Misplaced rage

We know that terrorism is an all too common occurrence these days.  It seems sometimes that there are attacks everywhere all the time.  In the past ten days alone we saw successful plots in Istanbul, Jakarta and Burkina Fasso – in the latter two seven Canadians were killed.

In light of all this, what is an appropriate response?  Should we get mad?  Get even?  Build a wall (a la Trump)? Carpet bomb ____ (fill in the blank) to see if glass glows in the dark (a la Ted Cruz)?  Do nothing?  Write a white paper?  What?

This issue came to the fore in an op-ed piece in the Post Media chain today by Michael den Tandt (you can read the whole piece here).  According to Mr. den Tandt, the Trudeau government is not angry enough, not showing “fury at the sociopaths who choose to murder”.  Mr. den Tandt then speculates that two things are “at work” here: avoid the “bellicose vitriol” of the Harper government and don’t seem hypocritical when the government has yet to choose a policy to deal with Islamic State.

I have always been leery of the chest-thumping, sabre-rattling, pseudo-masculine hyperbole that leaders come out with in the wake of a terrorist attack (“be assured that there is nowhere you can hide and that you will be brought to justice one day (NB or droned)).  And yes, I get why they do it – to satisfy a population in shock, some of whom are baying for blood, and to show that something is being done.

The problem is that successful counter terrorism work does not take place in emotional speeches – or in the columns written by newspaper folk.  The best stuff happens in the background – far from the public view.  Effective measures are carried out by security intelligence, law enforcement and military people, i.e. people whose job it is to get the bad guys.  This work is rarely shared openly – we can argue for ever whether it should be (I personally see pluses and minuses to doing CT overtly).

So the Trudeau government is actually getting it right so far by not resorting to meaningless bloodcurdling cries for vengeance.  And if the new government wants to really do CT better it will have to take into consideration several things:

a) what is the role of the military?  Mr. den Tandt is arguing, I think, for more airstrikes despite the fact that every expert I have read says they are not the answer.  Special forces?  Maybe.  Training?  Yep.

b) CSIS, the RCMP and others need to be fully funded and staffed.  My sources tell me that the two primary agencies are strapped trying to keep up with the investigative volume.  Get them what they need.

c) our CVE strategy and programme has to be made more robust, not by making more policies or engaging more studies but by doing more of what we have already shown to be successful: working with communities across Canada.

d) work more with our allies in a more traditional – and Canadian – way: dialogue, offers of assistance, a return to the honest broker that defined us for decades and which must be re instituted.  Taking one side rather than the other helps no one.

In the end public displays of emotion are not the answer.  They are like the traditional Chinese food (and not very Chinese to be fair) I ate as a kid: satisfying until you hungered for more two hours later.  Let us not give in to immediate urges with slapdash responses.  Let us take our time and do it like it should be done.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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