Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The government still doesn't understand

In my column for this week, I teed off on the 9/11 anniversary to suggest that the U.S. government still doesn't come close to understanding the threat exemplified by that attack or having a good strategy for countering it. Al-Qaida and related groups are stateless terrorist groups; they can benefit from operating inside a nation-state with the cooperation of the government there, as they did in Afghanistan under the Taliban. But they don't require a state and they don't want to be state-sponsored (as some terrorism was during the communist era). Not only is the military a clumsy and ineffective tool -- at least a military not deeply steeped in counter-insurgency strategy and tactics, as ours wasn't and still isn't, -- it is largely counterproductive in this case.

Al-Qaida, as Rand terrorism expert put it a few years ago, is more like a franchise business than a state or state system. It has a "business" model it likes to teach adherents who can then go out and apply it in their local situation. Even the Rand Corp., hardly a nest of pacifists, issued a recent report saying that police and intelligence work is a better way to approach the terrorism problem than a military approach. Chuck Pena's book, "Winning the Un-War" is the best book-length trreatment of the issue. But to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. (Whether we'll have a hammer-like military when the Iraq misadventure is over (if it ever is) is another question.) So our government fell back on what seemed comfortable and familiar rather than really analyzing the problem and devising effective countermeasures -- not to mention that invading Iraq probably created more jihadist sympathizers than we'll ever be able to kill.

By the way, here's a link to my previous week's column. Sometimes Antiwar uses a generic url the first week a column is up and assigns it a more specific url when the next week's column comes it.

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