Robert Pape on the Logic of Suicide Terrorism, and its subsequent perversion by the US

Back in 2005, Robert Pape wrote a book titled Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.  I wanted to highlight some facts presented by Pape in an interview he had with The American Conservative:

RP: The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign—over 95 percent of all the incidents—has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw.

TAC: That would seem to run contrary to a view that one heard during the American election campaign, put forth by people who favor Bush’s policy. That is, we need to fight the terrorists over there, so we don’t have to fight them here.

RP: Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism, the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us.

Since 1990, the United States has stationed tens of thousands of ground troops on the Arabian Peninsula, and that is the main mobilization appeal of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. People who make the argument that it is a good thing to have them attacking us over there are missing that suicide terrorism is not a supply-limited phenomenon where there are just a few hundred around the world willing to do it because they are religious fanatics. It is a demand-driven phenomenon. That is, it is driven by the presence of foreign forces on the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. The operation in Iraq has stimulated suicide terrorism and has given suicide terrorism a new lease on life.

Pape concludes

The central motive for anti-American terrorism, suicide terrorism, and catastrophic terrorism is response to foreign occupation, the presence of our troops. The longer our forces stay on the ground in the Arabian Peninsula, the greater the risk of the next 9/11, whether that is a suicide attack, a nuclear attack, or a biological attack.

Arguably, the case can be made not just for foreign occupation but the use of military force against foreign populations in their own homelands. Drones for instance, can be landed at bases in countries beyond the domain of their targeting operations. Such was the conclusion reached in a 2004 Rumsfeld-era Pentagon report on the causes of terrorism. Similarly, the Times Square bomber, when asked in court to explain why he wished to plead guilty to the charges laid against him opined

I want to plead guilty and I’m going to plead guilty 100 times forward because until the hour the US pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan and stops the occupation of Muslim lands and stops Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan, and stops the occupation of Muslim lands, and stops killing the Muslims and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking US, and I plead guilty to that.

Economic sanctions coordinated against Iran have also had the predictable consequence of generating more anti-American ire in that country, and Iranians are five times more likely to blame the US for the sanctions than they are their own leaders (rendering the perverted logic on which the sanctions were predicated invalid). Should we be surprised if the economic plight which we have for forced on these people, for what our own intelligence regards as s a peaceful nuclear program, generates more Times Square bomber-minded individuals?

Interestingly enough, the US is currently using the battlefield of Afghanistan as a “testing grounds” (using real people as targets, of course) for their kamikaze Switchblade drones, which are basically remote-controlled missiles. Essentially, the US will be turning the logic of suicide terrorism on its head by using “suicide” drones to do exactly what their human counterparts are opposing (occupation and military adventurism) with the latter’s act of suicide terrorism. Whew. There is an interesting (to say the least) animation made by a Taiwanese news outlet on these new weapons available here:


One thought on “Robert Pape on the Logic of Suicide Terrorism, and its subsequent perversion by the US

  1. Pingback: Ben Emmerson: Drone strikes in Pakistan carried out without Pakistani consent | The Drone Fallacy

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