Trapped by the Paradigm: Why Net Assessment May Not Contribute to Countering Terrorism
By: Dennis Jett , Professor at Pennsylvania State University
This volume of CTX is devoted to discussing ways to refine net assessment concepts and address the complexity of the terrorism/counterterrorism dynamic. It might therefore seem heretical to question whether net assessment can make any contribution to countering terrorism, but that is what this article does.
Net assessment encourages a broad consideration of strategy instead of focusing only on the immediate tactical situation. As one article about net assessment's application to counterterrorism put it, "The answers are not as important as the process we use to determine them." 1 If the process leads to asking the wrong questions, however, those answers will not matter either, and they could lead to short-term tactical successes that culminate in long-term strategic failure. For that reason, when it comes to counterterrorism, those who apply net assessment need to do so with caution and be fully aware of its inherent limitations and assumptions.
Before considering the potential for net assessment to contribute to efforts against terrorism, it is necessary to have a clear definition of both terrorism and net assessment. It is also useful to ask why the question of whether to apply net assessment to terrorism has arisen in the first place.
Terrorism can be defined as the tactical threat or use of violence by non-state or subnational groups or individuals against noncombatants for purposes of political coercion. Terrorist groups are therefore different from insurgencies. Insurgents aim to foment revolution and overthrow a regime through the control of territory. Once they have accumulated sufficient manpower and weapons, insurgencies often engage the armed forces of the regime they are trying to overthrow in combat. Terrorists, by contrast, are typically far fewer in number, do not attempt to control territory, and seek a political victory through fear and coercion rather than by military means.
The line between the two types of groups is often crossed. If the military strength of a terrorist organization grows, and if the forces supporting the regime are weak, then the terrorists can begin to act like insurgents and move toward more direct military action. The Islamic State, or ISIS, for example, has existed for years, but the chaos in Syria and the discontent caused by the sectarian policies of the government in Iraq allowed ISIS to accumulate sufficient strength to achieve major military victories. Conversely, and much more frequently, insurgent groups that become weak militarily, or are forced to go underground by superior regime forces, may adopt the tactics of terrorists rather than risk annihilation. The Lord's Resistance Army, which began in the 1990s as an insurgency to overthrow the Ugandan government, has devolved over years of military defeats into a small, chronic terrorist cell without any apparent strategic goal beyond survival.2
Both groups may use violence against civilians as a means to achieve their aims, but terrorists use such means almost exclusively, while insurgents have broader goals than merely drawing attention to themselves and their cause. Insurgents usually want the support of at least some portion of the civilian population in order to expand their territory and power, so their attacks on noncombatants are normally directed against those who support the regime in power. Such distinctions are important because the group's objectives help determine which tactics should be used to defeat it.
For instance, on the one hand, once ISIS became more like an insurgent group than a terrorist group, a bombing campaign could potentially be effective against it. The primary defensive tactic of terrorists, on the other hand, is to be indistinguishable from noncombatants and blend in with the local population. Therefore, the use of air power against them will cause collateral damage that ultimately creates more terrorists than it eliminates. Because of its increased vulnerability to military power, therefore, ISIS may not have the staying power of a group like al Qaeda unless it is able to further evolve.
