The Common Good

Rand: Solution to Terrorism Is Not Military

Some compelling quotes from a recent Rand Corp. study caught my eye in today's Washington Post -- the emphasis is added:

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The Bush administration's terrorism-fighting strategy has not significantly undermined al-Qaeda's capabilities, according to a major new study that argues the struggle against terrorism is better waged by law enforcement agencies than by armies.

The study by the nonpartisan Rand Corp. also contends that the administration committed a fundamental error in portraying the conflict with al-Qaeda as a "war on terrorism." The phrase falsely suggests that there can be a battlefield solution to terrorism, and symbolically conveys warrior status on terrorists, it said.

"Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors," authors Seth Jones and Martin Libicki write.

I was immediately reminded that the law enforcement approach was a position Jim Wallis took in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 -- long before the Bush administration's failures had created the political space for such concepts to be found in mainstream media. Jim wrote (emphasis added):

I’ve advocated the mobilization of the most extensive international and diplomatic pressure the world has ever seen against bin Laden and his networks of terror—focusing the world’s political will, intelligence, security, legal action, and police enforcement against terrorism. The international community must dry up the terrorists’ financial networks, isolate them politically, discredit them before an international tribunal, and expose the ugly brutality behind their terror. ...

I am increasingly convinced that the way forward may be found in the wisdom gained in the practice of conflict resolution and the energy of a faith-based commitment to peacemaking. For example, most nonviolence advocates, even pacifists, support the role of police in protecting people in their neighborhoods. Perhaps it is time to explore a theology for global police forces, including ethics for the use of internationally sanctioned enforcement—precisely as an alternative to war.

An I-told-you-so attitude is unseemly when it comes to the thousands upon thousands of lives lost in this conflict -- and not just those of U.S. forces and those killed by U.S. forces, but also those killed by continued terrorist attacks. Here's a sobering fact from the Rand study:

Addressing the U.S. campaign against al-Qaeda, the study noted successes in disrupting terrorist financing, but said the group remains a formidable foe. Al-Qaeda is "strong and competent," and has succeeded in carrying out more violent attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, than in all of its previous history.

The point is not to say "I told you so," but to continue to press for a smarter and more effective response to the very real threat of terror. Now that groups with such Beltway insider credibility as Rand are on record, perhaps future administrations can pursue such strategies with new courage.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners.

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