Article: Making the Right Argument
The dust has yet to settle in the London Underground and the pundits have already flooded the op-ed pages rehashing their same arguments again - everyone trying desperately to make sense of the senselessness. As I read the op-eds written by ostensibly learned individuals, I'm consistently astonished at just how off-the-point we seem to all be on what is clearly the biggest subject of our time. Its not that the points they make are necessarily bad given the argument they put forth, but it is the argument itself that seems to miss the essence of the issues we face in the Middle East, and the rest of the dysfunctional world for that matter.
In order to properly gauge the success or failure of our mission here it is first necessary to state just what the mission is and its desired end state, which is of course, a stable, democratic and free Middle East. I emphasize "democratic" and "free" because that is a decidedly different approach than any we've taken prior to September 11th. "Stable" yes, but “democratic” and “free” was previously not of our concern. As long as the local leader was, as Lyndon Johnson so dreadfully put it, "Our Son-of-a-Bitch" and was friendly to our commercial interests, we deemed the regime as "stable". In fact, even in cases where the regime was decidedly not friendly, we continued to make policy decisions in favor of said stability. This was the case in 1991 when then President George H.W. Bush halted the push toward Baghdad and chose to begin a damaging, costly twelve-year détente with Saddam Hussein in order to prevent a "power vacuum" that may have threatened our oil-exporting "sons-of-bitches" in the House of Saud. Three-hundred thousand Iraqi Shiites were allowed to die for the sake of stability. Now, our more short-sighted opponents of intervention are once again arguing in favor of short-term stability.
I hate to pick on just one individual, but let's take the kindly Professor Pape's op-ed as a test case:
...many Americans had hoped that Al Qaeda has been badly weakened by American counterterrorism efforts since Sept. 11, 2001, the facts indicate otherwise.
Despite what many American's are hoping for, which is a quick end to any and all suffering (who wouldn't want that?) the fact is that we are in a protracted conflict that has an over-arching strategy that can't be measured by statistics on the national origins of suicide bombers and whose desired outcomes won't be fully realized for what could be generations. The problem with trying to maintain this strategy is that the debate surrounding our efforts continues to be short-sighted in nature, with metrics that are aimed at appealing to short attention-spans.
I was able to collect the names, nationalities and detailed demographic information on 67 of these  bombers, data that provides insight into the underlying causes of Al Qaeda’s suicide terrorism…Most important, the figures show that Al Qaeda is today less a product of Islamic fundamentalism than of a simple strategic goal: to compel the United States and its Western Allies to withdraw combat forces from the Arabian Peninsula and other Muslim countries.(emphasis added)
Mr. Pape forgot to add “…to establish a Taliban-like, repressive ultra-extremist Islamic Caliphate that spans the entire Muslim world.” That, in actuality, is their “simple strategic goal.” Suicide bombings are a tactic employed toward that end. Of course, Mr. Pape was probably referring to the motivation behind most of the attacks these days being targeted toward breaking our will at home. That point was not entirely lost in the poor phraseology. The question I would ask is: If it is so obvious that is their goal, why would anyone put forth an argument that implicitly advocates giving them exactly what they are murdering by the hundreds to achieve?
By stating that “Islamic Fundamentalism” is, or at least was the cause of Al Qaeda’s brand of terrorism betrays a lack of understanding between cause and effect on this issue. Religious fundamentalism itself (in all its forms) is an effect; a product. It’s the reaction of religious, conservative mindsets to change. And the United States is perceived to be the change agent by the conservatives of the Muslim world. The desperate decision to employ violence and mass murder against innocents as a tactic toward achieving their goals is also an effect - a product. It is a product of a lack of faith in the rule of law. This lack of faith is incubated in the unjust and corrupt societies that are inevitable when leadership is not accountable to the governed. In other words, the fundamentalist movement probably won’t go away, after all its Christian equivalent is alive and well back home in the United States, but the tactics employed to affect change (or resist it for that matter) are obviously very different. If we’re not asking ourselves why that is then we’re not examining the real causes. Lastly, the ability of homicidal madmen to indoctrinate, recruit and deploy young people by the hundreds to kill themselves while taking innocent life is a product. It is a product of poverty, of hopelessness. It is a product of self-serving, corrupt regimes that do not have the best interest of their people in mind, which is what occurs in the absence of democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law. Our culpability in this cycle of madness is our willingness to tolerate these regimes for the sake of “stability”.