The distinction between insurgents and terrorists is important to understand, but it alone does not end the debate about what tactics are appropriate in each case. There is no "one size fits all" approach to insurgent movements. As political scientist Paul Staniland has pointed out, every insurgency is different and requires a different response.3
Defining Net Assessment
The need for a clear definition applies not just to terrorism but to net assessment as well. Different scholars have come up with a variety of descriptions for the technique. Paul Bracken of Yale University defines net assessment by listing its fundamental aspects: long-term thinking, looking at important problems in depth, considering socio-bureaucratic behavior, concentrating on strategic asymmetries, defining the features of good strategies, and remembering that a strategy is multifaceted and goes beyond rivalry and arms racing.4
For strategic analyst Eliot Cohen, net assessment is "the craft and discipline of analyzing military balances" where a military balance is a quantitative and qualitative appraisal of two or more military forces.5 Harvard's Stephen Rosen describes it as "the analysis of national security establishments in peacetime and war." 6 Thomas Skypek, building on the work of Cohen and Rosen, offers the following description of net assessment:
A multidisciplinary approach to national security analysis that is comparative, diagnostic, and forward-looking. More precisely, it is a framework for evaluating the long-term strategic political-military competitions in which states engage. Its aim is to diagnose strategic asymmetries between competitors and to identify environmental opportunities in order to support senior policy makers in the making of strategy.7
According to a 2009 Department of Defense directive, net assessment is the comparative analysis of military, political, economic, and other factors governing the relative military capability of nations.8
Before considering why these descriptions of net assessment pose problems when they are applied to counterterrorism, it is worth considering why this question comes up at all.
The US Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is a legislatively mandated report that requires the Department of Defense (DoD) to assess the threats and challenges that the nation faces and describe how the DoD will address them now and in the future. When the QDR was first published in 1997, terrorism was mentioned a number of times, but only in the context of being one of a number of possible threats from non-state actors.9 In the 2006 QDR, terrorism and counterterrorism were mentioned 38 times, and winning the "war on terrorism" was described as the DoD's first priority.10 By the 2014 QDR, combating terrorism came in fifth in the list of priorities after maintaining nuclear deterrence, defending the homeland, defeating any adversary, and providing a global stabilizing presence.11
Clearly, the events of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq caused the threat of terrorism to achieve the prominence it obtained in defense planning. But just as the public never had any way to assess the false claims that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks, they also had little ability to assess the magnitude of the threat posed by terrorism.
The reality is that as a cause of death for most populations, terrorism lies somewhere near the bottom of the list. In a typical year, as many American civilians die from falling furniture as from terrorism.12 And yet government spending per death caused by terrorism is 50,000 times higher than for any other cause of death.13 If the goal of government is to reduce the deaths of Americans, there are cheaper ways to do it. For instance, thousands of lives would be saved every year by simply raising the minimum age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 21.14
But in the wake of 9/11, any serious analysis of how to spend defense money efficiently and effectively gave way to the intense and overpowering fear provoked by the events of that day. Because of that fear on the part of the public, people's unwillingness and inability to calculate the real risk posed by terrorists and the influence of the military-industrial lobby, terrorism will continue to be overstated as a threat while far more serious dangers, like climate change, go unaddressed.
Why Net Assessment Might Not Work
Regardless of the size of the threat, there are a number of problems inherent in applying a traditional net assessment approach to counterterrorism. In the quote above, Skypek characterized net assessment as a framework for evaluating the long-term strategic political-military competitions in which states engage. Net assessment diagnoses strategic asymmetries between competitors and identifies environmental opportunities that help policy makers formulate strategies. That definition helps highlight the difficulties with regard to counterterrorism.
A Terrorist Organization Is Not a State
First of all, a terrorist organization is not a state and does not act like one. It is in essence a criminal gang with political rather than economic motives. Insurgents may try to act like a state in the territory they control, but terrorists don't worry about providing services to civilians or protecting them.
If net assessment is an appraisal of military balances, what happens when military might does not matter? Terrorists don't have a navy or an air force. They use light weapons because heavy weapons systems need to be maintained and supported, are hard to deploy, make an attractive target for regime forces, and reduce the ability of the terrorists to hide among the civilian population. Thus, there is no category of weapons in which terrorists are likely to have or even want to have superiority over regime forces. This includes weapons of mass destruction (WMD: nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological devices).
Many terrorists would like to obtain WMD because there is nothing that spreads terror more effectively than the threatened use of such a weapon.15 But again, the military balance does not matter. The regime in power or its allies can have a thousand nuclear weapons or none at all, and it will not make a difference to the counterterror calculus. If a terrorist organization obtains even one such device, it has the tremendous advantage of being able to decide when, where, and how to use it.
