RAND Report on Terrorism - U.S. Imperialism in Democracy’s Name


Yoginder Sikand

‘Three years After: Next Steps in the War on Terror’, is the RAND Corporation’s latest document detailing American policies in the Middle East and suggesting suitable policy changes. A right-wing research organisation closely allied with the US government and the American defence and intelligence departments, RAND is notorious for its advocacy of American imperialist interests, to promote which much of its own research is geared, as this document also strikingly reveals. RAND is one of the most influential neo-conservative and fiercely pro-Zionist ‘think-tanks’ in America, and its publications both reflect and help mould US government policies on key issues, including the subject of this document, America’s ‘war on terror’.

For anyone interested in understanding how the US establishment sees its ‘war on terror’, this document, which presents itself as drawing on what it calls ‘the results of several cutting-edge studies’, is essential reading. It is based, as even a cursory glance would readily suggest, on a completely warped understanding of the causes of terrorism. Hence, the solutions that it offers, by deliberately ignoring the root causes of terrorism, threaten to make the situation much more, not less, complicated and intractable.

The various contributors to this volume, mostly self-styled ‘experts’ at RAND closely linked to US government departments, including several of Jewish background, appear to argue that the only sort of ‘terrorism’ that merits concern is what the media routinely describes as ‘Islamic’ or ‘Islamist’ ‘terrorism’. Ignoring various other forms of terrorism, not to speak of American state terrorism as brutally displayed in Iraq today, the ‘experts’ pontificating in the pages of this document appear to see ‘Islamic/Islamist terrorism’ as not just the sole form of terrorism but also as the principal challenge to American interests.

In their diagnosis of ‘Islamic/Islamist terrorism’, too, RAND’s self-styled ‘experts’ display an unpardonable ignorance, to be charitable, or, as is more likely, downright deceit. Ignoring the economic, cultural, and political causes of discontent in many Muslim communities, including such factors as the American-backed Israeli occupation of Palestine and America’s backing of ruthless client regimes in Muslim countries, the ‘experts’ see Islamist militancy as simply an ideological phenomenon. As David Aaron, editor of the document, former top US government official and currently senior fellow at RAND, says, America’s ‘war on terror’ is an ‘ideological war’, in which Islamic militancy has assumed the same role that communism once occupied in the American imagination. It is as if the ideology of Islamism operates in a sociological vacuum, unrelated to social reality that produces and sustains it. In short, it is as if all the causes of Muslim discontent are a result of a warped way of understanding Islam, and as if American policies had nothing to do with this or in shaping Islamist militancy as a discourse of protest. Not surprisingly, the role of the United States in backing Islamist groups in the course of the Cold War to battle against anti-imperialist and leftist forces is conveniently forgotten now that former friends have turned foes.

Rather than address the root causes of Muslim discontent, of which Islamist militancy is, to an extent, a product, the solutions that the contributors to this book offer are tailor-made to preserve American hegemony and Israeli interests. They assume that American policy is fundamentally correct, and see no need whatsoever for America to introspect or to reconsider its policies towards the Muslim world as well as Israel. Not surprisingly, there is no mention in the book of Israeli brutalities, of the American-imposed embargo on Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of children, the American bombing of Afghanistan after years of courting radical Islamist groups, the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq and so on as possible factors for Muslim discontent, which is seen as simply an ideological perversion. With such a warped perspective of the causes of Islamist militancy, the contributors to this book can only come up with two solutions to the problem: to ideologically combat radical Islamism with a counter-Islamic discourse, and to use all the force that America can command to destroy radical Islamists.

The first solution is spelled out by RAND ‘expert’, Cheryl Benard, wife of top Bush aide, Zalmay Khalilzad, American Ambassador to Iraq, in her paper titled ‘Democracy and Islam: The Struggle in the Islamic World—Strategy for the United States’. This paper also operates with the same basic assumption that American policies have nothing to do with Muslim discontent or Islamist opposition, and that, instead, the root causes of radical Islamism lies solely in a certain understanding of Islam, or what it calls ‘the struggle within Islam’. Accordingly, Benard begins her essay by approvingly quoting George Bush as saying, ‘We actually misnamed the war on terror. It ought to be called the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies, and who happen to use terror as a weapon’.

Benard outlines an ambitious proposal for America to undertake, to promote a version of Islam that toes US dictates. She labels this sort of Islam ‘modernist’, by which she means an Islam that differs but little from Western Protestantism and is perfectly at ease with capitalism. This is clear from her uncritical claim that ‘Modernism is what worked for the West’. Realising that, given their elitist moorings, the Islamic ‘modernists’ that she backs lack popular appeal and mass following, Benard urges that America should ‘be prepared to subsidize the publication of their work in a variety of forms such as the Web, textbooks, pamphlets, and conferences’. America should, she suggests, ‘popularise modernists as role models and leaders, and provide venues and platforms to communicate their message’. Obviously, the ‘modernists’ Benard appeals for America to support would receive Western backing so long as their ire remains focussed on the Islamists, but, as the fate of leftist forces in the so-called ‘Third World’ brutally crushed with American help and connivance illustrates, they would not be allowed to speak out against American brutality.

