- Last week's bombings in London stoked a fire storm of
commentary about the state of the War on Terrorism, US and Coalition military
engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even the definition of terrorism.
The pit was reached with Tony Blair's assertion that they-the terrorists-"will
never destroy what we hold dear," because, as several commentators
have noted, the bombers are not really interested in what we hold dear.
They want the Americans and the British out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and
an end to the Israeli persecution of the Palestinian people. The high point
of this furor was reached, again by Tony Blair, who mused, quite rightly,
but almost as an afterthought, that something must be done about the causes
- If it takes a bombing to focus the minds of leadership
on the correct path out of this situation, then maybe the London bombers
did the world a favor, while actually getting across what they wanted:
They want the west to do something about their grievances, to start with,
to end the War on Terrorism, that can now be seen by at least a billion
people as against Islam.
- The bombings coincided with a rumble in Washington about
what is terrorism. It seems awfully late in a shooting war to need to define
what the war is about, but better late than never. This war of definitions
is on two fronts. First, what is terrorism? That seems to be moving toward
accepting that, outside legitimate warfare and justified law enforcement,
a politically motivated violent attack by anyone, against anyone, anywhere,
on any scale is terrorism, and that gets close to a universal definition.
It rapidly escalates the numbers globally by including domestic terrorism-attacks
within one country against only that country's people or property-but it
bundles into the global problem all of the internal disturbances of the
fifty or so failed and failing states, and it still does not include the
actions-however terroristic they may be-of military forces. Second, what
is international terrorism? That number does not appear to have changed,
although the definition of what is a "significant" attack may
be under review.
- On the eve of the publication of its annual "Patterns
of Global Terrorism" in April 2005, the State Department Office of
Counterterrorism indicated the report would not be published for 2004 or
in the future. Instead, the legal requirement to report to the Congress
would be met by sending the information to the Hill, but it would not be
released to the public. That announcement stirred a flurry of accusatives,
e.g., the numbers have gone up as high as they were in the 1980s; the US
is losing the War on Terrorism; and the White House does not want the public
to know. As much as anything, those accusations were a demonstration of
the widespread mistrust of Bush team reporting and wariness of its devious
information management habits. However, on April 27 the newly established
National Counterterrorism Center published its first statistical report:
"A chronology of Significant International Terrorism for 2004".
- The Counterterrorism Center report, more than 80 pages
long and now available on the Center's website, deals with the most important
categories of terrorism that were covered in the State annual, but it applies
a somewhat broader set of reporting criteria, and it reports only on significant
incidents--meaning, as State explained, that they result in hostage takings
or in "loss of life or serious injury to persons, major property damage,
and/or an act or attempted act" that could result in those outcomes.
The data speak for themselves, and their implications are a problem for
the Bush administration, because they call the whole idea of the War into
- The report's main finding is that there were 651 significant
international terrorist incidents in 2004. The last time there were that
many incidents of any kind reported was in the late 1980s, but the numbers
really are not comparable because the database for the 80s included a sizeable
number of incidents that were not defined as significant: Of the 208 incidents
reported in 2003, 161, or 77% of all reported incidents--the highest proportion
in some time--were classed as significant. They occurred in 40 countries,
roughly 60% of them in five countries: India, Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq,
and Israel, in that order, with India alone accounting for 48, or about
- On its new Internet site, the Terrorism Knowledge Base
that is a joint venture with the Department of Homeland Security, the Counterterrorism
Center has included international as well as domestic terrorism in a data
series that begins in 1998. Thus, compared with earlier State Department
reports, the 2004 numbers show radically increased global results: About
2,575 incidents, about a quarter of them "international", occurred
in 2004. Over half of the newly tabulated incidents (1,309) occurred in
Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Israel. In the first half of 2005, the
concentration of incidents increased: Worldwide incidents numbered 1,650,
of which 1,120 occurred in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Israel.
- The increase in incidents in Iraq is dramatic. In 2002
there were 14 incidents in Iraq. In 2004, the first full year of occupation,
there were 790 incidents, and in the first half of 2005, incidents in Iraq
numbered 883. Iraq appeared to be on a path to more than double the 2004
incident rate. In effect, the invasion of Iraq has become the world's principal
- There has been a brutal rise in incidents associated
with the War on Terrorism. In 2002, somewhat more than 20% of worldwide
incidents occurred in Iraq (14), Palestine (432), Israel (109), and Afghanistan
(65). In the first half of 2005, roughly 70% of the 1,650 worldwide incidents
occurred in those four areas, with Iraq (883) accounting for more than
half of worldwide incidents.
