Why We're Losing the War on Terror

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Washington’s Blog

Painting by Anthony Freda: www.AnthonyFreda.com.

knows that only Muslim-lovers and left-wing peaceniks want to stop the
wars in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, that terrorism is caused
by Muslim ideology, and that we're fighting them "over there" so we
don't have to fight them here.


In fact, as University of Chicago professor Robert A. Pape - who specializes in international security affairs - points out:

Extensive research into the causes of suicide terrorism proves Islam isn't to blame -- the root of the problem is foreign military occupations.

Wait, what? That can't be right!

But as Pape explains:

month, there are more suicide terrorists trying to kill Americans and
their allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other Muslim countries than in
all the years before 2001 combined.


New research provides strong evidence that suicide terrorism such as that of 9/11 is
particularly sensitive to foreign military occupation, and not Islamic
fundamentalism or any ideology independent of this crucial circumstance
. Although this pattern began to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s, a wealth of new data presents a powerful picture.


More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation, according to extensive research
[co-authored by James K. Feldman - former professor of decision
analysis and economics at the Air Force Institute of Technology and the
School of Advanced Airpower Studies] that we conducted at the University of Chicago's Project on Security
and Terrorism, where we examined every one of the over 2,200 suicide
attacks across the world from 1980 to the present day. As the United
States has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, which have a combined
population of about 60 million, total suicide attacks worldwide have
risen dramatically -- from about 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from
2004 to 2009. Further, over 90 percent of suicide attacks worldwide are
now anti-American. The vast majority of suicide terrorists hail from the
local region threatened by foreign troops, which is why 90 percent of
suicide attackers in Afghanistan are Afghans.


Israelis have
their own narrative about terrorism, which holds that Arab fanatics seek
to destroy the Jewish state because of what it is, not what it does.
But since Israel withdrew its army from Lebanon in May 2000, there has
not been a single Lebanese suicide attack. Similarly, since Israel
withdrew from Gaza and large parts of the West Bank, Palestinian suicide
attacks are down over 90 percent.


Some have disputed the
causal link between foreign occupation and suicide terrorism, pointing
out that some occupations by foreign powers have not resulted in suicide
bombings -- for example, critics often cite post-World War II Japan and
Germany. Our research provides sufficient evidence to address these
criticisms by outlining the two factors that determine the likelihood of
suicide terrorism being employed against an occupying force.


The first factor is social distance between the occupier and occupied.
The wider the social distance, the more the occupied community may fear
losing its way of life. Although other differences may matter, research
shows that resistance to occupations is especially likely to escalate to
suicide terrorism when there is a difference between the predominant
religion of the occupier and the predominant religion of the occupied.


Religious difference matters not because some religions are predisposed
to suicide attacks. Indeed, there are religious differences even in
purely secular suicide attack campaigns, such as the LTTE (Hindu)
against the Sinhalese (Buddhists).


Rather, religious difference
matters because it enables terrorist leaders to claim that the occupier
is motivated by a religious agenda that can scare both secular and
religious members of a local community -- this is why Osama bin Laden
never misses an opportunity to describe U.S. occupiers as "crusaders"
motivated by a Christian agenda to convert Muslims, steal their
resources, and change the local population's way of life.


second factor is prior rebellion. Suicide terrorism is typically a
strategy of last resort, often used by weak actors when other,
non-suicidal methods of resistance to occupation fail. This is why we
see suicide attack campaigns so often evolve from ordinary terrorist or
guerrilla campaigns, as in the cases of Israel and Palestine, the
Kurdish rebellion in Turkey, or the LTTE in Sri Lanka.


One of
the most important findings from our research is that empowering local
groups can reduce suicide terrorism. In Iraq, the surge's success was
not the result of increased U.S. military control of Anbar province, but
the empowerment of Sunni tribes, commonly called the Anbar Awakening,
which enabled Iraqis to provide for their own security. On the other
hand, taking power away from local groups can escalate suicide
terrorism. In Afghanistan, U.S. and Western forces began to exert more
control over the country's Pashtun regions starting in early 2006, and
suicide attacks dramatically escalated from this point on.




first step is recognizing that occupations in the Muslim world don't
make Americans any safer -- in fact, they are at the heart of the

But surely Pape and his team of University of Chicago researchers are wrong. Surely other security experts disagree, right?


The top security experts - conservative hawks and liberal doves alike - agree that waging war in the Middle East weakens national security and creates increases terrorism. See this, this, this, this, this and this.

one of the top counter-terrorism experts (the former number 2
counter-terrorism expert at the State Department) told me, starting wars
against states which do not pose an imminent threat to America's national security increases the threat of terrorism because:

One of the principal causes of terrorism is injuries to people and families.

(Take another look at the painting above).

And its not only war in general as an abstract concept. The methods we're using to wage war are increasing terrorism.

As one example, torture reduces our national security and creates new terrorists.

Unfortunately, we are continuing to indiscriminately kill civilians using drone strikes, and we are continuing to torture innocent people (see this, this and this).

is not a question of being a "Muslim-sympathizer". I am not a Muslim
(personally, I and the rest of my family go to Church, albeit a
non-dogmatic one). This isn't about religion at all.

Its all about being practical in protecting our national security.

might feel good to have guns a blazing. But unfortunately, instead of
doing what will protect us, we keep shooting ourselves in the foot.

And in doing so, we are bankrupting our country.