwork. He even did a bit of participant-observer work by accident during his first trip to Lithuania in 1991. He joined the unarmed crowd protecting the television tower in Kaunas against Russian troops. Hundreds were wounded and fourteen were killed in this clash.

The Twisted Genius

Brigadier Ali,

Excellent article. Thanks for linking to it.

The Twisted Genius

William R. Cumming,

There is nothing naive or ignorant about your questions. There are countless definitions of terrorism. None of them are fully satisfactory. See the article that Brigadier Ali found.


I should clarify my point. The distinction I had in mind was between a small select number of people and the cast of thousands approach. (Scahill estimates that we had about 700 unregistered agents in Pakistan outside the tribal areas at the time of the Davis affair). JSOC has 60,000 personel. I very much doubt that more than a small fraction have the skills and temperament to perform the sensitive tasks to which the Colonel was referring. For a couple of reasons: people like that are rare; JOSC has other fish to fry. We need do no more than look at the public record and read McRaven's declarations for that to be obvious.

A related concern is that if you have the supposed capability. you look for opportunities to use it. Two problems: it is questionable whether we should actually be doing what JSOC is currently up to in 72 countries; we use people trained mainly for kinetic actions for non-kinetic misssions. Let's recall the team that spent four years in Mali "relating." Three of the four elite units they were relating to defected. The senior officers they were relating to conducted a coup against a government we were touting as a model of African democracy. Our 'relators' anticipated neither.

The CIA is no better. Raymond Davis was one of our relators on a mission to relate to Lakshar-e-Taibi.

It comes down to what you're trying to do and matching personnel to mission. If we aim to crush Islamic fundamentalism around the world, if we aim to root out terrorism around the world; if we aim to to police the Congo jungles; if we aim to search out and destroy drug dealers around the world because American society produces drug addicts in droves; if we aim to tell everyone everywhere how to conduct their domestic affairs - then we need a magnitude and range of personnel far beyond enything we now have. Of course, constituting it will wreak the American economy - and we will fail on every front anyway.


mbrenner et al

As I have said to mbrenner in other correspondence I agree that the gigantism in what is now much of US SOF is not a good thing. I think that the actual Green Berets in the sense that Aaron Bank created them, should be sundered so that they (probably not more than a thousand) and the SOF commando giant can go their separate ways. pl


So now Sir Lindsey of Graham thinks spy drones patrolling the US is a good idea. The tipping point has been reached, and it is only a matter of time before armed drones from other countries bring the chickens home to roost. Then we'll have an accurate definition of terrorism.


TTG, thank you for your thoughtful post.

FB Ali


Glad you found it good. Of course, he didn't discuss the practice of special interests in using that expectant silence to inject their own agendas into the vacuum. That is what the Bush era neocons did. As a result the US has fought two totally unnecessary wars and embroiled itself in an unending "war on terror".

It was necessary to respond to al Qaeda's 9/11 attack, but that certainly didn't require taking on the Taliban and invading Afghanistan. The excuse for attacking Iraq was laughably preposterous. The consequence of these two wars has been to create a host of enemies for the US: nations, groups and individuals.

All this may be very good for those who profit from endless war, but it is very bad for the USA and its people.

Babak Makkinejad

You wrote:

"It was necessary to respond to al Qaeda's 9/11 attack, but that certainly didn't require taking on the Taliban and invading Afghanistan"

What else could have US done; Taliban were not willing to surrender Osama Bin Ladin to US?


Here's the FBI in action in Watertown.



We could have taken out al Qaeda without overthrowing the Taliban.



The Taliban communicated to several people I know that they were quite willing to surrender UBL to the US. US

Babak Makkinejad

Would that have been sufficient?

Weren't there other AQ operatives and agents in Afghanistan at that time?

Babak Makkinejad

How could such operations be carried out without basis inside Afghanistan?


Pat, what did they want in return?



They indicated that they would expel AQ from the country. What they wanted in return was to not be invaded. pl

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