But Tobin is acknowledging that – contrary to Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence – terrorism itself is not an outgrowth of a “totalitarian” mindset but a tactical weapon to use against an adversary when other tools are unavailable or too risky.
Yes, terrorism is a tactic and not an ideology, and one does not have to subscribe to a certain ideology to use it. I had thought that one thing that Western nations had finally agreed upon is that terrorism is an illegitimate and unacceptable tactic. It isn’t supposed to matter why a group or state is engaged in terrorism, and terrorist tactics are not normally viewed as just another morally neutral option for policymakers to select.
The critics making the “tactic, not ideology” observation were usually arguing that it was a mistake to treat the U.S. conflict with Al Qaeda as a “global war on terror,” and it was also a mistake to confuse a conflict against a particular terrorist group with much larger conflicts with fascism and communism. This criticism was a rebuke to unhinged rhetoric about a so-called Fourth World War. No one was ever saying that using terrorist tactics to try to achieve foreign policy goals was a necessary or acceptable thing. Critics made the “tactic, not ideology” objection to repudiate the thinking behind what George Bush referred to “the ideological struggle of the 21st century”. Nowadays one is just as likely to hear a neoconservative version of the “tactic, not ideology” argument from Santorum, who believes that defining an enemy in terms of his tactics prevents proper understanding of the enemy, which he usually describes in ridiculous terms as “Islamic fascism.”
Oddly enough, the MEK actually is a totalitarian Marxist cult. Despite the group’s official claims to the contrary, they evidently haven’t renounced violence. Indeed, their willingness to engage in terrorism is why Israel is using them. I can’t prove this, but I suspect this is also the real reason why many Western advocates of the group want the group removed from the FTO list. If the MEK were removed from the list, some of these advocates might hope that the U.S. could use them in a similar fashion.