"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. Although this pattern began to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s, a wealth of new data presents a powerful picture...In 2000, before the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, there were 20 suicide attacks around the world, and only one (against the USS Cole) was directed against Americans. In the last 12 months, by comparison, 300 suicide attacks have occurred, and over 270 were anti-American. We simply must face the reality that, no matter how well-intentioned, the current war on terror is not serving U.S. interests."
This is the conclusion reached by Professor Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman in their new book, "Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop." It is based on research conducted at the University of Chicago's Project on Security and Terrorism. Prof. Pape leads this research, which is partially funded by the Defense Department's Threat Reduction Agency.
The authors examined more than 2,200 suicide attacks across the world from 1980 to the present. 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.
In Cutting the Fuse, the authors pointed out: "Prior to 9/11, the expert debate on the causes of suicide terrorism was divided largely between two explanations -- religious fanaticism and mental illness. In the years after 9/11, new research on who becomes a suicide terrorist showed that virtually none could be diagnosed as mentally ill, while many were religious and, most striking, nearly all emerged from communities resisting foreign military occupation."
Cutting the Fuse is a sequel to Prof. Pape's 2005 book, "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," which first advanced this new explanation for the origins of suicide terrorism.
Dying to Win revealed that from 1980 to 2003, there were 345 suicide terrorist attacks by 524 suicide terrorists who actually killed themselves on a mission to kill others, half of whom are secular. The world leader was the Tamil Tigers (a secular, Hindu group) who carried out more attacks than Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) during this period. Further, at least a third of the suicide attacks in predominantly Muslim countries were carried out by secular terrorist groups, such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey. Instead of religion, what over 95% of all suicide terrorist attacks before 2004 had in common was a strategic goal -- to compel a democratic state to withdraw combat forces that are threatening territory that the terrorists' prize. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to the West Bank to Chechnya, the central goal of every suicide terrorist campaign has been to resist military occupation by a democracy.
In Dying to Win, Pape asserts that though we cannot leave the Middle East altogether, a strategy for victory is available, which is that the U.S. should define victory as the separate objectives of "defeating the current pool of terrorists" and preventing a new generation from arising. Pape rejects the Frum-Perle view that the root of the problem is in Islam. "Rather, the taproot is American military policy." The notion that Islamic fundamentalism is bent on world domination is "pure fantasy," he argued, and warned that an attempt by the West to force Muslim societies to transform "is likely to dramatically increase the threat we face."
Not surprisingly, Cutting the Fuse finds that the stationing of foreign combat forces (ground and tactical Air Force units) on territory that terrorists prize accounts for 87% of more than 1,800 suicide terrorist attacks around the world since 2004. The occupation of Pakistan's western tribal regions by local combat forces allied to American military forces stationed across the border in Afghanistan accounts for another 12%. Further, the timing of the deployment of combat forces threatening territory the terrorists prize accounts for the onset of all eight major suicide terrorist campaigns between 1980 and 2009, which together comprise 96% of the 2,188 attacks during that period. Simply put, military occupation accounts for nearly all suicide terrorism around the world since 1980.
Although each of the major suicide terrorist campaigns is important, perhaps the most urgent finding within specific campaigns concerns the recent abrupt spike of suicide terrorism in Afghanistan where, starting in early 2006, the number of suicide attacks suddenly rose from a handful to more than 100 per year. The key reason was United States and NATO military deployments, which began to extend to the Pashtun southern and eastern regions of the country beginning in late 2005. In 2006, the United States pressured Pakistan to deploy large military forces in the Pashtun areas of western Pakistan, which also led to a large increase of suicide attacks in the country. In effect, the more the United States and its military allies have militarily occupied the Pashtun homeland, the more this has inspired suicide terrorism to end the occupation.
In an article about the new research -- "The root cause of suicide terrorism: It's the Occupation, Stupid" -- Prof. Pape argued that in a narrow sense, America is safer today than on 9/11. There has not been another attack on the same scale. But in a broader sense, America has become perilously unsafe. 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.
He went on to say that the United States has been great in large part because it respects understanding and discussion of important ideas and concepts, and because it is free to change course. Intelligent decisions require putting all the facts before us and considering new approaches, he said, adding 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.
While Pape and Feldman do not advocate a "cut-and-run" withdrawal from Afghanistan, they do advise a two- to three-year drawdown of troop levels in order to reduce the volume of suicide attacks.
The new study does appear to vindicate Republican Congressman Dr. Ron Paul's foreign policy views which have been especially unpopular in the Republican Party and in hawkish Democratic circles. According to Paul, "radical terrorist attacks directed against American troops and civilians have escalated due to excessive, long-term U.S. intervention and occupation in the Middle East and South Asia, not because "they hate us for our freedoms." While Paul's views have often been characterized as a "blame America" mentality, this latest in-depth, independent study seems to corroborate the credibility of his position.
"It is time for Americans to rethink the interventionist foreign policy that is accepted without question in Washington. It is time to understand the obvious harm that results from our being dragged time and time again into intractable and endless Middle East conflicts, whether in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, or Palestine. It is definitely time to ask ourselves whether further American lives and tax dollars should be lost trying to remake the Middle East in our image," Paul wrote in his 2006 article titled: The Original American Foreign Policy.