Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Conservative Think Tank Suggests "War on Terror" is Flawed

Just last week, US Attorney General Michael Mukasey urged that Congress should explicitly declare a state of armed conflict with al Qaeda to make clear the United States can detain suspected members as long as the war on terrorism lasts. "Any legislation should acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us," Mukasey said. "Congress should reaffirm that for the duration of the conflict the United States may detain as enemy combatants those who have engaged in hostilities or purposefully supported al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated organizations."

Yet a recently released report by the US funded RAND Corporation--a conservative think tank--undermines the attorney general's rationale, and calls into question the way in which the fight against terrorism is being waged. The report found the idea of a "war on terror" to not only be misguided but counterproductive. Furthermore, it suggested the US should rethink its entire strategy of militarism as a way to combat terrorism. In fact, it pointed out nations like Britain and Australia have long stopped using the phrase "war on terror" to describe strategy against al Qaeda and other terror groups, treating them instead as criminal organizations that are best stopped through intelligence gathering and policing.

Gee. Kind of puts a damper on that whole indefinite war with no end thing the Bush administration has been pushing huh...

Back in 2004, Democratic Presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry stated that he wanted to reduce terrorism to a "nuisance." As Kerry stated in a Times magazine interview, "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance." Sen. Kerry was drawing on his experience as a prosecutor, and pointed out that just as it was impossible to completely rid any society of prostitution, illegal gambling or organized crime, it was fantasy to think that terrorism could be thoroughly "neutralized" by a "war on terror" no less. For his insightful analysis, one that had been offered up since the wake of the Sept 11th attacks, Sen. Kerry was lambasted by conservatives and a media who played up the seeming gaffe.

Speaking to crowds of supporters, Presidential incumbent George W. Bush repeatdly chided his Democratic opponent. He asserted Sen. Kerry's description of the fight against terrorism as "primarily a law enforcement and intelligence-gathering operation" rather than a battle requiring the full might of American power, was naive. Claiming that the "nuisance" comment offered fresh "new evidence that Senator Kerry fundamentally misunderstands the war on terror," Bush hammered away on this theme--with a little help from his friends.

As noted by the NY Times in an Oct 12 2004 article:

In New Jersey, Vice President Dick Cheney called Mr. Kerry's view of terrorism "naïve and dangerous." In a conference call with reporters arranged by the Bush campaign, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, mocked Mr. Kerry for comparing terrorism to gambling and prostitution. "The idea that you can have an acceptable level of terrorism is frightening," Mr. Giuliani said.

As noted by MediaMatters at the time, conservative pundits joined in on the pile-on:

PAT BUCHANAN (MSNBC analyst, as guest host of MSNBC's Scarborough Country): Kerry seems to have this -- obviously they try to portray him as a girlie man at the Republican Convention. But he seems to play into this with the phrase about sensitive war, and global test, and now terrorism is a nuisance. [MSNBC, Scarborough Country, 10/11]

SEAN HANNITY (FOX News Channel host and ABC Radio Networks host): He [Kerry] is saying, these are his words, this is his little debate he's had with himself, and the fact that 3,000 of our fellow citizens were slaughtered on 9-11 -- and here we are -- we're supposed to believe that these terrorists are only a mere nuisance -- just a nuisance. [ABC Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 10/11]

HANNITY: You know that nuisance that John Kerry was talking about? We're going to win the war on terror so that American cities and American malls and the American people are going to be safe. That's what the war has always been about. [FOX News Channel, Hannity & Colmes, 10/11]

TONY SNOW (FOX News Channel host and FOX News Radio host, as guest host of FOX News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor): But first, our top story tonight, the political heat is on as we count down to November 2. President Bush and Senator Kerry are back on the campaign trail, pounding away at each other, verbally, of course. This morning, the president pounced on a quote in Sunday's New York Times Magazine where Senator Kerry called terrorists a nuisance. [FOX News Channel, The O'Reilly Factor, 10/11]

GARY BAUER (chairman of the conservative political action committee Campaign for Working Families and a former Republican presidential candidate, sitting in for CNN Crossfire co-host Tucker Carlson): Listen up, Senator Kerry. We're fighting Jihadists, Islamofascists, not just a nuisance or law enforcement problem. [CNN, Crossfire, 10/12]

JACK KEMP (former Republican vice presidential candidate): What John Kerry did is take it and call it a soon-to-be nuisance, which is not correct. [FOX News Channel, Hannity & Colmes, 10/12]

Unfortunately, Sen. Kerry--giving into fear of pressing the issue with a seemingly indifferent or hostile media--simply stated that the Republicans were taking his words out of context. Much more plain spoken had been earlier Democratic foreign-policy wonks.

''We're not in a war on terror, in the literal sense,'' said Clinton-era diplomat Richard Holbrooke. ''The war on terror is like saying 'the war on poverty.' It's just a metaphor. What we're really talking about is winning the ideological struggle so that people stop turning themselves into suicide bombers.''

It will be interesting to see what the 2008 presidential candidates--one who thinks a hundred year occupation of Iraq is part of a "global war on terror" and another who intends on ramping up the Afghan war and is on record for unilateral military strikes into a sovereign nation (Pakistan) as a way to "fight terror"--will make of this report. Will they utilize it? Or is their tough talking rhetoric simply seen as more useful during a campaign?

Some further points from the Rand report:

*A transition to the political process is the most common way most terrorist groups end. But the process, found in 43 percent cases examined, is said to be unlikely with al-Qaida, because of its broad, sweeping agenda.

*The second most common way that terrorist groups end, seen in about 40 percent of the cases, is through police and intelligence services. Police are particularly effective because their permanent presence in cities helps them gather information.

*Military force, as currently being used in Iraq and Afghanistan, was effective in only 7 percent of the cases.

*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.

*Religious terrorist groups take longer to eliminate than other groups but none has achieved victory in the 38 years covered by the study.

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