Battlepanda: Knowing our enemy


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Knowing our enemy

Yesterday I quoted Sun Tzu: "You must know yourself and know your enemy to always prevail in battle." In my opinion, the work of Robert Pape is a an enormously important step forward in understanding our terrorist foes. His conclusion seems almost obvious: terrorists who blow themselves up to kill our innocent civilians want something. More specifically, they want us out of their countries. It seems quite depressing that this would be considered a controversial conclusion, simply because it goes against the "they hate us for our freedom" bromide.

Understanding the motivation of our enemies doesn't make them any less evil. It just makes our position stronger. Yes, Osama is never going to stop hating us, but the last time I checked, it's not Osama strapping himself with explosives and blowing himself up. His operations is dependent on a steady stream of recruits who hate us. Finding out why they hate us and getting them to hate us less is the only possible way to peace, short of crushing all muslims everywhere. Any lesser injury would simply be an invitation to more revenge. The uncharacteristically shrill Juan Cole spells out the danger:
You want to know what causes terrorism? Well, in part it is caused by deviance, by people so warped that they will take innocent lives in a wicked quest to achieve some political or religious goal. In part, terrorists are like bank robbers. Bank robbers desperatedly want to be rich, but for one reason or another think they are very unlikely to get rich through their ordinary activities. Likewise, terrorists, break the law, both moral and civil, to get what they want. In that sense they are criminals, or, as I say, deviants. But they are not motiveless and do not act out of free-floating generalized hatred for the most part. They have a specific goal in mind.

Terrorism is also caused when one country militarily occupies another country. That is, it is the military occupation that provides a lot of terrorists with their goal (i.e. to free their country from foreign military occupation). Chicago political scientist Robert Pape has shown that the vast majority of suicide bombings in the past 30 years have come in response to foreign military occupation (or what the terorists perceived as such). Back in the late 50s and early 60s, the Algerians and the French were locked in such a struggle. The French killed nearly a million Algerians (in a population of 11 million), and the Algerians blew up a lot of French. When the French recognized Algeria as an independent country in 1962, the struggle quickly subsided and by 1963 Algeria wasn't even a big subject in French newspapers.
The emphasis is mine. "The French killed nearly a million Algerians (in a population of 11 million). Let's call that one in twelve. What appallingly excessive violence, and yet it was not enough to stop the terrorists from doing what they do. Given history. Given our own experiences. Why do some still think we can macho our way out of this?