A Scholarly Look at Terror Sees Bootprints In the Sand

A sustained, heavy American combat force in Muslim countries, warns Robert A. Pape in his new book,
A sustained, heavy American combat force in Muslim countries, warns Robert A. Pape in his new book, "is likely to increase the odds of the next 9/11." (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 10, 2005

Washington was its summer muggiest as Robert A. Pape made his rounds. He was on his second trip to the capital in a week. The first time, he had briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill. On this day, there was a breakfast discussion with 50 people at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, then a visit to Voice of America. By the time he arrived for an interview, lugging a huge plastic binder with his cherished statistics on suicide terrorists, Pape was perspiring profusely.

He was too polite, however, to remove his jacket until a reporter suggested he do so. And he laughed self-consciously as a photographer coaxed him into unfamiliar poses for a portrait. "You can tell that faculty at the University of Chicago don't have this happen every day!" he joked.

Pape's world is a little topsy-turvy right now because the loquacious associate professor of political science is hollering "No!" to some of the conventional wisdom underpinning U.S. foreign policy. Specifically, Pape contends in his controversial new book, "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," that U.S. policymakers misread why suicide terrorists do what they do.

"Suicide terrorism is not so much committed by religious fanatics looking for a quick trip to paradise as it is by a variety of secular and religious individuals who fear that their societies will be unalterably transformed by a religiously motivated occupier," says Pape, who was sought out last week by CNN and Fox in the wake of the London terrorist attacks.

The "presumed connection" between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism has fueled the U.S. foreign policy project of transforming Muslim societies into secular democracies, sometimes militarily, Pape notes. But "the sustained presence of heavy American combat forces in Muslim countries," he warns in the book, "is likely to increase the odds of the next 9/11."

As for the suicide terrorist magnet of the day, Iraq is heading toward a "disastrous defeat" for the United States because U.S. policies are "unworkable," Pape says. Unless the Iraqi government quickly gets direct control of its own military, he says, "this isn't gonna work. I'm sorry. . . . They've had two years to straighten this out."

The journey that brought Pape, 45, to his against-the-grain theories began Sept. 11, 2001.

Until then, his career had been all about modern military air power. The Erie, Pa., native got his doctorate in international security affairs from the University of Chicago in 1988. He did his dissertation on "coercive air power" because "I was curious why we lost the Vietnam War [with] such a huge advantage in air power."

He was recruited to teach at the Air Force's elite School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, and in 1996 published his first book, "Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War."

Pape moved next to Dartmouth College, where he taught for five years until he was lured back to his alma mater. When the 2001 terror attacks took place, Pape was sought out by reporters because of his knowledge of airplanes. But when talk turned to the hijackers, he realized that he knew little about suicide as a terrorist weapon.

So Pape set about gathering facts. He counted 462 suicide terrorists worldwide -- including 71 from al Qaeda -- between 1980 and 2003. He studied their lives. He read documents put out by the groups they joined. He compiled lists. He plotted numbers on graphs.

Pape accumulated a trove of hard data -- the stuff you want at your fingertips when you have to make tough calls, decide what to do about Iraq or fight the Global War on Terror.

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