© 2024 New Hampshire Public Radio

Persons with disabilities who need assistance accessing NHPR's FCC public files, please contact us at publicfile@nhpr.org.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Purchase your tickets for a chance to win $35k toward a new car or $25k in cash during NHPR's Summer Raffle!

Expert Assesses National Intelligence Estimate


Over the weekend, a classified assessment of terrorism trends by U.S. intelligence agencies called the National Intelligence Estimate was leaked to the news media. In response, the Bush administration released additional material.

As more and more of the document has become unclassified, it has become clear that the intelligence community in this country has a stark assessment of the war in Iraq; namely, that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has spawned a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the al-Qaida attacks of September 11, 2001.

Since the reports have surfaced, experts in the field have been weighing in with their reactions. Professor Robert Pape, professor at the University of Chicago and director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism joins us now to talk about how the findings correspond to his research. He joins us by phone from North Carolina.

Professor, thank you so much for joining us.

Professor ROBERT PAPE (University of Chicago): Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Tell us what you thought when you read the leaked or released portions of the report.

Prof. PAPE: Well, I was quite delighted because, you see, over the last 12 months I have given numerous presentations to many of the intelligence agencies that contributed to the NIE, and the presentations have been all about the data on the global patterns of suicide terrorism over the last 25 years and how those patterns have been fundamentally changing, especially as a result of the war in Iraq. And the fact of the matter is, since 9/11 suicide terrorism and especially anti-American suicide terrorism - that is, by al-Qaida in Iraq - have been surging, and the war on terrorism has been heading south, and the threat has been growing. And I'm just quite delighted that the consensus view of the intelligence community is saying this rather loudly.

MARTIN: You feel vindicated.

Prof. PAPE: Well, vindicated, or I think it's just important because I think the data really strongly suggests that the threat is growing, and I think it's terribly important for policy makers on both sides of the aisle to have a clear-eyed view of the direction the threat is heading.

MARTIN: Could you just take a moment to summarize your findings? You said that over the past 25 years the pattern of global terrorism has changed profoundly. Can you just summarize what those patterns were and what they are now?

Prof. PAPE: Well, yes. You see, many people believe that suicide terrorism is mainly a product of Islamic fundamentalism, wholly, and that it's not connected to any circumstance. Well, I studied 462 suicide terrorists from around the world since 1980 who've actually done the mission. Only half are - over half are secular. The world leader is, in fact, not an Islamic fundamentalist group at all. They're the Tamal Tigers in Sri Lanka.

You see, what over 95 percent of all suicide terrorist attacks around the world since 1980 have in common is not a religion but a specific strategic goal: to compel a democratic state to withdraw combat forces. I don't mean advisors with (unintelligible) tanks and fighter aircraft and armored vehicles from territory that the terrorists prize.

From Chechnya to Sri Lanka to the West Bank to Kashmir to Lebanon, every suicide terrorist campaign since 1980 has been waged by terrorist groups whose central goal has been to achieve self-determination for territory the terrorists prize.

So going into Iraq was one of the worst things that we could do strategically in the war on terrorism, because, you see, if suicide terrorism and the threat coming at us really were mainly the product of Islamic fundamentalism, then going into Iraq in order to democratize - that is, transform the region - should've dramatically reduced the threat.

Well, the fact is, suicide terrorism is mainly a response to the threat of foreign occupation, and as a result, when we went into Iraq, we've inadvertently made the matter worse. And that's why in the last five years, anti-American suicide terrorism, both by al-Qaida and in Iraq, is really off the charts compared to the last 20 years.

MARTIN: If you have a question for Professor Pape, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK, and you can e-mail us at talk@npr.org. Professor, if that's so, why is it that most of the victims in Iraq are other Iraqis?

Prof. PAPE: Well, you see, we are widely viewed in Iraq - that is, American military forces - as the power behind the throne. That doesn't mean that American forces and military forces are the easiest targets to hit with suicide attacks in Iraq. In fact, when they can be hit, they often are hit. What's often hit instead - in fact, over 75 percent of the suicide terrorist attacks in Iraq are directed against Iraqi government, political and military targets in order to weaken the Iraqi government, because that Iraqi government is viewed as a puppet government of the United States.

And why is that? Well, terrorist leaders, from Zarqawi and others across the board, have long made just one point: it's the American military that directs all use of force inside of Iraq, and as the democratization of Iraq has continued, it still remains to this day a fact that it's the American military that directs all military force by the Iraqi government. And as a result, when they hit the Iraqi government and political targets and other targets associated with the Iraqi government, they are in fact hitting an American-related target.

