Which came first? Are we at war with radical Islam because our military presence in Arab countries provoked a certain number of Islamists to attack us? Or are we at war in response to a series of attacks perpetrated against the U.S. and the West for reasons that have little or nothing to do with our foreign policy? While this has been much debated, two recent articles have brought the debate into focus.
Robert Pape, a professor and author of the book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, has been getting tons of media publicity. He has been making the case that suicide terrorists are responding to our presence in their world. He claims that the world leader in suicide terrorism is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a secular, Marxist group. He says they invented the suicide vest for their suicide assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, which the Palestinians then copied.
Pape argues that “What the vast majority of suicide terrorist attacks have in common is not religion, but a clear secular strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.” He says most of the suicide terrorists come from Sunni countries where we have stationed tens of thousands of troops. And that Iran, for example, which feels under no threat of being occupied by the U.S., has produced no al-Qaeda suicide killers.
But that statement is just plain false. According to former Clinton-appointed FBI director Louis Freeh, “Iran’s terrorist leaders are well versed in ‘martyrdom operations’ against Americans. Hezbollah, the exclusive terrorist agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has killed more Americans than any other group besides al Qaeda.”
In fact, in a 2003 trial, Judge Royce Lamberth found that the most deadly state-sponsored terrorist attack made against American citizens prior to September 11, 2001, the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983, was a suicide bombing backed by Iran. On that day 241 American servicemen were murdered in their sleep by a suicide bomber. Lamberth said the evidence showed that the suicide bomber himself was an Iranian operative.
Pape says that even if we decided now and withdrew troops from all over the world, it would still be years before the suicide bombings would end. He suggests we build a security fence, much like Israel has done, to keep them from coming into this country.
But Victor Davis Hanson, the Hoover Institution historian and National Review contributor, has a different take on this. He points out in National Review that while it was mainly Israel that was the target of the Middle Eastern terrorists, the West grew complacent. Never mind, he points out, that the first three wars waged against Israel (1947 ’56, and ’67) were before Israel controlled the West Bank, Gaza, or Jerusalem.
In the years that followed, the U.S. attempted to play the role of the honest broker, and paid billions to Egypt and Jordan, and tens of millions to Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, hoping to moderate the forces of terror, and to help alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people. But, “the terror continued, enhanced rather than arrested, by Western largess and Israeli concessions.”
Then the forces of radical Islam began waging war on the U.S., largely since the Iranian revolution in 1979, when they took control of one of the largest and most oil-rich nations in the area. Throughout the eighties and nineties we were targeted by terrorists and terrorist-backed nations: Beirut, Achille Lauro, Pan Am 103, the first World Trade Center bombing, the Khobar Towers, the U.S.S. Cole, and of course 9/11.
The question becomes, could we ever do enough to appease those who want to destroy us? And if we could, would that be wise policy. Hanson points out that the U.S. went to the aid of Arabs and Muslims in Afghanistan when it was occupied by the Soviets, Kuwait when it was occupied by Saddam Hussein, and Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo. He adds, “Americans welcomed thousands of Arabs to our shores and allowed hundreds of madrassas and mosques to preach zealotry, anti-Semitism, and jihad without much scrutiny.”
But none of that was enough, apparently, as long as the U.S. had bases in Saudi Arabia, and was keeping the sanctions on Iraq. So why does anyone think that pulling some troops out of Saudi Arabia will change anything?
And that has in fact been the problem. As long as the world continues to run on oil, the U.S. will continue to require a presence in that part of the world. That has been the case since Franklin Roosevelt cut a deal with the Saud family while he was president. They would assure that we would have access to their oil, we would assure their survival.
Plus, appeasement wouldn’t work anyway. So while Pape has assembled some worthwhile statistics and facts, it has little relevance as a roadmap for U.S. foreign policy. How does Papes’ theory explain bombings in Bali, the Philippines, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq, in the context of, as Hanson calls them, “Islamic grievances.”
So this matter is about something else. Hanson calls it “a global pathology of young male Islamic radicals blaming all others for their own self-inflicted miseries, convinced that attacks on the infidel would win political concessions, restore pride, and prove to Israelis, Europeans, Americans?and about everybody else on the globe?that Middle Eastern warriors were full of confidence and pride after all.”
The idea of being at war with Islamic radicals for decades is one that all of us dread. But how we got there and what we need to do now is very complicated and worth having this debate.