Friday, January 29, 2021

Controlling the domestic insurgency

In the January 28, 2021 Edition of Letters from an American Heather Cox Richardson describes factions within the fracturing GOP - and addresses how to control the domestic insurgency.

It has been just three weeks and a day since a crazed mob, egged on by the former president and his supporters, stormed the U.S. Capitol to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election. They smashed into the building, carrying handcuffs and searching for our elected officials, whom they threatened to harm. They killed one police officer and wounded 140 more. Our vice president, senators, and representatives, along with all their staff, had to be evacuated to secure quarters, and then to hide, while rioters took over the building, rifling through their offices and smearing excrement on the floors.

That anyone is trying to downplay that attempt to destroy the central principle of our democracy—fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power– is appalling.

And yet, Republican lawmakers are doing just that. Within the party, the pro-Trump faction and the business faction are struggling to take control. Those in the business wing of the party are not moderates: they are determined to destroy the government regulation, social welfare legislation, and public infrastructure programs that a majority of Americans like. But they are not openly white supremacists or adherents of the QAnon conspiracy, the way that Trump’s vocal supporters are.

Members of that second faction have risen to power by grabbing headlines with more and more outrageous statements that play well on right-wing media, although they appear to have no program except hatred of the “libs.” Members of this faction are going after the business wing of the party, seemingly with glee. Today Florida Representative Matt Gaetz held a rally outside the Wyoming state capitol to lead a challenge against Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, the third most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives. Cheney was one of ten Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the January 6 riot.

Take note: (1) Cheney is no liberal; au contraire she is a hardline right winger. (2) That the Trumpies are going after her speaks volumes about how the domestic terrorists pick their targets. (3) Said terrorists, and I count members of the House among them, are demanding their “rights” to bring guns into the House chamber.


Former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center Robert Grenier noted yesterday in the New York Times that the United States is facing a violent insurgency and should apply the lessons we have learned about counterinsurgency to head off political violence. Grenier notes that the nation must insist on criminal justice, tracking and trying those responsible for crimes. We must also return the nation to a fact-based debate about issues.

Crucially, Grenier noted that it is a national security imperative to convict the former president and bar him from future elective office. “I watched as enraged crowds in the streets of Algiers, as in most Arab capitals, melted away when Saddam Hussein was ignominiously defeated in the Persian Gulf war,” Grenier wrote. “Mass demonstrations in Pakistan in support of Osama bin Laden fell into dull quiescence when he was driven into hiding after Sept. 11. To blunt the extremists, Mr. Trump’s veneer of invincibility must similarly be crushed.”

In all my years of studying U.S. politics, seamy side and all, I never expected to see the name of an American president in the New York Times in a list comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. But then, I never expected to see an American president urge a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol to overturn an election, either.

Here are excerpts from the Grenier Times op-ed.

The challenge facing us now is one of counterinsurgency. Though one may recoil at the thought, it provides the most useful template for action, which must consist of three elements.

First, the easiest and most straightforward, is criminal justice. We should continue to track known extremists, and investigate and bring to account those who commit crimes. We have the expertise and the infrastructure to do so, and to do it while preserving civil liberties. We need no new statutes, nor should we import terrorist designations that should apply only to foreign groups beyond the reach of domestic law.

But the first element will not succeed without a second, which is even more important but far more difficult: We must isolate and alienate the committed insurgents from the population. Just as Al Qaeda in Iraq depended on a much larger community of disaffected Sunnis for tacit support and recruitment, we face the prospect of there being a mass of citizens — sullen, angry and nursing their grudges — among whom the truly violent minority will be able to live undetectably, attracting new adherents to their cause.

The final element of the plan concerns insurgency leadership. Mr. Trump’s transition from mere subversion of the constitutional order to open incitement of mass violence exposes what he has long represented to the most radical fringe of his supporters: a charismatic symbol. By shamelessly espousing the politics of white grievance and convincing so many that he actually won re-election, Mr. Trump has created the conditions necessary for the extremists’ success. They know better than to take his recent, ritualistic admonitions against violence at face value, and so should we. He will continue to be their champion, and his self-serving lies will be their most potent enabler.

As the Senate prepares to sit in judgment on Mr. Trump, we should be wary of the excuses put forward by his defenders — that his conviction will only divide the country further, that we should simply move on. No: It is far too late for appeasement. Those of us versed in counterinsurgency know that in violent extremism nothing succeeds like success, and that the opposite is also true.

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