The second solution—military force—that the book advocates to deal with ‘terrorism’ is again based on the notion that American policies need no change, that America is perfectly innocent and that Islamist militancy is simply the result of warped or crazed religiosity—the standard Bush line. This is powerfully echoed in the presentation by Paul Wolfowtiz, former American Deputy Secretary of Defence and the now head of the World Bank, and one of the chief architects of America’s invasion of Iraq included in this book. Completely blind to America’s brutal imperialist past, the stain of African slavery, the decimation of Native Americans by white conquerors and the literally millions of people, mainly in the so-called ‘Third World’, for whose deaths America is principally to blame, Wolfowitz piously proclaims that the ‘war on terrorism’ and the invasion of Iraq is ‘not for conquest, it’s not for imperial colonial plunder’. Rather, he says, it is for a principle that he claims has driven American history from the beginning of its history—‘freedom and democracy’—for, he claims, ‘Americans have always stood up to evil’. Call it ignorance or just sheer deceit, but Wolfowitz can hardly expect his desperate bid to whitewash American crimes to have any serious takers.

Refusing to recognise the obvious fact that American policies are, to a large extent, the cause of much Muslim discontent, Wolfowitz predictably characterises the problem as essentially one of ‘terrorist fanaticism’. Accordingly, he blesses America’s invasion of Iraq and its ‘war on terrorism’ in terms strikingly similar to those used by white Western colonialists to justify their invasion and subjugation of ‘primitive’ ‘coloured’ people—as a sort of civilising mission, or, as he puts it, as a project to build a ‘just and peaceful world’, with America ‘offer[ing] a vision of life and hope and freedom to counter the terrorists’ vision of tyranny, death and despair’. He refers to Bush’s Iraq policy as ‘a story about the power of liberty’, and speaks of US soldiers in Iraq as ‘extraordinarily brave young Americans who are risking their lives so that other people can enjoy freedom and so that our own people can live in greater security’.

Wolfowitz appears to insist that ‘democracy’ must be imposed on the Iraqis, and that, if they resist, they must be forced, on the pain of death, to accept it. It is as if, so Wolfowitz desperately craves us to believe, that the American invasion of Iraq is motivated by altruistic concerns, and that greed for cheap oil or the larger Christian fundamentalist-Zionist agenda have nothing whatsoever to do with it. Wolfowitz depicts the American invasion of Iraq as geared by an irrepressible zeal to spread ‘democracy’, while, not surprisingly, remaining silent on America’s consistent support to the some of the most undemocratic regimes in the world.

Seeking to provide a ‘human face’ to American occupying forces, he quotes an unnamed Iraqi woman, who allegedly met Bush at the White House while on a trip to see the functioning of a ‘democratic society’, as saying that ‘there would have been no opportunity for Iraqi women to learn about democracy were it not for the sacrifice of American servicemen and –women’. No mention here, of course, about the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed as a result of American-imposed sanctions, about America’s support to Iraq in the course of the ten-year long Iraq-Iran war or about the thousands of Iraqis who have lost their lives since the American invasion. Wolfowitz waxes eloquent about the ‘great’ deeds of American soldiers in Iraq, whom he describes as setting up schools, getting people ‘back into their homes’ and even distributing bicycles worth ‘five bucks’ each to Iraqi children. And as for the thousands of Iraqis who have died and continue to die as a result of the American occupation not a single word is uttered.

It is not that the authors of the RAND report, all well-placed and well-informed—are as naïve, ignorant or downright stupid as they appear from their academic outpourings. Obviously, their diagnosis of the problem and the solutions that they suggest are carefully packaged in order to serve American and Zionist hegemonic designs and to counter any threat to American and Israeli interests. While the seriousness of religiously-inspired militancy and terror certainly cannot be downplayed, the authors of the RAND report seem to limit the phenomenon to Muslim groups alone, which, of course, is entirely misleading. Religious radicalism, we need to remind ourselves, is not a Muslim monopoly, and if we are serious about combating it our concern must extend to all such groups, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and other, in addition to Muslim, who spread hatred and terror in the name of religion. Likewise, state terrorism, which the RAND report appears to bless in the name of the ‘war on terror’, must be seen as an equally grave threat that needs to be combatted. In addition, religious radicalism cannot be seen, as the RAND report does, simply in ideological terms alone. Its complex underlying causes and factors, economic, cultural and political, must also be taken into account in the context of imperialism and the Western-dominated capitalist system. Only then will we be able to ask the right questions and come up with the appropriate responses, a task that obviously cannot be left to ‘experts’ at RAND and their ilk.