We Don’t Need a War on Terrorism
August 1, 2008
Many opponents of the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq have always argued that this conflict is an irrelevant and even counterproductive sideshow to the real “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan. In fact, Barack Obama led the parade to initiate a troop surge in Afghanistan after having opposed it in Iraq. The more hawkish John McCain, not to be outdone by a weak-kneed Democrat, proposed that even more troops be sent to Afghanistan. In American politics after 9/11, it seems that candidates have to support some sort of war or they will be perceived as being too wimpy to get elected.
Only a small minority of foreign policy gadflies has doubted whether any war on terrorism is needed in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Now a new report by RAND, the government’s own captive think tank, supports this small band of renegades. The study, “How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al-Qaeda,” written by terrorism experts Seth Jones and Martin Libicki, followed more than 600 terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, over the long-term. The report concluded that the administration’s war on terrorism has not significantly degraded al-Qaeda and that the group has morphed into a more formidable enemy. In fact, al-Qaeda has perpetrated more attacks after September 11, 2001 than before it.
RAND deduced that the best way to kill a terrorist group is to capture or kill its leaders. This task is best carried out, according to the study, by law enforcement, intelligence, and, if needed, troops from the local country. Instead of giving terrorists the exalted status of warriors, they should be deemed criminals. In other words, the authors conclude that in most past cases in which terrorist groups have been defeated by getting their leaders, local law enforcement did the job. They say that when troops are needed, local troops have a better understanding of the culture and terrain and thus have more legitimacy than do U.S. forces. In fact, the study says that the presence of U.S. forces on Muslim soil can create more terrorists to fight; thus the authors argue that the U.S. military should confine itself to training the locals.