Michael: On The Logic of Suicide Bomb TerrorismA new study of suicide terrorism by political scientist Robert Pape of University of Chicago, examining every known incident since 1980, has thrown clear light on a murky and emotional issue. The study suggests that contrary to popular sentiment, which casts suicide bombers as unstable religious fanatics who despise Western culture or religion, suicide terror attacks actually have in common a highly specific political aim: to force a modern democratic state to end a foreign occupation. Almost half the time, suicide bombing campaigns have succeeded in achieving at least some of their political goals. When the terrorists’ political goal is achieved, the attacks have stopped immediately. This study indicates that suicide attacks are used for one imperative reason: they often work to force a political accommodation despite great asymmetries of power.
Look to 9/11 as an example. 9/11 was essentially a very innovative suicide bombing attack. Bin Laden cited many reasons for the attack, but the central rationale was the stationing of some 10,000 American troops in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden was able to galvanize the mainly Saudi attackers using religious sentiments because many Saudi saw our troops as foreign occupiers of their homeland, and of the Islamic holy land. And the attacks of 9/11 worked. Following 9/11 the Bush Administration removed nearly all American troops from Saudi Arabia. Satisfying al Qaida’s demands may not have been Bush’s primary purpose, but I doubt bin Laden cares – from al Qaida’s perspective he won a major political concession, even if it was presented by America in terms of a changing strategic picture upon the fall of the Ba’ath regime in Iraq. 9/11 also fixed in the mind of every Middle Easterner the idea that America would capitulate, and even act contrary to its strategic interests, if pushed with suicide bombing attacks on American soil.
Now, America has almost 140,000 unwelcome troops occupying Iraq. History and logic suggest this situation will provoke more suicide bombing attacks on America in an attempt to dislodge us. For now, such attacks are confined to targets of opportunity in Iraq, but that isn’t likely to last. Why haven’t we been hit with terrorist attacks at home yet? Intercepts suggest bin Laden ordered that attacks should concentrate on Coalition ‘partners’ to isolate America politically. Terrorist attacks are way up all around the world since the occupation of Iraq, but those which have registered most strongly with American media are the attack on Spain, prompting their withdrawal from Iraq, and now the attack on England, which will test British resolve to remain in Iraq. England’s soul searching will be especially intense now that it seems clear that the London suicide bombers were British born, not foreigners. It is inevitable that American civilians will once again become targets of terrorism unless and until our troops leave Iraq.
One can infer from Pape’s study simple rules to avoid and prevent suicide bombing attacks; don’t occupy foreign countries or territories, especially those having differing cultural or religious traditions, and if you are already doing so, stop. Americans are eventually going to have to ask themselves if the pieties and empty rhetoric the Bush Administration has cobbled together in lieu of a real causus belli are worth, not just the lives of our troops in Iraq, but also the lives of untold numbers of additional innocent Americans civilians who will certainly become terrorist casualties if we stay in Iraq? You’ve been conditioned to think, “Isn’t that capitulating to terrorists again?” But it is discretion and wisdom, not capitulation or cowardice, if the coming crop of Iraq-inspired suicide bombers primary reason to strike us is removed before they ever do so.