The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism

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The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001 and still goes on. That terrible morning, 19 evil men, the shock troops of a hateful ideology, gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their ambitions. They imagined, in the words of one terrorist, that September the 11th would be the beginning of the end of America. By seeking to turn our cities into killing fields, terrorists and their allies believed that they could destroy this nation's resolve and force our retreat from the world. They have failed .
Over twenty-eight months after President Bush roared those words to the world, the United States still has approximately 138,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq , catastrophic havoc caused by Hurricane Katrina plagues the Gulf Coast , an undeniably inadequate government emergency response ensued and President George Bush's approval ratings are at their lowest point in his presidency . Despite the announced end to "combat operations" in Iraq and the declaration that the suicide terrorists have "failed", since the election of the new Iraqi government, there have been daily suicide bombing in Iraq against U.S. Forces . Two single days in September 2005 have been the bloodiest, with nearly 200 Iraqis killed by the hands of suicide terrorists . As a result, many Americans are questioning the administration's current policy toward Iraq, including doubting the need for the large presence of American troops in Iraq .
Dying to Win is a timely book that concludes the cause of suicide terrorism is the presence of foreign troops as an occupying force in a weaker state . It specifically concludes that the cause of suicide terrorism against the United States is the presence of combat troops in Iraq and on the Arabian Peninsula . Dying to Win is one of the first attempts to address the critical questions surrounding suicide terrorism and examines the conditions that permit the social acceptance of such carnage. Professor Robert Pape has created the "world's largest database on suicide terrorism" and examined the 315 suicide terrorist attacks worldwide between 1980 and 2003 , analyzing a myriad of variables in determining that occupation by foreign troops is the "taproot" of suicide terrorism . Dying to Win is a groundbreaking undertaking that is a necessary read for every decision maker in government, and especially all military officers.

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MLA Citation:
"The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism." 24 Mar 2017

While many may feel compelled to cling to yesterday's assumptions that Islamic fundamentalism is the cause of suicide terrorism , Dying to Win effectively dispels those myths and reveals much about the suicide terrorists, including their background and motives .
Professor Pape, an associate professor at the University of Chicago specializing in international security affairs , is uniquely qualified to write Dying to Win. A former instructor at the United States Air Force School of Advanced Airpower Studies, he also taught international relations at Dartmouth College, and his opinion is widely sought in the area of international security policy . Pape is also widely published in international relations, devoting the past several years to the study of suicide terrorism .
In addition to its examination of every suicide attack between 1980 and 2003, Dying to Win is a thoroughly researched and well-written text, documented with 391 footnotes, three appendices and twenty-six tables supporting its analysis and conclusions . Pape's writing style is very academic and Dying to Win is structured like a textbook, with clearly outlined chapters and sub-chapters. Although he overuses the "rule of three " for organization of the text and supporting analysis, it does not detract from the material or readability of the book. Written in three parts , Dying to Win examines the "strategic logic," the "social logic," and the "individual logic" of suicide terrorism before concluding that the current strategy for dealing with al-Qaeda is doomed to fail .
The "strategic logic " of the suicide terrorists and their campaigns should come as no surprise to those in the military or students of military history. Since all proponents of suicide terrorism are significantly weaker than their occupying force, especially the United States, they cannot use traditional military means to repel the occupiers . It is precisely this weakness and lack of a military force that makes suicide terrorism an attractive and plausible course of action to those occupied . The fact that an occupying force is a democracy makes them even more vulnerable to suicide terrorism, since their public is perceived to have a low threshold for civilian deaths, they are less likely to retaliate against civilians, and suicide attacks are harder to organize against authoritarian states . Pape concludes the "strategic logic" section by pointing out several past successes that have taught the suicide terrorists that such a strategy "pays" and gets concessions from the foreign occupying force .
The "social logic" of suicide terrorism will be more difficult for almost all people to understand and accept. This is true especially since all religions, including Islam, condemn suicide . The exception to this condemnation is martyrdom . While Islamic fundamentalism is not the root cause of suicide terrorism, the fact that an occupying power has a religious difference from the land occupied allows them to be "demonized ." This demonizing allows suicide terrorism planners to appeal to martyrdom and permits the general population of the occupied nation to embrace suicide terrorism . The occupying power then is cast as a threat to the existence of the religion of the occupied, and suicide terrorism then becomes socially accepted . Pape points to several empirical examples of this logic, including the Tamils in Sri Lanka, a non-Islamic group, who have been the most active in suicide terrorism, and debunks the myth that Islamic fundamentalism is the cause of suicide terror . In fact, fifty-seven percent of the suicide terrorists' motivation was secular ideology .
The "individual logic" of suicide terrorism will surprise many in the military, especially since it runs counter to the traditional notions of who suicide terrorists are. Rather than being loners and criminals who have nothing to live for, most suicide terrorists are normal, well-adjusted people . Their motives for suicide terrorism are altruistic, and for the betterment of their people . Pape concludes this "individual logic" section by profiling three of the "deadliest" suicide terrorists -- Mohammed Atta, Dhanu, and Saeed Hotari -- by examining the attack, their background, state of mind, and training, to demonstrate the altruistic appeal of suicide terrorists .
Noting that occupation by a democracy is the cause of suicide terrorism, as opposed to Islamic fundamentalism, Dying to Win argues that there must be a two-pronged assault to combat this growing trend; America must root out all the existing suicide terrorists, but do it in such a way that it does not grow a new generation of those dying to win . To do this, Pape argues that America should abandon the use of heavy military power in Iraq , and return to "offshore balancing" to protect our oil interests in the Middle East . Offshore balancing includes the withdraw of U.S. ground troops from the region, and the use of naval power stationed in the region in the event military forces are needed to protect U.S. interests . Part of this offshore balancing is developing strategic relationships in the region, for instance with Iran, Turkey or Saudi Arabia so that they can use their influence to protect interests of the United States . This approach seems to dovetail with the transformation of the United States Army from a heavy, difficult to deploy, division-based force to the brigade based combat teams that are lighter and highly mobile ready-to-deploy units of action . Additionally, Pape notes that homeland security must be part of the solution. This includes improving the background checks of immigrants, and stopping illegal immigration . Pape specifically argues that the United States should build a security fence between the United States and Mexico , similar to the security fence under construction by Israel to protect it from suicide terrorists from the West Bank and Gaza .
Despite his thought provoking analysis, Pape leaves many questions unanswered, some because of the timing of the book. For instance, how do the London bombings fit into this theory? The bombers were British born Pakistani and Jamaican men whose homeland was Great Britain, not a foreign occupied nation . Why would Iraqi insurgents target other Iraqi day laborers or civil servants , especially after the election of a new Iraqi government ? How does the suicide bombing in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt fit into Pape's suicide terrorist campaigns? Egypt neither is an foreign occupied nation, nor is it a coalition partner with troops on the ground in Iraq. In fact, Egypt has steadfastly refused to send any troops to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom .
It appears as if analyzing the most recent bombings in London, Iraq and Egypt from the constructs espoused in Dying to Win is like hammering the proverbial square peg through the round hole. While Dying to Win provides many answers to question surrounding the identity of the suicide terrorists, and theorizes why they attack the United States, it is merely another lens through which to examine our policy towards Iraq. Pape provides compelling reasoning to shift American troops out of Iraq, reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and develop stronger alliances in the region that would allow us to protect our national interests without provoking additional suicide attacks. While he does not provide all the answers, all military officers should read this thought provoking study to gain a much better understanding of the dynamics of suicide terrorism, and provide a framework on how to combat it.

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