Afghanistan produced [Al] Qaeda suicide terrorist only after the American-led invasion of the country in 2001. The clear implication is that if Al Qaeda was no longer able to draw recruits from the Muslim countries where there is a heavy American combat presence, it might well collapse.
This is a grossly false conclusion to draw. Firstly, Mr. Pape lists “Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia and Morocco” as the primary nationalities of the suicide bombers on his list, “rather than those the State Department considers ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ like Iran, Libya, Sudan and Iraq.” Aside from Turkey, none other on that list has a “heavy American combat presence”. And not to split hairs, but we’re not engaged in combat in Turkey either. I find this to be self-contradictory. But that’s not really what bothers me. Being in Afghanistan and talking with the average citizen ever single day, I believe I can safely say that the reason Afghanistan has produced suicide bombers only after our invasion and subsequent rehabilitation is that Afghanistan has become a considerably more difficult operational environment for Islamic terrorism due to extremely high popular support for the Coalition and the Karzai government. Many of Al Qaeda’s “true believers” here answered Bin Laden’s call and have joined with the Iraqi insurgency, which is where most of Mr. Pape’s statistics come from.
“Since 2002, [Al Qaeda] has killed citizens from 18 of the 20 countries that Osama Bin Laden has cited as supporting the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.”
This is one of those misleading statistics because it doesn’t tell you how many countries lost innocent citizens that Bin Laden did not cite as supporting our invasions. Countries like Iraq for instance, which has lost thousands. Now forgive my sarcasm, but are you saying that we are being targeted because we are the ones who chose to fight? What is the not-so-implicit suggestion here? Don’t fight, right? Stability, right? Some called it “détente” back when we were debating what to do with the Soviets, who murdered millions. As a man who loves his fellow human beings, I find such a suggestion morally bankrupt. And is this not precisely what was previously stated as the enemy’s “simple strategic goal”?
Now, I have some cause/effect analysis of my own. Here I re-quote the Al Qaeda document cited in Mr. Pape’s op-ed discussing the strategy to affect the outcome of the Spanish general elections:
“We think that the Spanish government could not tolerate two, maximum of three blows, after which it will have to withdraw as a result of popular pressure.”
And that is exactly what happened. The Spanish electorate chose appeasement and thus solidified Al Qaeda’s policy of politically-timed terror.
“…the withdrawal of the Spanish or Italian forces from Iraq would put huge pressure on the British presence, a pressure that Tony Blair might not be able to withstand, and hence the domino tiles would fall quickly”
Its Al Qaeda’s own domino theory, based on the understanding that the only way to defeat militaries from democratic countries is to undermine the will of the people to continue to tolerate losses. It is precisely this strategy that won the Vietnam conflict for the North and it was re-confirmed in Somalia. If we’re going to put forth this “We brought it on ourselves. Let’s go home and stop making them mad.” argument we must at least acknowledge that by doing so we are advocating policy that is directly in line with a spelled-out, specific Al Qaeda operational agenda. They may not be trying to win your hearts, but they are trying to bully your minds into submission to their murderous will. Mr. Pape seems convinced. What will you decide?
The London attacks will only encourage Osama bin Laden and other Qaeda leaders in the belief that they will succeed…”
No, Mr. Pape, arguments such as yours are what encourages them.
Having said all that, it is necessary to address areas where we are to blame; areas where we are responsible for the anger directed toward us. The places of the world that are exporting terrorism, and those that will export terror in the future are those places where we have a strong commercial interest but not a human interest. We are so adamant that our rights be respected and that our leadership is held accountable here at home, but we are generally apathetic to the suffering and injustice visited on our brothers and sisters in other countries that is at the very least facilitated by our tolerance of the regimes that perpetrate these crimes against them. We do so for the sake of “stability” which often can be translated to mean “short term commercial interests.” It’s a sin of omission in most cases, but the accusations of thoughtless exploitation ring true when we are willing to do business with these governments to have access to their natural resources but do not take an active interest in the rights and dignities of our fellow human beings that live under the oppressor’s thumb.
Living up to our values is the “hard right”. Insisting that the governments that we do business with honor the lives and respect the lives of their citizens is the hard, expensive choice. We’ve made the wrong choice for years and this is where we find ourselves. But the decision to disengage – to leave and once again let the innocent fend for themselves against the Talibans and Al Qaedas of the world is a folly far worse. It’s not “time to leave” and it never will be. The world is too small and too integrated for that to ever be a possibility. It is time to start insisting that our foreign policy is “human first”.
Sorry, Mr. Pape, I’m sure you’re a really smart guy and all, but on this one, you and many of your academic peers are just plain wrong.