Pandering without Profit
Two successive administrations now have sought to appease Muslims by minimizing the threat from Islamists. Indeed, science has now been enlisted in that effort. Early stimulus came from the White House.
Hours after 9/11, a Republican president allowed a host of Saudi elites to flee the U.S. by chartered aircraft before the blood was dry at the World Trade Center. Never mind that most of the Manhattan suicide martyrs were Saudis. The political cue then was meant for domestic and foreign consumption; to wit, America would not hold passive aggressors, sponsor-nations, or Islamic propaganda accountable for the atrocities of "extremists."
From the beginning, the majority of Muslims were anointed "moderates," on the authority of an asserted conclusion. Concurrently, fellaheen danced in the streets of Arabia. No matter; blame for the terror threat was still confined to specific non-government agents like al-Qaeda or the Taliban. By fiat, Islamic terrorism was fenced as isolated criminal phenomena with local motives; in short, militant jihad was represented as a perversion of, not a tenet of, Islamic theology or Muslim politics.
This politically correct illusion was reinforced by an Obama administration in a series of forays into the ummah, where the American president declared unequivocally that America, and NATO by extension, is not at war with Islam or Muslims. Never mind that NATO or American troops might be killing Muslims in four -- or is it five? -- separate venues. "We are not at war!" was the party line. And never mind that Obama has yet to visit Israel as president.
Less well-known is the "independent" science which now backfills or rationalizes the political Esperanto of the last decade. A RAND Corporation report, "How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qai'da," is an example. Notice the assumption embedded in the title: "counter," not defeat. The body of the report is devoted to asserting that terror (a military tactic) is best addressed by political, not military means. Separating war, an amalgam of tactics and strategy, from politics is not an assumption that Churchill or Eisenhower would have made. A politically correct worldview turns logic on its head; tactics are confused with strategy.
The RAND report ignores the larger strategic phenomena of violent jihad bis saif and protected Islamist hate-mongering. But the bottom line of this "systematic" analysis is the most revealing: "Terrorists should be perceived as criminals, not holy warriors." Such assertions are a kind of strategic masochism, not science -- not even common sense.
How the West views Islam is more important then how Islamists act -- or see themselves? By such logic, Arizona sheriffs might be deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan instead of the U.S. Marines. And by such logic, where might the holy warriors, if caught, be tried -- lower Manhattan? Treating terror as crime allows the lazy analyst with an agenda to dismiss the political implications of Islamism.
Another RAND paper on another recent South Asia massacre, entitled "Lessons of Mumbai," is an even better example of cooked books -- a case where analysis and credibility are undone by evidence ignored.
The Mumbai attack was unique in two respects: a small Jewish center was targeted, the occupants were slaughtered...and the hotel hostages were then screened for religious affiliation -- again, seeking Jews. It's a safe bet that none of the Mumbai killers were ever stopped at an Israeli checkpoint or lost a building lot in east Jerusalem. This attack was planned and executed with motives removed from the usual; the India/Pakistan rift or the Israel/Fatah impasse. Mumbai was clearly motivated, in part, by a strain of virulent, contagious, and global anti-Semitism. No mention of this appears in "Lessons of Mumbai's" "key judgments."
The recent terror attack against a religious school in Toulouse, France is a macabre echo of Mumbai. A rabbi and four young Jewish children were shot at point-blank range by Mohamed Merah, a home-grown Arab terrorist of Moroccan origin. Let's assume for sake of argument that Israeli intransigence is the source of Muslim anger. How does blowing a little girl's brains out advance the "two state solution"?
The global bloom of anti-Semitism since the turn of the 21st century is no accident. Those who ignore it, especially scientists at places like RAND, make it possible. Ironically, many of RAND's most eminent researchers are or have been Jewish.
(This Mumbai report also reinforces suspicions about non-profit excess. "Lessons of Mumbai" is a mere 25 pages long, yet lists ten [sic] authors -- an average of two and a half pages per analyst. Makes you wonder how many scientists are required to screw in light bulbs in Santa Monica. Clearly, featherbedding is not restricted just to government operations.)
Some recent RAND national security analysis may actually qualify as apologetics. The 2010 paper entitled "Would-be Warriors" analyzes the incidence of terrorism in the U.S. since 9/11. The paper actually ends with the assumptions, concluding:
There is no evidence [sic] that America's Muslim community is becoming more radical. America's psychological vulnerability is on display...panic is the wrong message to send.
"No evidence" -- or none that RAND can detect from the sands of Santa Monica? If sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies didn't connect the dots before 9/11, while suicide bombers were training in America, RAND's statistical assurances ring more than a little hollow. Islamic terror didn't begin with the barbarisms in lower Manhattan, in any case. And assertions about psychological vulnerability or "panic" are straw men or worse. Who panicked in the wake of the Twin Towers atrocity? Indifference or political apathy, maybe, but surely not panic.
