Any action is an over-reaction

By Nathan Harris for

As the events in the Middle East unfold, I am reminded of how similar the situation is to raising my children. It is often debated amongst scholars whether U.S. involvement in the Middle East fuels the growing Islamic presence or hinders it with our superior military presence. It seems that our international troubles in the Middle East began after the supposed “war on terror” began after September 11, 2001 and has yet to stop. In fact, it continues to grow at an alarming rate, as radical groups garnish support while the rest of the world tries to swat at the ever elusive biting gnat.

For those readers who have children, you can relate to me when I reference giving kids attention during a routine “hissy-fit”. For those without kids: if you ignore the fits, children learn quickly that throwing a tantrum does not accomplish anything. A child may be more likely to have temper tantrums if parents react too strongly to poor behavior or give in to the child’s demands.[1] If you fuel the fit and yell back, the negative attention compounds and the rate of fits increases. While ignoring a crying fit may be painful at the beginning (I don’t want to sound like a heartless parent), the overall joy later on when the fits subside greatly outweighs the initial urge to inadvertently encourage the behavior.

After our initial attack on Osama Bin Laden, in Afghanistan, the U.S. justified its decision to “occupy” Iraq in the noble pursuit of the war on terrorism. It is recognized that attacking Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda was clearly justified. The attack on the Twin Towers was an outright declaration of war on the U.S. But then after that, what basis did the U.S. use for occupying another sovereign nation?

The U.S. continues to wrestle with this justification as it continues to fight the supposed war of terror. What is really disconcerting is that every time a nation takes steps against terrorism (which many have done in the recent past) the terrorist organizations gain substantial amounts of new members. The Guardian reported that the huge influx of combatants come from all around the world. The UN believes that close to 15,000 combatants have swarmed to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside ISIS from close to 80 different countries in just the past few months.[2] These numbers continue to grow as the coffers of ISIS are padded by the group’s oil smuggling efforts. Since the group’s inception only a year ago, nearly 50,000 fighters have joined the Islamic State’s cause.[3] The use of drones in recruitment to the jihadist movements, which is often touted as one of the U.S.’s major developments against terrorism, is summed up very well in the following paragraph:

“Response to drone strikes comes in many varieties. First, revenge is targeted at those within the easy range of the insurgents and militants. The victims of those revenge terrorist attacks also consider the drone strikes responsible for all the mayhem. Consequently, terrorists and ordinary people are drawn closer to each other out of sympathy, whereas a critical function of any successful counter-terrorism policy is to win over public confidence so that they join in the campaign against the perpetrators of terror. Poor public awareness — which is often a function of inadequate education — about terrorist organizations indeed plays a role in building this perspective. Public outrage against drone strikes circuitously empowers terrorists. It allows them space to survive, move around, and maneuver. Pakistan is a perfect example of this phenomenon.”[4]

Though here lies the main problem. The world continues to fuel the sympathetic sentiments towards these radical groups. “The repeated use of targeted killing on insurgent capability is, however, subject to a law of diminishing returns and may be counterproductive” and “[t]he youthful leadership that emerges, and the older leadership that survives, will know to move regularly, limit their communications, switch off their satellite and mobile phones, and to trust fewer people with information”.[5] The U.S. is not the only nation at fault. Australia, on Sept. 15, 2014, sent 600 military personnel to the United Arab Emirates with the justification of doing so “not only for the Iraqi population and the people of the middle-east, but also for the entire world, Australia included.”[6] Australia already has some of the toughest internal laws against association with a terrorist group, and now Australia is, by responding to the Islamic State’s temper-tantrum, fostering the group and encouraging its growth. France is also guilty of this same behavior. In March of 2014, France installed the last of four military installations close to Libya. It has 3000 soldiers that are along this “highway” of terrorism.[7] Other nations around the world continue to fuel the fire, by reacting to this ever present threat called terrorism. War on terrorism has become a carte-blanche that lets any nation justify its use of force to any so called threat.

The U.S., as do other nations, needs to react to problems as they arise, not take a preemptive strike against a possible threat that may not happen. In essence, our tactics, which we feel are justified because of the attacks on the people of the world, create the same fear and fuel the jihadist movement more. Just as parents need to raise their children not to have fits by not fueling such behavior, nations must not fuel the idea of terrorism by indirectly fostering support through over reactions to the possibility of a threat.

Nathan Harris is a JD Candidate, Class of 2015. Harris’ entry to the GlobalJusticeBlog is part of an assignment for the course International Criminal Law, taught by Professor Wayne McCormack.


[1] WebMD, Temper Tantrums – Topic Overview, (Last visited 11/12/14).

[2] (Last visited 11/4/14).

[3] ISIS has mastered social media, recruiting ‘lone wolf’ terrorists to target Times Square: Bratton, (Last visited 11/12/14).

[4] The Atlantic, How Drones Create More Terrorists, (Last visited 11/12/14).

[5] Patrick, Keith, Beheading the Hydra? Does Killing Terrorist or Insurgent Leaders Work?, (Last visited 11/12/14).

[6] Taix, Caroline, L’Australie envoie des troupes au Moyen-Oreint et eleve son alerte terroriste, Le Monde, (Last visited 11/4/14).

[7] Barluet, Alain, L’armée française monte un poste avancé aux portes de la Libye, Le Figaro, (Last visited 11/5/14).