but by then I won’t be President anymore!

Salon has a piece up about a couple of studies showing that drone attacks are actually pretty effective at “decapitating” terrorist and insurgent organizations:

“Contrary to the accepted wisdom within the academic-research realm, we see that when leaders are targeted, the terrorist campaigns end more quickly, and the frequency and lethality of their attacks go down,” says the study’s author, Patrick Johnston, a political scientist at the RAND Corp. “Simply put, leaders matter….”

Killing and capturing terrorist leaders leads to organizations’ demise because it disrupts their operations, deprives them of particularly wealthy, skilled or charismatic individuals, and/or eliminates someone who successfully staked out a safe haven. “The bin Laden raid could easily have failed — many similar attempts by governments have failed — but because it succeeded, it hurts the organization in the long term.”

On the other hand, concentrating exclusively on weakening these organizations this month or this year can be counterproductive. Disrupting a single terrorist organization is useless in the long term if we fail to stem the undercurrent of resentment that feeds these organizations. (We need look no further than the multiplication of “Al-Qaeda” organizations in the past decade, even as the original organization has been steadily weakened and marginalized.) In the long run, what would “defeat” terrorism would be to build good relationships with other governments, increase cooperation among law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and streamline processes like extradition and the freezing of bank assets — not to mention rehabilitating America’s image as a pitiless imperialist giant. You can’t do any of that if, in the process of taking down cell leaders, you’re invading other countries’ airspace and killing their citizens:

Stephen Walt, a foreign-policy expert at Harvard University, is… skeptical of the success of drone strikes and targeted killings…. “[O]ne might argue that the drone campaign is working, right up to the moment when some rogue Pakistani general gets really angry and gives a bomb to some terrorist group, which then uses it against Baltimore,” he says. “At which point the whole drone campaign looks really, really stupid.”

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