Terrorist Groups Come and Go
Another aspect of net assessment that does not yield useful results for analyzing terrorism is the emphasis on long-term trends. There are no barriers to entry to terrorism. Any group, or even individual, who decides to commit an act of violence against innocent civilians for political purposes can join the ranks of the terrorists. Timothy McVeigh showed that all it took to destroy a federal office building was some fuel oil, fertilizer, and a rented truck.16
There is also no barrier to exit. Terrorists can decide to cease using the tactic at any time, for whatever reason. They can join the political process, for instance, as some of those involved in the Irish Republican Army did following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
Long-term planning is appropriate for assessing the security strategies of a state because the state's interests and options do not change rapidly. Bracken wrote that "the need to tie US defense policies with the anticipated reaction of opponents is absolutely fundamental to net assessment." 17 The problem with terrorists is that it is difficult to anticipate their reactions. They play by no rules, and they use their unpredictability as a major tactical element.
The first page of the founding manifesto of the US Department of Homeland Security stated, "Today's terrorists can strike at any place, at any time, and with virtually any weapon." The essay noting that statement also quoted FBI Director Robert Mueller as saying, "The greatest threat is from al Qaeda cells in the US that we have not yet identified." 18 A dozen years after Mueller made that statement, no such cells have been identified. So how does long-term planning assist with formulating strategies against groups that have no long-term plans?
Measures of Military Balance in Asymmetric Warfare Are Misleading
Governments are always going to have a resource advantage and a tactical disadvantage when it comes to combating terrorist organizations. Looking at military balances, therefore, is not going to produce any useful understanding of the problems or opportunities that might guide policy makers. It would be like using net assessment to determine how the police should combat crime. The militarization of the police force is not the answer, although those who observed the official reaction to the recent disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri, might be excused for thinking that approach has already been undertaken in parts of the United States.19
In addition, defining a problem as military in nature implies there is a military solution to it. An inappropriate military approach, however, has the potential to make a situation worse, not better. As Daniel Grazier has pointed out, commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan who struggled to find ways to decrease the level of enemy activity did so "without considering how their mere presence in the battle space drove insurgent activity." 20 Cornelia Beyer argues that "economic and political constraints should be considered as root causes for international terrorism," and that "imperialism, understood as control and intervention, enhances human insecurity in the Middle East, and therefore endangers global security." 21
An excellent example of Grazier and Beyer's points is the so-called "surge" of US troops in Iraq in 2006. There are those who say the surge won the war and that US President Barack Obama has now forfeited that victory by withdrawing American troops.22 That is nonsense. The troops were withdrawn as provided for under the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the preceding George W. Bush administration. No Iraqi government would agree to let them stay on Iraq's soil unless they were subject to the Iraqi judicial system, and no American president would agree to such a condition. More to the point, the surge only "won" a temporary lull in a civil war. That was not because of the additional troops. It was a surge of American money. Some $400 million was spent to put over 100,000 insurgents on the government payroll.23The relative calm lasted as long as the insurgents were kept employed. When Americans stopped paying them and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to continue the practice, many of the erstwhile insurgents then resumed the insurgency. Most of the decision makers in the ISIS organization are former Iraqi military officers.24 This outcome seems to indicate that political and economic solutions are essential for quelling the fighting over the long run. What is more, unless the ingrained culture of corruption and cronyism within the Iraqi security forces is dealt with, those forces will continue to fail.
Stability in Iraq cannot be achieved by a simple military solution. An opinion piece published in September 2004 by US General David Petraeus, then-commander of multinational forces in Iraq, does not, however, convey that understanding. Eighteen months after the initial invasion, Petraeus claimed that "Iraq's security forces are developing steadily and they are in the fight. Momentum has gathered in recent months. With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition support, this trend will continue." 25 That assessment no doubt helped President Bush to get reelected six weeks later and Petraeus to earn his fourth star, but it was not a remotely accurate prediction of the future.
