Review by James L. Abrahamson
The War of All the People: The Nexus of Latin American Radicalism and Middle Eastern Terrorism, byJon B. Perdue. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2012. ISBN-978-1-59797-704-3, 263 p. $29.95
When younger readers, those not yet drawing their Social Security, hear of “terrorism,” they surely think of the tactics employed by the minority of Moslems (Islamists) who wish to place all the world, or at least the Middle Eastern portion of it, under a new caliph, an autocratic political and religious successor to the Prophet Mohammad, who would rule based on religious law (Sharia) and the authority of his position. To that end, Islamists, sometimes also called Salafis, employ violence directed at individuals, aiming to undermine their resistance to political Islam and even bring down non-Moslem governments. Such violence has been a part of our lives for the last four decades, beginning with the Iranian attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the insurgency that eventually ended the Soviet control of Afghanistan—both before the calamity of 9-11.
Older readers, however, may recall as well the earlier terrorism of the Sixties and Seventies. Secular rather than religious in motivation, its adherents’ use of violence usually drew inspiration not from fundamentalist religion but from the political left, using variants of Marxism, anti-imperialism, anti-war activism, and occasional anarchism to justify a revolutionary assault on Western society. Older readers may recall Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Gang of murderers and Italy’s Red Brigades or the violent riots by French students, which soon drew the support of French workers, shook Paris in 1968, and contributed to President de Gaulle’s departure from power in 1969. Nor were all who used violence European: the Japanese Red Army high-jacked aircraft, slaughtered travelers in the Tel Aviv airport, and took hostages across the globe; the American Weathermen and their allies bombed the U.S. Capitol, the State Department, and Pentagon in addition to taking hostages, robbing banks, and murdering policemen.
The era’s asymmetric warfare, such as that being fought in Vietnam during the Sixties, also relied on terrorism as a tactic in efforts to bring down governments and change societies. That terror found its origins and aims in classical Marxism and the military applications of Vo Nguyen Giap and before him Mao Zedong. In its early stages, such warfare used a covert political organization, small guerrilla forces, propaganda, hit-and-run attacks, and violence directed at civilian leaders to intimidate populations and undermine the legitimacy and strength of the governments the revolutionaries aimed to overthrow. Fidel Castro brought such warfare and socialist government to Cuba and Latin America, where Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez now anticipates supporting asymmetric wars and using populist terrorist violence to undermine U.S. influence and spread his control over all of Latin American.
The author of The War of All the People, Jon Perdue, directs Latin America programs for the Fund for American Studies in Washington, D.C. He travels, writes, and speaks widely (in English and Spanish) and sits on the boards of several U.S. and Latin American think tanks. His special insight is that groups like those identified above, and their many off shoots and successor organizations, have found ways of working together despite extraordinary and seemingly insurmountable differences in religion, politics, and circumstance. Despite much diversity, they are united in their aim to bring down capitalism, free societies, the United States, even all of Western civilization. In identifying the groups involved, Perdue casts a wide net as he describes their cooperation and reveals their methods. In so doing he also calls upon the United States to overcome “the pervasive lack of seriousness that prevents those agencies tasked with defending the homeland from being able even to name the enemy that we face” let alone respond effectively (p. xiv). Perdue places Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom he describes as “hell-bent on the destruction of capitalism and . . . ‘U.S. hegemony’ throughout the world,” at the helm of the many anti-Western groups contributing to the “asymmetrical and political” War of All the People (p. 1).
In the first two of his book’s four parts, Perdue details the history of international terrorist collaboration and the way its disparate groups ignore or set aside apparently fundamental differences, which persons influenced by conventional wisdom cannot believe possible. His many examples nevertheless clearly reveal our enemies’ capacity for cooperation across ideological and religious lines—even to the point of training and arming each other’s terrorists as they seek to exploit grievances wherever they arise. The Soviets, long encouraging the mistaken belief that they were hostile to terrorism, nonetheless supplied Russian arms and supported the training of terrorists from Italy, Spain, West Germany, Ireland, and Latin America at sites in Libya, Yemen, and Cuba.
Muammar Qaddafi behaved similarly, sending millions to groups like Nicaragua’s Sandinistas, El Salvador’s Farabulndo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), Italy’s Red Brigades, the UK’s Irish Republican Army, and revolutionary groups in Thailand, Turkey, and Japan. The Libyan leader also established training camps for foreign terrorists in Libya and sent his own trainers to assist the PLO in Lebanon. Latin American socialists like Daniel Ortega and “Che” Guevara and his daughter made trips to the Middle East to express their support for the region’s Islamists as well as for more secular Arabs. The recent and open cooperation between Chavez and Ahmadinejad is well known.
Perdue next describes the “slow motion revolution” occurring within Latin America (p. 97). Initiated by Fidel Castro and Guevara, the effort to spread what Chavez calls Bolivarian socialist autocracy now moves forward with Venezuelan money and often the assistance of U.S.-based, far-left, non-governmental organizations. Copying an early Cuban method, Chavez also establishes ALBA houses that bring to neighboring countries open medical assistance as well as shielding undercover spies and agitators. As Chavez increased his control over Venezuela’s own media, comrades in Argentina, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Honduras sought to copy his use of media propaganda—though not always successfully.
To ensure the electoral success of Latin America’s would-be authoritarians, several of the Chavez-oriented ALBA countries obtained hack-able electronic voting machines to ensure that dictators once elected remain in control after future elections. Chavez and his allies also target the region’s military forces, replacing established leaders and creating new militia and police units loyal to the regime and sufficiently well armed and trained to match the military. To more directly export the revolution to other parts of Latin America, Chavez has either wooed or intimidated the mayors of towns along Venezuela’s borders and provided cash, training, and weapons to insurgents threatening free Latin states.
Having well identified two threatening dimensions of the asymmetric threat to American security—the infiltration through Latin America of Islamists eager to foment bombings in the U.S. as well as the spread of authoritarian Bolivarian socialism within Latin America—Perdue closes with a third vulnerability: America’s reluctance boldly to name its enemies and expose their methods, to engage fully in the battle of ideas. Describing a terrorist attack as a “man-caused disaster,” as did Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, fails to focus the country’s attention on the threats to the values of its free society and free economy (p. 221). That timidity, Perdue claims, cedes the ideological war to the nation’s enemies. “To allow political correctness or misplaced deference to alter the terminology of war is to cede our most valuable territory. To our enemies, deference equals weakness, not civil accommodation” (p. 221). Americans should instead, writes Perdue, “choose to respond as an act of prevention [rather than later be] forced to respond as an act of retaliation” (p. 222).
Those who teach Latin American Studies in American universities will not likely embrace Perdue’s assessment of the threat posed by “The Nexus of Latin American Radicalism and Middle Eastern Terrorism.” Before shoving Perdue’s book aside, however, they should examine substantial parts of his evidence and how he connects the dots. If scholars are those who base their conclusions on evidence, Perdue deserves that much. As Stephen Johnson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in the forward to the book, it offers “a detailed picture in the here and now of hostile actors and hostile external forces in the hemisphere . . . a much-needed study of the historical collaboration between the terrorist groups in Latin America and those in the Middle East and Eurasia” (p. xi). Openly embracing such views requires a willingness to know and to speak the truth in academic environments often prone to disapprove or limit the expression of unpopular views.