Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Sometimes it is valuable to ask why

The American Conservative has an interview with Associate Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, who has published the most authoratative book on suicide bombers ever. He as some very interesting things to say in these excerpts:

TAC: So if Islamic fundamentalism is not necessarily a key variable behind these groups, what is?

RP: The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign—over 95 percent of all the incidents—has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw.


TAC: If you were to break down causal factors, how much weight would you put on a cultural rejection of the West and how much weight on the presence of American troops on Muslim territory?

RP: The evidence shows that the presence of American troops is clearly the pivotal factor driving suicide terrorism.

If Islamic fundamentalism were the pivotal factor, then we should see some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world, like Iran, which has 70 million people—three times the population of Iraq and three times the population of Saudi Arabia—with some of the most active groups in suicide terrorism against the United States. However, there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Iran, and we have no evidence that there are any suicide terrorists in Iraq from Iran.

Sudan is a country of 21 million people. Its government is extremely Islamic fundamentalist. The ideology of Sudan was so congenial to Osama bin Laden that he spent three years in Sudan in the 1990s. Yet there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Sudan.


TAC: Does al-Qaeda have the capacity to launch attacks on the United States, or are they too tied down in Iraq? Or have they made a strategic decision not to attack the United States, and if so, why?

RP: Al-Qaeda appears to have made a deliberate decision not to attack the United States in the short term. We know this not only from the pattern of their attacks but because we have an actual al-Qaeda planning document found by Norwegian intelligence. The document says that al-Qaeda should not try to attack the continent of the United States in the short term but instead should focus its energies on hitting America’s allies in order to try to split the coalition.