In 2014, the security forces trained by Petraeus's troops and organized by al-Maliki outnumbered ISIS fighters by at least 20 to 1, and yet they could not prevent ISIS from quickly taking over one-third of Iraq's territory.26 In April 2015, the city of Tikrit was liberated from ISIS control, but this was accomplished by Shi'ite militias with Iranian advisors, not by US-trained Iraqi troops. It appears that al-Maliki's successor, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, may choose to rely on those militias rather than building an army capable of fighting.27 If he does, then the civil war will continue without end. Even so, US soldiers found themselves back in Iraq in April 2015 trying to train the Iraqis to act like an army. They were stunned by the degree to which the security forces had deteriorated since the Americans had departed in 2011.28
A Stronger Military Is Not Always the Solution
Despite the obvious difficulty of creating an army with a will to fight, Petraeus is not the only military leader who sees military strength as the solution to Iraq's civil war. A 2010 article in Foreign Affairs by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, entitled "Helping Others Defend Themselves," is another example of how that approach has the potential to make the situation worse.29 Gates characterized "the main security challenge of our time" as an attack on a US city that emanates from a state that cannot govern itself or secure its own territory. He recommended responding to this threat by expanding US efforts to build the governance and security capacity of other countries, especially those that have the potential to become failed states. Beefing up the militaries of all the governments at risk would be no small task. A 2010 article in Foreign Policy magazine noted that there were 33 wars currently underway in the world.30
During the Cold War, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the US ambassador to the United Nations during the Ronald Reagan administration, argued that the United States should support authoritarian governments as long as they supported Washington's policies. She asserted that such governments could be led to democracy by example and were less repressive than revolutionary regimes. In practice, this led Washington to embrace repressive rightwing dictators (e.g., Saddam Hussein of Iraq) and some vicious rebel groups (e.g., the Contras in Nicaragua) while undermining leftist democrats.
It is arguable whether getting into bed with dictators and warlords helped the United States win the Cold War. One thing this policy did do, however, was make a mockery out of any American claim of respect for human rights and democracy. The article by Gates is little more than an argument for using an updated version of the Kirkpatrick Doctrine to wage the so-called War on Terror. That cannot be done without embracing repressive regimes and leaving the rest of the world with the impression that America's values are jettisoned the moment the United States perceives any threat to its security or interests. Such a policy will encourage new recruits and additional support to flow to insurgent and terrorist organizations just as surely as the accidental killing of civilians in drone strikes has done.
A 2012 poll found that 74 percent of Pakistanis viewed the United States as their enemy, in no small part because of the use of drones to kill alleged militants.31 Pakistan is officially an ally of the United States. How is any US strategy there going to work if three-quarters of the Pakistani population view Americans as the enemy? To successfully combat terrorism, it is essential to have the support of the civilian population. When the strategy, as Gates suggested, is to build up the militaries of states that are failing, it will be impossible to avoid climbing into bed with repressive governments, thereby undermining US credibility and interests worldwide.
The human rights organization Freedom House issues a report each year that divides the nations of the world into three categories—countries that are free, partly free, and not free—based on a comparative assessment of global political rights and civil liberties.32 In the 2010 Freedom House ranking, 47 countries (24%) were rated not free, 58 countries (30%) fell into the partly free category, and 89 were deemed free (46%). If those rankings are compared with the 60 least stable countries on Foreign Policy magazine's Failed States Index, however, the picture becomes much starker.33 According to the Freedom House survey, just under half of all failed states are not free, and just over half are partly free. In other words, there are no countries in the world that are both fully democratic and politically unstable.34
Any attempt to improve the situation in these countries through net assessment or any other analytical process should start with an unbiased evaluation of the political and economic realities that are destabilizing them, and an in-depth understanding of how those realities might render outside assistance not only ineffective but counterproductive. To put it most succinctly, helping "friends" like these defend themselves inevitably means helping the world's most repressive and corrupt governments defend themselves from their own people. And that effort will only create terrorists, not defeat them.
What Contribution Might Net Assessment Make?
