How Not to Fight Terrorism – The Rand Report

(10 am – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Rand Corporation has recently published a report which concludes that terrorist groups rarely cease to exist as a result of winning or losing a military campaign. To me it is mind-boggling that it took Rand, or anyone else, 8 years to come to this conclusion. Now the damage has been done. Hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, over a million lives lost, millions of people displaced, destruction of property and in the end we’ve only created more “terrorists” which in turn could be used as a pretext to continue the GWOT.

By analyzing a comprehensive roster of terrorist groups that existed worldwide between 1968 and 2006, the authors found that most groups ended because of operations carried out by local police or intelligence agencies or because they negotiated a settlement with their governments. Military force was rarely the primary reason a terrorist group ended, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory.

These findings suggest that the U.S. approach to countering al Qa’ida has focused far too much on the use of military force. Instead, policing and intelligence should be the backbone of U.S. efforts.

end terror graph Before moving on with this diary I’d like to point out that despite propaganda from the Bush Administration, the invasion and occupation of Iraq had little to do with terrorism. Let’s not confuse ourselves on this issue. The pretexts used by the Bush Administration for the war in Iraq have been debunked.

The pie chart at right, as published in the Rand report, shows how 268 terrorist groups worldwide were ended during the period studied, from 1968 to 2006. 83% ended as a result of political settlements and policing. Only 7% were ended by the use of military force and 10% were ended by “victory”.

In summarizing, the Rand Corporation authors conclude that “… policing and intelligence, rather than military force, should form the backbone of U.S. efforts against al Qaeda. And, U.S. policymakers should end the use of the phrase “war on terrorism” since there is no battlefield solution to defeating al Qaeda.”

Former CIA officer Marc Sageman argued this point in his book Leaderless Jihad, published early this year.  His advice to US policy makers was to “Jettison the rhetoric about Muslim extremism … and reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq, which fuels the Muslim world’s sense of moral outrage“.

So, one might wonder, what about Iraq? What about Afghanistan? Where do we go from here?

Senator Obama, the presumed Democratic presidential candidate, has said that he wants to withdraw all US combat troops from Iraq within about 16 months. It should be noted that if all “combat” troops are withdrawn from Iraq, many support troops and contractors would likely remain. At least I have seen no mention of plans for their withdrawal. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began making it increasingly clear that he wants a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. Even President Bush has said that he would agree to a “time horizon” for a US troop withdrawal.

The neo-con faction and their boosters in the establishment media – Max Boot, Charles Krauthammer, The Wall Street Journal and Dick Cheney’s favorite Middle-East historian, Bernard Lewis, are fighting back. The neo-cons (and John McCain) fear that the US could lose Iraq as a base from which to project its military power in the region, while using the pretext of a war on terror to justify it.

The Wall Street Journal in an editorial on 9 July reacting to al Maliki’s visit to the United Arab Emirates on 7 July where he stated that his goal was “terminating the foreign presence on Iraqi lands and restoring full sovereignty [to Iraq]” had this to say:

Our view is that Iraq and Mr. Maliki would benefit from striking a security agreement this year while Mr. Bush is still in office.

And that…it would improve regional stability by giving the U.S. a presence in the heart of the Middle East that would deter foreign intervention. This is the kind of strategic benefit that the next Administration should try to consolidate in Iraq after the hard-earned progress of the last year.

The Journal suggested that the talk about withdrawal emanating from Iraq is just a lot of nonsense and that, with the exception of the Sadrists, all of Iraq’s main political factions want the U.S. to remain in Iraq.

Then there is Max Boot who writes in an op-ed in the Washington Post that US forces will need to remain in Iraq for years to “nurture this embattled democracy… and to protect our own interests in the region.

And we have the predictable Charles Krauthammer, in another Washington Post op-ed telling us why the US needs to have a military base in Iraq … “in seizing the fruits of victory and “make the new Iraq a strong ally in the war on terror … and project American power regionally…”

This should make it clear that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had little, if anything, to do with “fighting terrorism”.

As for Afghanistan, where Senator Obama says he will deploy additional US troops, I hope that in light of the Rand Report that he will reconsider this option. It is not going to accomplish anything with respect to “fighting terrorism”, if fighting terrorism is indeed our strategic goal in occupying Afghanistan.  


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  1. Leaderless Jihad (linked in the essay) – “We have taken a fire that would otherwise burn itself out and poured gasoline on it.”

    It’s time to stop pouring gasoline on the fire. We will not win any “war on terrorism” with military force.

  2. There’s an excellent article at Asia Times Online

    A sampling follows:

    … the Taliban appear to be evolving from a creation of the US, Saudi Arabian and Pakistani intelligence agencies during Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union in the 1980s, to a polyglot collection of dedicated Islamists to nationalists. Taliban leader Mullah Omar told the Agence France Presse this year, “We’re fighting to free our country. We are not a threat to the world.”

