WASHINGTON (AP) — The war on terror has run off the rails a couple times in the past decade, and it needs some serious redirecting right now, according to the influential RAND Corporation.
Missteps include overconfidence in rebuilding Afghanistan, launching a war in Iraq that did little to weaken al-Qaida, and actions that helped militant groups recruit more followers, like the detainee abuse committed at Abu Ghraib prison, say authors of a RAND book released Tuesday.
"The Long Shadow of 9/11: America's Response to Terrorism," a compilation of essays, is being released just as the Senate meets to confirm a new nominee for director of the National Counterterrorism Center, a post created in response to the 9/11 Commission. The center was envisioned as a way to share and streamline intelligence-gathering among the CIA, FBI and other agencies so as to head off another terror attack. The nominee is career Justice Department lawyer, Matthew Olsen, currently the general counsel for the clandestine eavesdropping service, the National Security Agency.
The problem now is almost the opposite of that which caused 9/11, according to nominee Olsen's predecessor, Mike Leiter, who chose to leave after serving two administrations in almost five years at the round-the-clock post. Leiter says there is so much data indicating so many threats that it's difficult to figure out which pose the most clear and present danger.
The RAND essays say intelligence sharing has helped uncover terrorist plots, but that missteps have cost money and lives. RAND senior political scientist Arturo Munoz argues that the United States should have backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's outreach to the Taliban in December 2001. "A peace process among the Afghans was being discussed at the time, only to be repudiated by the Americans," Munoz wrote. He suggests withdrawing many of the troops, and working within Afghan culture instead of imposing a U.S.-style democracy.
Several authors argue that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a mistaken overreach of American power that spent U.S. resources that could have been better focused on al-Qaida.
Eric Larson, a senior policy researcher, says the U.S. is not taking advantage of al-Qaida's overreach, in that its use of brutal tactics is backfiring, hobbling its attempt to win the Muslim world over to its more militant view of Islam.
The authors also warn not to exaggerate al-Qaida's strength. Essayist Brian Michael Jenkins argues the CIA has overblown the nuclear threat from al-Qaida, for instance.