Net assessment can contribute to an effective counterterrorism strategy if analysts and policy makers keep in mind that (1) a terrorist organization is not a state; (2) military balances and asymmetries don't matter; (3) long-term planning is probably impossible; and (4) effective policy has to be based on the political realities within a country and on helping allies that are worth supporting. The character and culture of the US national security establishment is to view threats as military problems with military solutions. If net assessment reflects that approach, it is bound to fail as a tool for effective policy making. Instead, net assessment should contribute to a better understanding of what the real threats are and what the real possibilities, costs, and benefits of mitigating and if necessary, combating them might be.
This kind of assessment does not happen today. As analysts John Mueller and Mark Stewart put it,
In general, counterterrorism agencies simply identify a potential source of harm and try to do something about it, rather than systematically thinking about the likely magnitude of harm caused by a successful terrorist attack, the probability of that attack occurring, and the amount of risk reduction that can be expected from counterterrorism efforts. Without considering such factors, it is impossible to evaluate whether security measures reduce risk sufficiently to justify their costs.35
Without fully taking into account the nature of the enemy and the nature of the threat, any attempted military solution will often be counterproductive. Policy makers should be willing to consider alternatives to military force. As Nauro Campos and Martin Gassebner observed, "One crucial goal of anti-terrorism policy must be the containment of violent conflict around the globe. However, recent experience suggests that direct military intervention can be counterproductive, while foreign aid might be effective in the medium to long term." 36 The budget of the Pentagon is 11 times that of the US Department of State, however, because US leaders are prone to assume that military solutions are always going to be more expedient and effective than diplomatic ones, even when there is no evidence to support that supposition.
Those who conduct net assessment should also resist the temptation to make the process into a number-crunching exercise. Each insurgency and each terrorist group is unique, and only a profound understanding of each case will enable analysts to find a policy to deal effectively with it. One aspect that should be assessed in comparative terms is the motivation of the terrorists versus that of the security forces of the government in question. As Iraq demonstrates, the security forces there are two years of training away from being effective—and always will be. That situation won't change until the country's political and military leaders become less corrupt and sectarian.
The fact that there are no unstable fully democratic countries would argue that the most effective way to combat terrorism in countries at risk is to support a strong civil society, an independent judicial system that is capable of promoting justice, a free press, and a fair democratic process. Doing so requires thinking that goes against the tendency of the national security establishment, politicians, and the media to hype the threat and exploit the fear caused by terrorist acts. If net assessment can help to put these concerns into a clearer perspective, it will assist those who argue for a more effective approach to counterterrorism. If it does not, it will only contribute to a problem that has already cost far too much in blood and treasure.
Policy makers often only want validation of the judgments they have already made, rather than any truly informative new analysis. Too often they make decisions based on personal political gain rather than an honest evaluation of what will work to achieve a goal and what will not. For instance, drone strikes have been popular with the current administration because using them puts no US troops at risk and publicly demonstrates resolve in combating terrorism. Five hundred such targeted strikes have already been conducted, resulting in an estimated 3,674 deaths, including 473 civilians.37 As the opinion poll in Pakistan demonstrates, one more casualty of this policy has been the standing of the United States in many parts of the world. Strategies that seem convenient can entail significant costs, but this unwelcome truth may be difficult to point out to those with a stake in the status quo. Perhaps the most important contribution that an honest net assessment can make is to speak truth to power. But anyone who thinks that is easy to do or that it automatically brings results has never tried it.
About the Author(s):
Dennis Jett is a professor in the School of International Affairs at Pennsyl- vania State University.
Copyright 2015, Dennis Jett. The US federal government is granted for itself and others acting on its behalf in perpetuity a paid-up, nonexclusive, irrevocable worldwide license in this work to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies to the public, and perform publicly and display publicly, by or on behalf of the US federal government. All other rights are reserved by the copyright owner(s). Foreign copyrights may apply.