    Those are words that should give Obama, The New York Times and NATO pause.

    The initial US-led invasion in 2001 was easy because the Taliban had alienated themselves from the vast majority of Afghans. But the weight of occupation, and the rising number of civilian deaths, is shifting the resistance toward a war of national liberation, and no foreign power has ever won that battle in Afghanistan.

    There is no mystery as to why things have gone increasingly badly for the United States and its allies.

    As the US steps up its air war, civilian casualties have climbed steadily over the past two years. Nearly 700 were killed in the first three months of 2008, a major increase over last year. In a recent incident, 47 members of a wedding party were killed in Helmand province. In a society where clan, tribe and blood feuds are a part of daily life, that single act sowed a generation of enmity.

    • feline on July 31, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Bush and Cheney’s positions that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” has functioned as the basis for using military force over diplomacy, in order to expand the hegemony of private corporate interests.  And, to that end, representatives of such interests don’t negotiate with anyone – not just “terrorists – but, also other member states of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and the WTO (which is why recent talks broke down).

    It’s Obama’s strategic goal to get elected.  If the paradigm of refusal to politically negotiate prevails, Obama’s talking points will lean more and more toward use of military force.  If Obama chooses to identify the source of this false paradigm – that exclusively represents private corporate interest – he may redirect his focus on diplomatic efforts (like he did earlier on in his primary campaign).

    That’s my perspective right now…

    Thank you, again, Truong Son Traveler, for discussing this issue.  I think we must continually discuss this issue until we have dispelled the myths – including the efficacy of using military force to reduce violence – that misguide U.S. foreign policy.

  3. it is breath-taking, isn’t it?

    i wrote about 20 letters on this topic to NY Times, all saying: ineffective US strategy reveals us as a paper tiger and thus gives real incentive to those who can easily see how effective a sniper and unconventional means are against conventional forces…

    OT… MSM or not, the first time I ever had a letter published in the NY Times it was thrilling. and this was before i truly understood how mega media the Times had become.

    i’d started writing after Bush got elected. and stopped once i found dKos.

  4. killed in this fake, horrendous “War”, there was a younger brother or cousin – or two – to take up the fight, even more energized for the fight.

  5. One of the problems is the assumption that there ever was a so-called “war on terror.”  The reality is, there never was — it is and has been simply a catch phrase by Bush et al.  

    From Richard W. Behan,

    “The Mega-Lie Called the “War on Terror”:

    A Masterpiece of Propaganda

    . . . . Since Sept. 11, 2001, the administration of George W. Bush has told and repeated a lie that is “big enough” to confirm Joseph Goebbels’ testimony. It is a mega-lie, and the American people have come to believe it. It is the “War on Terror.” . . . .

    The military incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq were not done in retaliation for 9/11. The Bush administration had them clearly in mind upon taking office, and they were set in motion as early as Feb. 3, 2001. That was seven months prior to the attacks on the Trade Towers and the Pentagon, and the objectives of the wars had nothing to do with terrorism.

    This is beyond dispute. The mainstream press has ignored the story, but the administration’s congenital belligerence is fully documented in book-length treatments and in the limitless information pool of the internet. (See my earlier work, for example.) . . . .

    This is a rather long article, but very worthwhile reading.

    Also, from Richard W. Behan,

    “From Afghanistan to Iraq: Connecting the Dots with Oil”

    An in-depth look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the events leading up to them, and the players who made them possible.

    In the Caspian Basin and beneath the deserts of Iraq, as many as 783 billion barrels of oil are waiting to be pumped. Anyone controlling that much oil stands a good chance of breaking OPEC’s stranglehold overnight, and any nation seeking to dominate the world would have to go after it.

    The long-held suspicions about George Bush’s wars are well-placed. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not prompted by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. They were not waged to spread democracy in the Middle East or enhance security at home. They were conceived and planned in secret long before September 11, 2001 and they were undertaken to control petroleum resources.

    The “global war on terror” began as a fraud and a smokescreen and remains so today, a product of the Bush Administration’s deliberate and successful distortion of public perception. The fragmented accounts in the mainstream media reflect this warping of reality, but another more accurate version of recent history is available in contemporary books and the vast information pool of the Internet. When told start to finish, the story becomes clear, the dots easier to connect. . . .

    Both of these articles are excellent and give clear, irrefutable understandings of what happened when and why!  Very much worth your time to indulge!


  6. From The New York Times Magazine, 2004.

    All of this is what John Kerry said at the time and was blasted by the Repubs. for it.