- As the Center report indicates, it is difficult in the
Iraqi case to distinguish between terrorist attacks and acts of insurgency.
Moreover, the status of victims (foreign, private, civilian, official,
military) is an insecure cut line between the two. If the outsiders are
westerners, they are, as seen by insurgents, more than likely involved
in the occupation, therefore, a perceivable part of the enemy. Even a cautious
judgment indicates that the root cause of the incidents in Iraq is the
occupation, along with the uncertainties of governance and the instability
associated with it. Therefore, it is probably smart not to class them as
terrorism, and the same applies to incidents in Afghanistan. An occupation/war
related/insurgent violence pattern applies better.
- Data on incidents in and around the Indian subcontinent
make up a big part of the remaining global terrorism statistics. In 2002,
incidents in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Kashmir numbered 743.
That was a quarter of worldwide incidents. In 2004, things had quieted
down somewhat, mainly in and around Kashmir, but the region still accounted
for 8-9% of worldwide incidents. Moreover, the State Department of use
of the "Significant incident" category may have been dropped,
but it should not be forgotten. Incidents in India and surroundings typically
counted for the largest single block of such incidents before the data
base changeover, and the incidents themselves probably continue to be as
violent as ever.
- The other significant groups of attacks in the Center
report were in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In 2004 there were 373 attacks,
mainly in Palestine. In the first half of 2005, there were 191, again mainly
in Palestine. The attacks in Palestine, as well as those in Israel, are
part of the continuing evidence of the Israeli repression of the Palestinian
people. There were12 attacks in Saudi Arabia during 2004, said variously
to be associated/promoted by al Qai'da, but they were more likely evidence
of growing local discontent with the Saudi royals' monopoly of power.
- The majority of countries included in the Center report
experienced only one or two attacks during the year. Those attacks largely
can be attributed to long standing quarrels between out- groups and elites.
- Where does this leave the War on Terrorism? Outside of
Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States leads an occupying force
battling people who have every right to object to it, and possibly Colombia
and the Philippines, where, long before the War on Terrorism, the United
States was helping local authorities deal with long-standing insurgencies,
there appears to be little or no connection.
- Terrorism in the majority of countries covered by the
Center report is indigenous, centered on disputes between governments and
out-groups that existed long before al Qai'da, and these cases are affected
marginally, if at all, by the War on Terrorism. Nor is it likely that,
if the War on Terrorism ended tomorrow, its passing would alter either
the status or the prospects of those long-standing disputes.
- This poses a draconian set of choices. The United States
itself is the primary culprit in lighting the fuses of present volatile
situations in Iraq and Afghanistan .and keeping them aflame The United
States relationship to Israel is a significant driver of Middle East attacks
that may harm Americans and others. Thus the United States, along with
Britain and other Coalition members, is the visible provocation, proximate
cause or closely associated with the causes respecting over 1,300 of the
2,575 terrorist incidents reported by the National Counterterrorism Center
for 2004. The situation is worse so far in 2005, because the US is associated
in the same manner with more than 1,100, close to 70%, of the 1,650 worldwide
attacks recorded for the year as of June 30.
- There is an ironic twist to this situation. President
Bush has said repeatedly, and so have his neo-con advisers, such as Paul
Wolfowitz, that it is important to fight the terrorists offshore, so they
will not attack us in the United States. The London, Madrid, and Bali
bombers, and of course the 9-11 hijackers, clearly have gotten the same
idea: It is quieter at home if you take the struggle to the other side,
but that philosophy, on its face, encourages the export of political violence
by anyone who thinks exporting violence will serve the cause.
- The President himself has declared Iraq to be the "central
front" in the War on Terrorism, but if that is true, it is more provocative
than productive. The Counterterrorism Center data show that the War is
irrelevant to patterns of terrorism in most societies, while the War looks
like the heart of the problem in Iraq and Afghanistan. Withdrawal of US
and Coalition forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, a Middle East peace that
is fair to the Palestinian people, and, as Blair said, dealing with the
causes of terrorism are the central choices for reducing terrorist violence.
- The author is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State, a former Deputy Director of the State Department
Office of Counterterrorism and former Chairman of the Department of International
Studies of the National War College. He is a regular columnist on rense.com.
He will welcome comments at firstname.lastname@example.org