- Adam Elkus, "Towards a Counterterrorism Net Assessment," Small Wars Journal 7, no. 12 (21 December 2011): http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/towards-a-counterterrorism-net-assessment
- Editor's note: For more on the current condition of the Lord's Resistance Army, see David Munyua, "The Movers and Shakers of the Lord's Resistance Army," CTX 5, no. 2 (May 2015): 28–37: https://globalecco.org/354
- In a column he wrote for the New York Times, Staniland identified at least three different types of insurgencies and described how different the reactions to them must be. See Paul Staniland, "Every Insurgency Is Different," New York Times, 15 February 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/16/opinion/every-insurgency-is-different.html
- Paul Bracken, "Net Assessment: A Practical Guide," Parameters: US Army War College Quarterly 36, no. 1 (2006): 90–100: http://strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/parameters/Articles/06spring/bracken.pdf
- Eliot A. Cohen, Net Assessment: An American Approach, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies (JCSS) Memorandum No. 29 (Tel Aviv: JCSS, April 1997): http://www.aaronbfrank.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Net-Assessment-An-American-Approach-Cohen.pdf
- Stephen Peter Rosen, "Net Assessment as an Analytical Concept," in On Not Confusing Ourselves: Essays on National Security Strategy in Honor of Albert & Roberta Wohlstetter, eds. Andrew W. Marshall, J.J. Martin, and Henry S. Rowen (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991), 165.
- Thomas Skypek, "Evaluating Military Balances through the Lens of Net Assessment: History and Application," Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 12, no. 2 (Winter 2010): 3.
- Department of Defense, Director of Net Assessment, Directive Number 5111.11 (Washington, D.C.: DoD, 23 December 2009): http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/511111p.pdf
- Department of Defense, Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review (Washington, D.C.: DoD, 1997): http://www.dod.gov/pubs/qdr/
- Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report (Washington, D.C.: DoD, 2006): http://www.defense.gov/qdr/report/Report20060203.pdf
- Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review 2014 (Washington, D.C.: DoD, 2014): http://www.defense.gov/pubs/2014_Quadrennial_Defense_Review.pdf
- Micah Zenko, "Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism," Atlantic, 6 June 2012: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/americans-are-as-likely-to-be-killed-by-their-own-furniture-as-by-terrorism/258156/ . Heart disease and cancer are still far and away the biggest killers in the United States, at more than one million deaths per year.
- Mike P. Sinn, "Anti-Terrorism Spending 50,000 Times More Than on Any Other Cause of Death," Think by Numbers, 4 October 2011: http://thinkbynumbers.org/government-spending/anti-terrorism-spending-disproportionate-to-threat/
- Liz Szabo, "Raising Tobacco Age Would Save Lives, Report Says," USA Today, 12 March 2015: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/03/12/cigarette-legal-age/70184296/ . The report cited in this article estimates that 249,000 premature deaths among the generation born between 2000 and 2019 would be prevented.
- WMD are by definition dangerous to handle and are very difficult to weaponize. In the late twentieth century, two "cult" groups, Aum Shinrikyo in Japan and the Rajneesh group in the US state of Oregon, used chemical (sarin) and biological (salmonella) agents respectively to conduct terrorist attacks on civilians. Aum's attack killed 13 people and injured hundreds, but the Rajneeshis' attempt failed to do more than cause some illness. Russian agents have been accused of using tiny radiological delivery devices to carry out political assassinations.
- For more on McVeigh's terrorist attack, see Hailey Branson-Potts, "After Oklahoma City Bombing, McVeigh's Arrest Almost Went Unnoticed," Los Angeles Times, 19 April 2015: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-oklahoma-city-bombing-20150419-story.html#page=1
- Bracken, "Net Assessment," 92.
