Insurgency and Terrorism

Steven Taylor has a new piece at TCS entitled, “What’s an Insurgent? What’s a Terrorist?

The classic understanding of an insurgency is a situation in which some subset of the overall population seeks to overthrow the existing government due to a severe disagreement that makes other means of settling political disputes untenable. However, the terrorist operating in Iraq are seeking chaos, not revolution, and as such they seek not a better life for Iraqis, or even Muslims writ large. Rather their only earthly goal appears to be death for anyone with whom they do not agree. It is this fact that makes our conflict with these types of groups a war, whether we like it or not.

In comparing the utopian dreams of Marxist rebels to the cult of death that men like al-Zarqawi seem to revel in, I would prefer any day to live in Castro’s Cuba than in the dystopia that the jihadists would bring. While hardly the kind of choice I would ever want to make in real life, it is starkly chilling, however, to note the obvious conclusions that one would reach if one were ever confronted with such a decision.

Certainly true. There is a political goal for many fighting in Iraq–the expulsion of foreign troops–but it’s as differerent from classic insurgency as the jihadist movement led by al Qaeda is from traditional terrorism.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.