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Rand Corp -- War On Terrorism Is A Failure

08/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Dan Kovalik Human & Labor Rights Lawyer, Adjunct Professor of International Human Rights Law

The Rand Corporation, a conservative think-tank originally started by the U.S. Air Force, has produced a new report entitled, "How Terrorist Groups End - Lessons for Countering al Qaida." This study is important, for it reaches conclusions which may be surprising to the Bush Administration and to both presidential candidates. To wit, the study concludes that the "war on terrorism" has been a failure, and that the efforts against terrorism should not be characterized as a "war" at all. Rather, Rand suggests that the U.S. efforts at battling terrorism be considered, "counterterrorism" instead.

And, why is this so? Because, Rand concludes, after studying 648 terrorist groups between 1968 and 2006, that military operations against such groups are among the least effective means of success, achieving the desired effect in only 7% of the cases. As Rand explains, "[a]gainst most terrorist groups . . . military force is usually too blunt an instrument." Moreover, "[t]he use of substantial U.S. military power against terror groups also runs a significant risk of turning the local population against the government by killing civilians."

In terms of this latter observation, there is no better case-in-point right now than Afghanistan - the war that both candidates for President seem to embrace as a "the right war" contrary to all evidence. In Afghanistan, the U.S. military forces should properly be known as, "The Wedding Crashers," with the U.S. successfully bombing its fourth (4th) wedding party just this month, killing 47 civilians. According to the UN, 700 civilians have died in the Afghan conflict just this year. Human Rights Watch reports that 1,633 Afghan civilians were killed in 2007 and 929 in 2006. And, those killed in U.S. bomb attacks are accounting for a greater and greater proportion of the civilian deaths as that war goes on. As the Rand Corporation predicts in such circumstances, this has only led to an increase in popular support for those resisting the U.S. military onslaught. In short, the war is counterproductive.

Consequently, as the Rand study reports, the U.S. "war on terrorism" has been a failure in combating al Qaida, and indeed, that "[a]l Qaida's resurgence should trigger a fundamental rethinking of U.S. counterterrorism strategy." In the end, Rand concludes that the U.S. should rely much more on local military forces to police their own countries, and that this "means a light U.S. military footprint or none at all." If the politicians take this study seriously, and they should, they should abandon current plans for an increase in U.S. troop involvement in Afghanistan. Indeed, the U.S. military should be pulled out of Afghanistan altogether, just as it should be pulled out of Iraq.

Interestingly, the current study from Rand, a group not considered to be very dovish, mirrors its much earlier study which also declared that the U.S.'s "war on drugs" - that is, the effort to eradicate drugs at the source (e.g., cocaine in Colombia and heroin in Afghanistan) thorugh military operations -- is a failure. Instead, Rand opined, the U.S. would do better to concentrate its resources at home on drug addiction treatment - a measure the Rand Corporation concluded is 20 times more effective than the "war on drugs." Sadly, the U.S. did not pay attention to that study then, and it remains to be seen whether it will pay attention to Rand's current study.

Again, (and if you read my posts you will see me quote this passage often) Senator Obama was correct, both as a matter of morality as well as practicality, in calling for an "end [to] the mindset which leads us to war." This is so because war has profoundly failed us. Unfortunately however, the United States, and those running for its highest office, appear unable to escape from this mindset.

Instead, they continue to search for military options for problems which have no military solutions. In the process, U.S. soldiers die and thousands upon thousands of civilians are killed abroad. Meanwhile, the stated objective of the U.S., whether it be fighting drugs or fighting terror, is only further undermined. One look no further than Al Qaida itself -- which evolved from the U.S.'s military support for the Afghan mujahideen in pursuit of its "war on communism" -- as proof of this fact.

In short, we continue to create and re-create our own enemies through our addiction to war and force. It is indeed high time to "end the mindset which leads us to war." However, we as citizens in this ostensible democracy will have to work hard to push our leaders toward this end, for they appear unwilling and/or unable to even begin the process of moving toward such an objective.

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