And on U.S. Muslim radicalization, clearly RAND statisticians rarely audit student sentiment at any urban "occupy" rallies or any California campus when an Israeli speaker appears. Nor does the RAND analysis account for the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) or the fact that this home-grown political movement was recently hijacked by radical Muslim American bigots. Anti-Semitism is ever the canary in the geo-strategic coal mine. The NBPP's most recent outrage was to threaten to burn the city of Detroit at a city council meeting.
In the interest of fairness, we should point out that other non-profits -- Pew Research Center, for example -- also fail to account for the sea change in the very visible American Black Panthers. Pew claims to be non-partisan, but apparently that doesn't rule out political correctness. Indeed, with modern pollsters and sociologists, American Muslim groups like the Panthers and the Nation of Islam seem to enjoy a double-immunity of race and religion. Somehow such groups are, at the same time, Islamic...but not Muslim.
The growth of radical Islam in African-American communities is complemented by a surge in prisons nationwide. Congress and public television seem to have access to prison data, but non-profits like RAND and Pew apparently do not work in those neighborhoods.
The creation of veiled apologetics is not as worrisome as the pervasive misuse of such "scientific" analysis. Part of the problem may lie with endowments. Like more than a few major universities, RAND courts Arab or Muslim goodwill for the same reason why Willie Sutton frequented banks. That's where the money is.
Attempts to curry Arab favor are underwritten by a priori beliefs about Muslim "moderation." Assumptions about what Muslims believe may make terror possible, providing a permanent rationalization -- a kind of laissez passer for militants.
Today, RAND has one of the richest research nest eggs outside Harvard yard. And clearly, the designation "non-profit" is an oxymoron. The more appropriate designation would be "untaxable" -- for reasons yet to be justified. Successful think-tanks may be a lot of things, but like wealthy universities, they are not "charities" by any stretch of logic.
Recent government-sponsored national security research has reversed the poles in the "non-profit" equation. Think-tanks are richer, and government sponsors are going broke. If quality of analysis is the return on government-sponsored research, national security research is nearing some kind of strategic default.
Financial success has allowed think-tanks like RAND to diversify the study agenda and expand their physical plants. Yet the ideas of geographic isolation, and keeping politics at a distance, have been jettisoned with a vengeance. Beyond the original site at Santa Monica, RAND now has offices in Virginia (near the Pentagon), Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Mexico, England, Belgium, Qatar, the UAE, and Abu Dhabi.
For objective national security analysis, the last three locales are the most worrisome. Hard to believe that systems analysis or scientific candor will put petro-dollars or Islamic theocrats at risk. Call it the Ellsberg legacy.
While the overall cast of RAND Corporation national security research is cautious and in many cases politically correct, the occasional old hand still puts mustard on his fastball. Jim Quinlivan wrote an essay in the RAND Review (summer 2003), based on statistical analysis, that suggested that under-manned American excursions against insurgents or terrorists in dar al Islam were bound to end badly -- using strict military measures of effectiveness. Unfortunately, such voices are seldom endorsed or underlined with corporate authority.
The Quinlivan essay was written shortly after 9/11, when "kinetic" solutions were all the rage; his paper flew in the face of the prevailing political winds. More recent RAND reports, as discussed above, tack with the prevailing political winds.
The early rhetoric from President Bush categorized the Manhattan attacks as "acts of war." But since then, the Bush and Obama administrations, and government-sponsored research, take great pains to confuse the issue with criminality -- and policies where victory over Islamism is never a goal or an option.
First, there was the Iraq distraction, a theater that had little to do with worldwide terror or Islamism, and then came a period of dithering over Afghanistan, the so-called "war of necessity." Throughout, neither political party could decide whether to treat the soldiers of Islam as prisoners of war or criminals. While Americans remained confused, Islamists made steady gains. For the West, the drift into the muck of appeasement and the humiliation of a Soviet-like retreat now seems inevitable.
America and NATO are headed for the exits in the Levant and South Asia. Yet the greater problems of a nuclear Iran and growing Arab irredentism are still metastasizing. And all the early political Pollyanna about democracy and freedom in Arabia hasn't altered the vector of religious politics. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and now Syria are on the cusp of clerical control. Like in Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the political prospects for Muslims today are largely theocratic.
There is a thread that binds all of this. The decline of a Euro-American vision that made creativity, art, science, and democracy possible has been underwritten by the worst possible political "science" that borrowed money can buy. Insh'allah!
The author is a former Senior USAF intelligence research fellow at RAND Corporation, Santa Monica. This essay is an excerpt from a longer treatment of the think-tank phenomenon, and political pandering, to appear in the New English Review later this year.