- WASHINGTON -- We have entered
a new phase of the Iraq war since the optimism following the Jan. 30 elections
there, and the manifestations of the changes are everywhere.
- Every American general who comes out of Baghdad now speaks
only in words that are hesitant, relative, depressed. Here at home, the
figures emerging from even the Pentagon are frightening: The Army and the
Army National Guard are likely to meet only 75 percent of their recruiting
targets in the next year.
- Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center reported this
week that disillusionment is setting in with the American people over Iraq.
"We are seeing more and more saying, 'Get the troops out,'" he
said this week. "They are getting the continuing portrait of an insurgency
that just doesn't quit. Six months ago, 65 percent of Americans were saying
the war could meet its goals; now only 46 percent are saying that."
London's International Institute of Strategic Studies says American troops
will be needed for six more years.
- Yet, despite these surface indications of trouble ahead,
the administration sticks stubbornly to its underlying thesis: Suicide
bombers are religious zealots who must be defeated there, lest they attack
us here. The logic has not budged an inch in two years: They are crazy
and brutal Islamic fundamentalists, motivated by religious beliefs that
would radicalize the entire Middle East were it not for us.
- The problem now is that the rationalization for all the
mistakes that led us into Iraq and keep us there is quite awfully turned
on its head. According to ground-shaking analyses by two brilliant, nonideological
scholars, it is OUR military presence in the Middle East that is every
day CREATING the suicide bombers -- and will continue to do so unless and
until we change our policies.
- Robert A. Pape, associate professor of political science
at the University of Chicago, has also been heading the Chicago Project
on Suicide Terrorism. With a team of analysts, he has studied suicide terrorist
bombers from Sri Lanka, where they began, to Israel-Palestine, to Lebanon,
to Iraq. He has created a database -- the first ever conceived -- of every
suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 to 2003, and his
findings are unequivocal.
- First, he did not find the bombers to be fanatical or
essentially unusual people -- "Suicide terrorists' political aims,
if not their methods, are often more mainstream than observers realize,"
he wrote in his recent book, "Dying to Win." "They generally
reflect quite common, straightforward nationalist self-determination claims
of their community."
- Second, contrary to the beliefs of this administration,
religion plays a very small role in their motivations. "Rather,"
Pape pointed out to me when we met recently at the University of Chicago,
"what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific
secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military
forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.
Religion is rarely the root cause."
- Third, the president's beloved idea that "regime
change" and "democratization" will decrease suicide bombings
and other related violence is fatally flawed. In fact, Pape says: "An
attempt to transform Muslim societies through regime change is likely to
dramatically increase the threat we face. The root cause of suicide terrorism
is foreign occupation and the threat that foreign military presence poses
to the local community's way of life.
- "The stationing of tens of thousands of American
combat troops on the Arabian Peninsula from 1990 to 2001 probably made
al-Qaida suicide attacks against Americans ... from five to 20 times more
likely. Hence, the longer American troops remain in Iraq and in the Persian
Gulf in general, the greater the risk of the next Sept. 11."
- Another scholar and analyst who has done outstanding
and original work on suicide bombers is Washington's Dr. Rona M. Fields,
clinical psychologist and sociologist, and author of "Martyrdom: The
Psychology, Theology and Politics of Self-Sacrifice." After 35 years
of research on terrorism in 11 different countries, she came to exactly
the same conclusions.
- "The main thing is that terrorism is a choice people
make," Fields told me. "It's not a sickness, and it's not religious
as such. It's a choice they make when they feel that their group is threatened.
It's a level of retributive justice; it's vendetta, not psychosis. In fact,
the word 'martyrdom' was originally a Christian term, and the Muslims got
the idea from intermingling with Christians."
- If these findings are true -- and they certainly ring
true to me and to many who have worked in and covered the Middle East --
then not only are we finding it treacherous going in Iraq, but every minute
we stay there, perceived as invaders in a foreign land, we are perversely
creating the dangerous and effective violence against us and the middle-ground
Iraqis whom we depend upon. Odd, that our leaders cannot even begin to