- John Mueller, "Is There Still a Terrorist Threat? The Myth of the Omnipresent Enemy," Foreign Affairs 85, no. 5 (September/October 2006): http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/61911/john-mueller/is-there-still-a-terrorist-threat-the-myth-of-the-omnipresent-en
- Niraj Chokshi, "Militarized Police in Ferguson Unsettles Some; Pentagon Gives Cities Equipment," Washington Post, 14 August 2014: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/militarized-police-in-ferguson-unsettles-some-pentagon-gives-cities-equipment/2014/08/14/4651f670-2401-11e4-86ca-6f03cbd15c1a_story.html
- Daniel Grazier, "Heisenberg and Mao Zedong: The Occupier Effect," Small Wars Journal 11, no. 1 (22 January 2015).
- Cornelia Beyer, "Understanding and Explaining International Terrorism: On the Interrelations between Human and Global Security," Human Security Journal 7 (Summer 2008): 62–77: http://www2.hull.ac.uk/fass/pdf/Beyer%20paper.pdf
- Brett LoGiurato, "John McCain: We Won Iraq—And Obama Lost It," Business Insider, 13 June 2014: http://www.businessinsider.com/john-mccain-obama-lost-iraq-2014-6
- A video clip of General Petraeus admitting this fact on the PBS program Frontline can be found here: http://video.pbs.org/video/2365297322/
- Liz Sly, "The Hidden Hand behind the Islamic State Militants? Saddam Hussein's," Washington Post, 4 April 2015: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/the-hidden-hand-behind-the-islamic-state-militants-saddam-husseins/2015/04/04/aa97676c-cc32-11e4-8730-4f473416e759_story.html?hpid=z1
- David H. Petraeus, "Battling for Iraq," Washington Post, 26 September 2004: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49283-2004Sep25.html
- Armin Rosen, "ISIS Now Controls a Shocking Percentage of Iraq and Syria," Business Insider, 11 June 2014: http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-controls-shocking-percentage-of-iraq-and-syria-2014-6
- Wayne White, "Tikrit Battle Revives Doubts about Iraqi Leaders," LobeLog (blog), 31 March 2015: http://www.lobelog.com/tikrit-battle-revives-doubts-about-iraqi-leaders/
- Rod Nordland, "US Soldiers, Back in Iraq, Find Security Forces in Disrepair," New York Times, 14 April 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/15/world/middleeast/iraq-military-united-states-forces-camp-taji.html?emc=eta1
- Robert M. Gates, "Helping Others Defend Themselves: The Future of US Security Assistance," Foreign Affairs, May/June 2010: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2010-05-01/helping-others-defend-themselves
- See a slideshow of concurrent conflicts at Foreign Policy's website (subscription required): http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/02/22/planet_war . Each year Foreign Policy also publishes what it calls the Fragile States Index (formerly named Failed States Index), which ranks the 60 most unstable nations in the world. See "2010 Failed States Index—Interactive Map and Ranking," 16 June 2010: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/06/21/2010_failed_states_index_interactive_map_and_rankings
- Daniel Byman, "Why Drones Work: The Case for Washington's Weapon of Choice," Foreign Affairs, July/August 2013: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139453/daniel-byman/why-drones-work
- Freedom House annual report, 2010: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2010#.VagrRnhYVkM . The numbers for this report and the Failed States Index are largely unchanged, or slightly worse, in more recent years.
- "2010 Failed States Index."
- Transparency International, another NGO, ranks 178 countries in the world on the basis of the public perception of the degree of corruption in their governments on a scale of 1 to 10. Denmark, New Zealand, and Singapore topped the 2010 survey as the least corrupt with all three scoring 9.3. The countries in the failed states index were all clustered at the bottom of the list. See "Corruption Perceptions Index 2010," Transparency International, n.d.: http://www.transparency.org/cpi2010/results
- John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart, "Evaluating Counterterrorism Spending," Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 237–48.
- Nauro F. Campos and Martin Gassebner, International Terrorism, Political Instability, and the Escalation Effect, IZA Discussion Paper No. 4061 (Bonn: Institute for the Study of Labor, March 2009).
- Micah Zenko, "America's 500th Drone Strike," Politics, Power, and Preventive Action (blog), Council on Foreign Relations, 21 November 2014: http://blogs.cfr.org/zenko/2014/11/21/americas-500th-drone-strike/