One of the main themes of The Cost of Empire is that we are usually designing our military to fight the last war. A new report from the Rand Corporation says that the only way we will be able to fight Al Qaeda is to end “the war on terrorism.”
A recent RAND research effort sheds light on this issue by investigating how terrorist groups have ended in the past. By analyzing a comprehensive roster of terrorist groups that existed worldwide between 1968 and 2006, the authors found that most groups ended because of operations carried out by local police or intelligence agencies or because they negotiated a settlement with their governments. Military force was rarely the primary reason a terrorist group ended, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory.
Rand suggests we drop the phrase Global War on Terror and simple refer to the police operations as counter-terrorism.
Calling the efforts a war on terrorism raises public expectations — both in the United States and elsewhere — that there is a battlefield solution. It also tends to legitimize the terrorists’ view that they are conducting a jihad (holy war) against the United States and elevates them to the status of holy warriors. Terrorists should be perceived as criminals, not holy warriors.
Since the US government probably paid for this report, what are the chances that anyone in the Pentagon or White House will read it?