Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism

The title of this post comes from a book written by Robert Pape.  I discovered Robert Pape through a Ron Paul interview recently with Piers Morgan on his Tonight Show.  I’m glad I did.

Pape did an interview with The American Conservative in 2005 and this is their opening piece on him:

Last month, Scott McConnell caught up with Associate Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, whose book on suicide terrorism, Dying to Win, is beginning to receive wide notice. Pape has found that the most common American perceptions about who the terrorists are and what motivates them are off by a wide margin. In his office is the world’s largest database of information about suicide terrorists, rows and rows of manila folders containing articles and biographical snippets in dozens of languages compiled by Pape and teams of graduate students, a trove of data that has been sorted and analyzed and which underscores the great need for reappraising the Bush administration’s current strategy.

The man is as qualified as any to speak on the issue of suicide terrorism.  As the blurb says, his office houses the world’s largest database of info on the subject.

In that interview he is asked the question: “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?”  His response is telling:

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. (my emphasis)

Wikipedia has this slice on his book Dying to Win (2005):

Pape’s [book] contradicts many widely held beliefs about suicide terrorism. Based on an analysis of every known case of suicide terrorism from 1980 to 2003 (315 attacks as part of 18 campaigns), he concludes that there is “little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world’s religions… . Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland” (p. 4). “The taproot of suicide terrorism is nationalism,” he argues; it is “an extreme strategy for national liberation” (pp. 79–80).[1]

If Pape is right, then all of our current overseas pre-emptive wars (basically all of them since WWII) are not only severely flawed, but actually endanger our national security, not protect it–contrary to what those in power would have you believe.


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