Back in 2004, Bush told a Florida audience, “[John] Kerry said, and I quote, ‘The war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering law enforcement operation.’ (Audience boos.) I disagree…. After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. With those attacks, the terrorists and supporters declared war on the United States of America — and war is what they got. (Audience applauds.)”
Bush, pleased with himself and the reaction, repeated the attack again and again and again. The point was obvious — paint an image in which Bush battles terrorists with the most powerful military in the world, while Kerry fights al Qaeda with cops and lawyers.
The United States can defeat al-Qaida if it relies less on force and more on policing and intelligence to root out the terror group’s leaders, a new study contends.
“Keep in mind that terrorist groups are not eradicated overnight,” said the study by the federally funded Rand research center, an organization that counsels the Pentagon.
Its report said that the use of military force by the United States or other countries should be reserved for quelling large, well-armed and well-organized insurgencies, and that American officials should stop using the term “war on terror” and replace it with “counterterrorism.”
Seth Jones, the lead author of the study and a Rand political scientist, told Reuters, “Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors, and our analysis suggests there is no battlefield solution to terrorism. The United States has the necessary instruments to defeat al-Qaida, it just needs to shift its strategy.”
Ya don’t say.
In a sensible political environment, the Rand report’s conclusion would be obvious and beyond question. Indeed, I thought we’d already resolved this.
A terrorist plot was disrupted in Germany last fall thanks to the combined efforts of intelligence gathering and law-enforcement operations. The alleged plot at JFK airport was discovered after the combined efforts of intelligence gathering and law-enforcement operations. The alleged plot at Fort Dix was discovered after the combined efforts of intelligence gathering and law-enforcement operations. The alleged British hijacking plot was discovered after the combined efforts of intelligence gathering and law-enforcement operations. The list goes on and on.
We catch the bad guys, prevent terrorism, and save lives through these combined efforts. Why anyone would find this controversial is a mystery to me. Why John McCain continues to embrace such a flawed counter-terrorism strategy is even more odd.
Based on an analysis of 648 terrorist groups that existed between 1968 and 2006, the report concluded that a transition to the political process is the most common way such groups end. But the process, found in 43 percent cases examined, is unlikely with al-Qaida, which has a broad, sweeping agenda, the report said.
The second most common way that terrorist groups end, seen in about 40 percent of the cases, is through police and intelligence services apprehending or killing key leaders, Jones said. Police are particularly effective because their permanent presence in cities helps them gather information, he said.
By contrast, the report said, military force was effective in only 7 percent of the cases.
Jones, in an interview, said, “Even where we found some success against al-Qaida, in Pakistan and Iraq, the military played a background or surrogate role. The bulk of the action was taken by intelligence, police and, in some cases, local forces.”
“We are not saying the military should not play a role,” he said. “But unless you are talking about large insurgencies, military force should not be the tip of the spear.”
If Bush, Cheney, McCain, and the entire Republican establishment is prepared to apologize, I’m sure the rest of us would appreciate it.