RAND STUDY: War on Terrorism fundamentally flawed and doomed to fail

Today’s Washington Post covers what amounts to a near complete repudiation of the Bush administration “terrorism” policy since 9/11. The fact that the study is coming from the RAND Corporation (SourceWatch profile) is huge. RAND, while technically non-partisan, has a long history shaping a hawkish US strategic policy. (To get a flavor of just what type of organization RAND is, Donald Rumsfeld has sat on their Board of Trustees.)

The Bush administration’s terrorism-fighting strategy has not significantly undermined al-Qaeda’s capabilities, according to a major new study that argues the struggle against terrorism is better waged by law enforcement agencies than by armies.

The study by the nonpartisan Rand Corp. also contends that the administration committed a fundamental error in portraying the conflict with al-Qaeda as a “war on terrorism.” The phrase falsely suggests that there can be a battlefield solution to terrorism, and symbolically conveys warrior status on terrorists, it said.

“Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors,” authors Seth Jones and Martin Libicki write in “How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al-Qaeda,” a 200-page volume released yesterday.

But the authors contend that al-Qaeda has sabotaged itself by creating ever greater numbers of enemies while not broadening its base of support. “Al-Qaeda’s probability of success in actually overthrowing any government is close to zero,” the report states.

The authors call for a strategy that includes a greater reliance on law enforcement and intelligence agencies in disrupting the group’s networks and in arresting its leaders. They say that when military forces are needed, the emphasis should be on local troops, which understand the terrain and culture and tend to have greater legitimacy.

In Muslim countries in particular, there should be a “light U.S. military footprint or none at all,” the report contends.

“The U.S. military can play a critical role in building indigenous capacity,” it said, “but should generally resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment.”

You might remember that back in 2000, the Republicans and George Bush criticized the Clinton administration for treating terrorism as a law enforcement problem instead of a military problem. RAND confirms the Clinton strategy as more effective.

Note that last item about the U.S. military taking little to no role on the ground in Muslim countries. This is exactly what opponents to the Iraq war tried to say ahead of the invasion.

Bottom line, the war on terror is the real fight – on the war in Iraq Barack Obama was right and John McCain was wrong. McCain’s willingness to stay in Iraq “maybe one hundred” years shows his complete lack of understanding of the root cause of terrorism.

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