    When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. ”We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance,” Kerry said. ”As a former law-enforcement person, I know we’re never going to end prostitution. We’re never going to end illegal gambling. But we’re going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn’t on the rise. It isn’t threatening people’s lives every day, and fundamentally, it’s something that you continue to fight, but it’s not threatening the fabric of your life.”

    This analogy struck me as remarkable, if only because it seemed to throw down a big orange marker between Kerry’s philosophy and the president’s. Kerry, a former prosecutor, was suggesting that the war, if one could call it that, was, if not winnable, then at least controllable. If mobsters could be chased into the back rooms of seedy clubs, then so, too, could terrorists be sent scurrying for their lives into remote caves where they wouldn’t harm us. Bush had continually cast himself as the optimist in the race, asserting that he alone saw the liberating potential of American might, and yet his dark vision of unending war suddenly seemed far less hopeful than Kerry’s notion that all of this horror — planes flying into buildings, anxiety about suicide bombers and chemicals in the subway — could somehow be made to recede until it was barely in our thoughts.

    Thanks for this essay, Truong Son Traveler.

    • Edger on July 31, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    Of Course Iraq Made It Worse

    September 29, 2006

    The declassified judgments from the National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism caused a stir in the political world this week, but for most ‘we would guess almost all’ scholars of jihadist terrorism, they are largely uncontroversial. The war in Iraq, the lack of reform in the Muslim world and anger at its endemic corruption and injustice, the pervasiveness of anti-Western sentiment ‘all these have long been identified as major drivers of radical Islamist terror.

    In fact, you don’t need an NIE to demonstrate the most controversial judgment ‘that the war in Iraq has worsened the terrorist threat. The official coordinated evaluation by Britain’s domestic security and foreign intelligence services noted that the conflict in Iraq has exacerbated the threat from international terrorism and will continue to have an impact in the long term. This conclusion is echoed by interior ministries, law enforcement agencies and intelligence services in every part of the world.

    Defenders of the war in Iraq, such as Vice President Cheney, contend that since the United States has not been hit since Sept. 11, the threat cannot be growing. In fact, the terrorists understand that for now it is easier to kill Americans in Iraq than in America, and at this they have succeeded. After the Heathrow plot to destroy U.S.-bound commercial jets and the disclosure of a homegrown cell next-door in Canada,suggesting that the danger is subsiding bespeaks obliviousness or denial.

    Then there is the claim that Iraq has not had a catalytic effect because the terrorists were already after us, an argument the president repeated Tuesday. We weren’t in Iraq when we got attacked on September the 11th. . . . We weren’t in Iraq when they first attacked the World Trade Center in 1993.

    No doubt the United States would have had a serious struggle against radical Islam after Sept. 11 under any circumstances. But the occupation of Iraq, by appearing to confirm bin Laden’s arguments about America’s antipathy toward the Muslim world, has had an incendiary effect and made matters dramatically worse.

    The invasion of Iraq was the wrong answer to the terrorist challenge, for which we will pay a high price for years to come. The continued need to defend that move by the administration and its partisans is preventing the nation from crafting the necessary strategy to meet the terrorist challenge and make Americans safer. The evidence is at hand.

    Stephen M. Walt – professor of international affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, writing for the Boston Globe in his article Misreading the tea leaves: US missteps on foreign policy on October 5, 2006 observed that:

    JUST WHEN YOU think that US foreign policy couldn’t possibly get worse, the Bush administration manages to take it down another notch…. These setbacks occurred because the Bush administration’s foreign policy rests on a deep misreading of contemporary world politics. Conducting foreign policy on the basis of flawed premises is like designing an airplane while ignoring gravity: it won’t get off the ground, and if it does, it is bound to crash.

    Independent surveys of global opinion and separate studies by the Defense Science Board and the State Department showed that anti-Americanism is primarily a reaction to specific US policies. Yet Bush and his advisers never considered whether a different set of policies might reduce global opposition and enhance US security.

    Where the hell has RAND had their head buried for the past two years?

  7. and this amount of time to produce a description of a very simple reality, which nonetheless has this little penetration into the mainstream reality,

    does not reflect well on our system.

  8. not covered by the Rand report would be that of Greg Mortenson in his book Three Cups of Tea.

    In an op-ed by Nicholas Kristof titled It Takes a School, Not Missiles, which reports on Mortenson’s work, he says,

    the Taliban recruits the poor and illiterate, and he also argues that when women are educated they are more likely to restrain their sons. Five of his teachers are former Taliban, and he says it was their mothers who persuaded them to leave the Taliban; that is one reason he is passionate about educating girls.

    • feline on August 2, 2008 at 11:16 am

    how to end the military industrial congress corporate complex, then civilized peoples could really start working to reduce violent crimes…

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