Pape argues that the key factor in determining spikes in suicide terrorism isn’t the prevalence or profile of radical Islamic clerics or mental sickness, but rather the garrisoning of foreign troops, most often US troops or its allies, in these respective countries.
Pape and Feldman show, for example, that even in war-torn, beleaguered Afghanistan, suicide attacks surged from just a handful a year to more than 100 per year in early 2006 when US and military deployments began to extend to the Pashtun southern and eastern regions of the country beginning in late 2005. Pakistan also deployed forces against Pashtun sections of western Pakistan, which Pape and Feldman note also saw large spikes in suicide attacks.
Pape isn’t a pacifist and isn’t calling on the US government and Pentagon to appease dictators and terror masters. But he is making an argument that a new, better strategy is needed. He and his co-author make a compelling case—much like Donald Rumsfeld once pondered in his famous memo on terrorism —that the United States is creating many of its own problems and feeding its enemies.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
I once asked US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott whether he thought that the United States would have problems managing its empire of bases and whether those nations hosting them would feel the burden too heavy in a post-Soviet world. Talbott responded that he believed—as did most of the national security community—that ‘US bases are anchors of instability in unstable regions.’
But this may not be the case any longer—or at least not as much as it used to be.
In Cutting the Fuse, Pape and Feldman suggest that the US military would be better off securing its key foreign policy interests through ‘offshore balancing’—relying on military alliances and ‘offshore air, naval and rapidly deployable ground forces rather than heavy onshore combat power.’
No doubt the first calls he received about this would have been from the US Air Force and Navy. But their interests aside, Pape believes the military needs to be more nimble and have a smaller footprint—less toxic than the large-scale, clunky, unsuccessful force deployments that characterize US deployments to Afghanistan today.
The key here is working from the data upward in formulating a smart strategy for military organization, rather than working from the top down and repeating mistakes made by those whose thinking is conventional, incremental and who tie what they do tomorrow largely to what they did yesterday.
Pape sees a chance to neutralize the forces that could otherwise yield another generation of hardened terrorists, many of whom are willing to engage in suicide attacks. I know the Pentagon is listening, and this impresses me. Others should be too.
Steve Clemons directs the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note. Clemons can be followed on Twitter @SCClemons