But for heaven’s sake, don’t call them terrorists, don’t send our armies against them (although special forces are ok), and don’t even think about declaring “war” against them. That’s the bottom line of a long, shockingly silly paper from the RAND Corporation, an organization that once excelled at thinking original thoughts and proposing innovative approaches to difficult strategic and technological problems. Now it’s part of the Establishment and it tells its paymasters what they want to hear.
To read RAND’s latest deep thoughts (on how terrorist organizations come to grief) is perhaps useful if you’re interested in seeing how those people think. Above all, they are bound and determined to “prove” that using military power against terrorist groups is wrongheaded; it’s better to use police and intelligence. According to the RANDfolk, we’re doing badly against al Qaeda, and such successes as have taken place (as, for example, in Anbar Province) are more the result of local actions by Iraqis (especially police) than by our fighting forces.
In order to make this flimsy case, the RAND report leaves out very important parts of the story. There is no doubt that the Iraqi police were enormously important in Anbar Province and elsewhere in Iraq, but in order for them to do their work they needed the protection provided by the Army and, above all, the Marines. Indeed, after the liberation of Iraq, the police were getting plenty of support in Anbar, and al Qaeda was doing very badly. But then came the big battle of Fallujah, and the Marines in the Euphrates Valley were called into the fight, thereby leaving the key centers of Ramadi, Haditha and others at the mercy of the terrorists, who came in and slaughtered everyone suspected of cooperating with the Americans.
The Marines were well aware of the enormous problem they faced after Fallujah: how could the Iraqis possibly trust us, when we had (in their eyes) abandoned them to their enemies? Lots of those local police, so admired by the RANDfolk, had run away to the north, and they weren’t likely to come back unless they were convinced they could survive it. They had to believe that the Marines were going to win, and were not going to leave.
To that end, Marine commanders dispatched envoys to track down experienced policemen, and bring them back. One Marine lieutenant of my acquaintance spent a couple of weeks with the policemen, and returned to Haditha with nearly two hundred of them. This was not at all, as the RAND monograph has it, a spontaneous decision made by independent Iraqis; it was a working relationship based on guarantees from the Marines that they would fight alongside the Iraqis.
I don’t think it’s remotely plausible to argue, as the RANDfolk do, that the “Awakening” was basically an Iraqi phenomenon with marginal American support. I think it was created when the Iraqis saw that the Marines were winning the war. And while I think the RANDfolk are right when they say that many of the Iraqi tribal leaders redoubled their efforts after the 2004 U.S. elections–fearing that the Democrats would yank the Marines out of Anbar– they did it with the Marines alongside. They thought they would win in alliance with the Marines, and they feared they would lose if the Marines left. Again.
The whole RAND study suffers from constant errors of context. One of their favorite themes is that it’s easier to make peace with terrorists who have “limited objectives,” and they cite the case of the Salvadoran FMLN, a Communist organization armed and trained by the Soviet Empire, via Cuba and Nicaragua. Almost as an afterthought, they note that peace was accomplished after the fall of the Kremlin, and the pauperization of Cuba. They hardly mention the defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua by the American-supported Contras. I think it’s pretty easy to understand why the FMLN came to terms: they lost the war and lost their sponsors. So they laid down their arms and entered elections they knew they would lose. That’s the usual pattern for peace: one side beats the other and imposes terms. Those terms are what “peace” is all about, as you can easily confirm by looking at the famous “peace conferences” in history; it’s all about what the winners permit the losers to keep.
In like manner, we don’t hear anything about state support for al Qaeda or other Middle Eastern terrorist groups; they are always treated as if they are purely local phenomena, and to the extent RAND discusses the international dimensions of al Qaeda, for example, it is only to stress the versatility and skill of the terrorists at decentralizing. That is no doubt why Hizbollah doesn’t attract much attention from them, because Hizbollah is an arm of the Iranian state and operates all over the world. No intrinsic versatility there; the Hizbollahis are just following orders from Tehran. And al Qaeda did the same in Iraq, in close coordination with Hizbollah.
Then we have the linguistic games. RAND doesn’t want us to talk about a “war on terror.” Perhaps they might mention this to the jihadis who declared war on us and then attacked. They complain a couple of times that when we use such bellicose language (and worse yet, send armies against our enemies), it is likely to provoke a hostile “response” from the terrorists, as if we had not been singled out for attack by terrorist organizations from the PLO to Islamic Jihad for decades.
Meanwhile, the terror war against us rages unabated. The Israelis and the Germans have found a Hizbollah cell in Germany that recruited Palestinians with Israeli citizenship or work permits. And the Italians arrested five terrorists in Bologna over the weekend. They had been recruiting jihadis for training in Bosnia (where Iranians have long trained terrorists for use in Europe and the Middle East).
You can call it anything you want if it makes you feel better. But it is what it is. War.
UPDATE: Here’s a more detailed analysis of the Israeli Arab recruited by Hizbollah in Germany.
Michael Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.