07 September 2007

07 September 2007 - Revisiting the Pape thesis

I’ve gone for a run in the beautiful Utah hills, and I’ve had a chance to reflect on the Pape thesis (and thermblog’s comments). The apparent correlation between suicide terror and foreign occupation is compelling, at first. But correlation is not causation. Pape often imputes motives to suicide terrorists that may not actually be theirs, and sets aside some of their stated motives. Causation is more complex than that.

The correlation may also be weaker than it initially appears. Pape told us that he only included sucide attacks in which the perpetrator was successful in killing himself or herself. There are good reasons to believe that failed attacks may also be those with broader, offensive aims. It is easier to carry out a suicide attack on home soil, for the simple reason that foreigners are easier to keep out or kick out.

There is also a dynamic element Pape seems to ignore. Not only does the current wave of suicide terror have specific political and ideological origins and inspirations, but has also evolved into something more global in its aspirations. Withdrawing from Iraq—even slowly, as Pape seems to suggest—might encourage the global aims of Al-Qadea and Iran far beyond any real or exaggerated territorial grievance.

In a way, the questions Pape raises are similar to those that were asked in the West about the appropriate response to Soviet ambitions. Was it better to intervene militarily to stop the communist advance, or adopt a strategy of containment? Different responses were appropriate in different cases. These different tactics were applied within an overall strategy of sustained pressure that eventually succeded.

The same applies to global terror. You need a mix of strategies. The U.S. has withdrawn its military forces from Saudi Arabia—quietly, so as to give the least possible encouragement to terror. But it has not, and should not, withdraw from Iraq. And rather than a passive “off-shore” strategy, the U.S. should stick to its goal of spreading freedom, applying pressure that reserves force as a last resort.

Pape mentioned that he has received a lot of attention from marginal presidential candidate Ron Paul, who has said even the Korean War was a mistake. That is a sure sign of error. I'll still give the book a fair read--but if the war against communism is any guide, it is quite possible the war against terror may be won sooner than we imagine by applying pressure to the states that sponsor it.


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