Social Scientists Do Counterinsurgency - Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker.
... But if "global war" isn't the right approach to terror what is? Experts on terrorism have produced shelves' worth of new works on this question. For outsiders, reading this material can be a jarring experience. In the world of terrorism studies, the rhetoric of righteousness gives way to equilibrium equations. Nobody is good and nobody is evil. Terrorists, even suicide bombers, are not psychotics or fanatics; they're rational actors—that is, what they do is explicable in terms of their beliefs and desires—who respond to the set of incentives that they find before them. The tools of analysis are realism, rational choice, game theory, decision theory: clinical and bloodless modes of thinking.
That approach, along with these scholars' long immersion in the subject, can produce some surprising observations. In A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq (Yale; $30), Mark Moyar, who holds the Kim T. Adamson Chair of Insurgency and Terrorism at the Marine Corps University, tells us that, in Afghanistan, the Taliban's pay scale (financed by the protection payments demanded from opium farmers) is calibrated to be a generous multiple of the pay received by military and police personnel (financed by U.S. aid); no wonder official Afghan forces are no match for the insurgents. Audrey Kurth Cronin, a professor of strategy at the National War College, reminds us, in How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns (Princeton; $29.95), that one can find out about Al Qaeda's policy for coí¶rdinating attacks by reading a book called The Management of Barbarism, by Abu Bakr Naji, which has been available via Al Qaeda's online library. (Naji advises that, if jihadis are arrested in one country after an attack, a cell elsewhere should launch an attack as a display of resilience.) In Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism (M.I.T.; $24.95), Eli Berman traces the origins of the Taliban to a phenomenon that long preceded the birth of modern radical Islam: they are a direct descendant of the Deobandi movement, which began in nineteenth-century India in opposition to British colonial rule and, among other things, established a system of religious schools...
Much more at The New Yorker.