Why We're Losing the War on Terror → Washingtons Blog
Why We're Losing the War on Terror - Washingtons Blog

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why We're Losing the War on Terror

Painting by Anthony Freda: www.AnthonyFreda.com.

Everyone 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:
Each 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.

The 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.


The 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 problem.

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 increases terrorism. See this, this, this, this, this and this.

As 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, this, and this).

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.

It 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.


  1. What a great post! This should be required reading for all Americans. The truth is often the antithesis of conventional wisdom. Your article illustrates this perfectly. Brilliant.

  2. Agree totally with the previous, a great article. However, I would add the following:

    For the past century the western financial powers have been robbing the resources of less developed countries by first corrupting the leadership and then by providing them means to control the masses.

    There are more than enough smart people even in every undeveloped country to fully understand that their countries are beeing robbed of the nation's inheritance by switchng the valuables to trinkets with no value in comparison.

  3. Another great post! This is going in my "saved pages" folder.

    re: "...we are bankrupting our country." I thought that was their plan, another 'shock doctrine' to get us to accept a global oligarchy (all in the name of safety, of course).

  4. The same reasoning used in this piece can be used to argue that the cause of so many deaths from yellow fever in the early 1900's is the US and the French going to build the Panama Canal and that it really has nothing to do with the mosquito that carries a deadly disease.

  5. Swampfox, I think your yellow fever analogy doesn't work. The occupied people do need to consider suicide terrorism as a viable tactic which is your mosquito, but the motivation to use this tactic doesn't exist without the occupation. The French experienced the same reduction is suicide attacks when they left Algeria.

  6. In the Israeli example, the Palestinians see themselves as the indigeneous culture while the Jewish settlers are the foreign occupiers. This fits the model at hand. Conversely, Israelis define their presence as homecoming, albeit after a long absence. How do we resolve conflicts where we cannot even agree on basic definitions?

  7. What foreign military occupation caused Saudi Arabian suicide terrorists to crash into the twin towers? And how many Americans have been killed by suicide terrorists since 9/11? Answers to these questions will reveal the tenuous nature of Pape's theories.

  8. This article makes me un-comfortable. It reminds me of persons who insist, 'I am not a racist, I have many Black friends', or, 'I'm not Homophobic, I have many Gay friends', or, 'I'm not a Sexist, my wife is allowed to work out of the home if she so chooses'.
    There is no war on 'terrorism'. There is only the reasonable response of the victims of Amerikan Imperialistic behaviors. They are not invading anything, they are defending themselves. Amerikans always insist that they are a 'peace loving people'--they are not, the evidence is clear. We are a 'war loving people'. Peace is anathema to our nature, we must wage war, peace...peace will devour us....mz

  9. J.D. Swampfox said...
    The same reasoning used in this piece can be used to argue that the cause of so many deaths from yellow fever in the early 1900's is the US and the French going to build the Panama Canal and that it really has nothing to do with the mosquito that carries a deadly disease.

    JD, your statement is an Interesting example of Trilateral, CFR and CIA type of thinking.

    If you can’t dazzle them with diligent research and logical deduction that bares the simple Truth, like GW so admirably does; baffle them with nonsensical BS and hidden innuendo, with no facts, like you and your kind do! Ha. Ha.

    How typical that you would equate the lives of mosquitoes to the lives of millions of people.

    In response to Dad: Fellow American the Truth can’t hurt you, it will make you stronger, if you research 9/11 twin towers and building #11; you will find that there is overwhelming evidence that the terrorism of 9/11 was an inside job and the false justification for War and the death of over a million innocent people.

  10. I tend to agree that most our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been worth the blood and treasure. All of this, just to establish Islamic Republics?


    I think that the use of suicide attacks against occupation needs to be differentiated from the ongoing murders that pure Islam seems to generate all on its own: here is one grisly list:


    Additionally, one would need to consider the conquest of much of the known world by early Islam and the later atrocities waged by the Ottoman empire.

    Islam is the enemy of freedom and always has bee.

  11. Let's assume GW is correct. Then what would be the next step. Logical progression, of course, would say that we withdraw our troops. Perhaps gradually to keep the instability to a minimum as power grabbers rush in to fill the vacuum. But then, what do we do about oil?

    Yes, our economy is still heavily dependent upon petroleum and its derivative products. We need to free ourselves of our dependence on Middle Eastern oil before we can withdraw.

    But then, what of Israel? I'm not comfortable with abandoning them. The threat of our troops returning to support Israel would be somewhat of a deterrent, I suppose. Very sticky situation.

  12. As I started reading this article, I became incredulous at its glaring omissions. Further into the article, my incredulity turned to laughter at the stupidity of these so-called "experts" and their thesis that we only get attacked when we occupy a Muslim Country. Israel is a perfect example of their bizarre thesis. There hasn't been a suicide attack from Lebanon, yet the Israeli army occupies the Sheba Farms in the NW corner of Lebanon. Gaza was cleared of all Israeli civilians and army and is completely fenced in from Israeli territory; that is the reason there have been no Hamas suicide attacks, so they do the next best thing; they lob missiles into Israeli towns. The "occupied" West bank has seen a significant drop in terrorism only because there is a barrier that keeps most terrorists out. The writers discount or overlook Koranic passages that exhort Muslims to attack ALL non-believers. It's downright scary to think that these "experts" might influence government thinking or that of college students.

  13. The real omission on this article is that why are the Muslim killing their own Police Cadets, Civilians and many innocents who are their own. If the cause is the occupiers, why kill your own.
    Were Americans the occupiers in the Twin Towers in NY. I thought the murdered civilians in those offices were occupying their own turf or did Muslims own the Towers unbeknown to us Americans.??

    Methinks the truth is these savage tribal groups have no value for anything except their own warped perception of civilization. What kind of god do they have??

    This thesis is all B S. They will kill and maim anyone to achieve their goals of some distant centuries backwards Sharia law and your non-adherence to their faith.

    Some peacefull fun loving bunch of folks with their beheadings, "Honor Killinings" stoning of wives etc. Etc.

  14. Hey Chuck, how about the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the American occupations? Or, if we're playing the religion card, how about all the people killed in the Crusades? and I'm sure I don't have to remind you that was a Christian endeavour. Or howbout the Inquisition, I do believe that was done in the name of a Christian God? Torture, killings etc? The same kinds of things that the U.S. is doing abroad. 9/11 was a terrible tragedy, but the fact is we've killed far more of them than they have of us, and the U.S. has been meddling in the Middle East for a long time...Hell, who overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran? Your friendly neighborhood CIA. Right now, we are killing and torturing people around the world who question our right to commit genocide and oppress the people who's countries we invade. Here's an analogy for what we're doing, Let's say you need to go to work, and your car is broken down. In this situation, the response of our government has basically been to secure the neighbor's house, take his car, and leave him cuffed and gagged in the bedroom. The majority of people around the world do not hate the American people, they hate the terrible things that our government does to them, their friends and families and the extreme arrogance and hypocrisy that our government displays. Disclaimer: I am an American citizen. I believe supporting the troops means getting them out of the countries we're occupying without reason, if for no better reason than it's already bankrupted us.


→ Thank you for contributing to the conversation by commenting. We try to read all of the comments (but don't always have the time).

→ If you write a long comment, please use paragraph breaks. Otherwise, no one will read it. Many people still won't read it, so shorter is usually better (but it's your choice).

→ The following types of comments will be deleted if we happen to see them:

-- Comments that criticize any class of people as a whole, especially when based on an attribute they don't have control over

-- Comments that explicitly call for violence

→ Because we do not read all of the comments, I am not responsible for any unlawful or distasteful comments.