MARTIN: Why do you believe that suicide bombing is becoming a preferred tactic? And I take it you believe that it is increasing in its desirability as a tactic?

Prof. PAPE: It's becoming a preferred tactic by national liberation movements over the last (unintelligible) years. National liberation movements have learned that at least for the defensive goal of ejecting foreign combat forces from territory the terrorists prize, suicide terrorism produces quite a few benefits.

In the early 1980s, suicide terrorism got its start in Lebanon when Hezbollah began to experiment with suicide attacks in order to knock out American forces and French forces and Israeli forces from southern Lebanon. Well, the very fourth suicide attack by Hezbollah was the famous attack against the American Marine barracks in Beirut in October, 1983, killing 241 Americans, (unintelligible) Ronald Reagan, no pacifist, to withdraw all American combat forces from southern Lebanon.

Well, that sent a powerful message, which is if you want to get foreign occupiers off your soil, suicide terrorism pays. What's quite striking is that although suicide terrorism has been spreading as a defensive weapon for the last 25 years, it has never yet been used in an offensive mode to actually take territory. So when the Americans left Lebanon in the 1980s, Hezbollah suicide attackers didn't follow the Americans to New York. When the French left, didn't follow the French to Paris. And when the Israelis left southern Lebanon, Hezbollah suicide attackers did not follow the Israelis to Tel Aviv.

MARTIN: And you believe that the National Intelligence Estimate accommodates your - do you think that the administration, or members of the administration - or I'm sorry - members of the intelligence agencies came to these conclusions on their own, or do you think that your presentations finally influenced their thinking?

Prof. PAPE: It's very hard to say. You see, when I give - I've given presentations to the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, our National Counterterrorism Center, and many other government organizations. These presentations are always with the counterterrorism people (unintelligible) two or three hours, where we really digest the data on the patterns of suicide terrorism for a long period of time. And they're really quite encouraging. Because when there's no cameras in the room, people are not involved in political battles here. It's just about what the data shows.

And the fact is, I really don't get feedback, and most people who not members - I'm an academic - most people who are not government - work for the government - don't get feedback of these presentations. The main reason I'm encouraged is because of simply the number of invitations I continue to get, and tomorrow morning I'm going to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to speak to our Special Forces command, where I'm sure it'll be another two, three, four hour session, where we'll go over the global patterns in quite a great detail.

MARTIN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's go to a caller. Let's go to Neal at Shaw Air Force Base. Neal?

NEAL (Caller): Yes, ma'am.

MARTIN: What's your question? Do you have a question for Professor Pape?

NEAL: My question was, if he was to be in power or responsible for decisions over in Iraq, what the solution might be.

Prof. PAPE: Really two things. I would not simply cut and run, because we do - a precipitous withdrawal would have negative consequences. Nor would I simply stay and die, because the longer our combat forces remain in Iraq and on the Arabian Peninsula, the greater the risk of another 9/11 at home.

Instead, I suggest a third approach, a multi-phased withdrawal toward a new military strategy for the Persian Gulf, which I call offshore balancing, which the core is having military forces not stationed onshore, but offshore, mainly naval and air forces, so that they can rapidly respond to a military crisis.

And as we do this over, say, a two or three year time, I also suggest that we re-deploy our ground forces in Iraq in the interim to have (unintelligible) we did with Bosnia in 1995. So that (unintelligible) trying to sit on Anbar Province and stop terrorists from emerging, where we're actually creating more terrorists than we're killing. What we should do (unintelligible) our ground (unintelligible) the next few years along the lines of contact of the three (unintelligible), and I think that would produce a much better outcome than we have now.

MARTIN: Neal, thank you for your call.

NEAL: You're welcome. Thank you.

MARTIN: And Professor Pape, I have to tell you that you're dropping in and out. So if you're using a cell phone, if you could perhaps get yourself to a better location, that would be helpful.

Prof. PAPE: I apologize for that very much. I'm afraid it's here in North Carolina.

MARTIN: Oh, dear, the entire state. Oh dear. Okay, well, let's go to Austin.

Prof. PAPE: I'm sorry about that.

MARTIN: Okay, well, let's go to Austin, Texas, and go to J.B. J.B., do you have a question?

J.B. (Caller): Yes. I just wanted to know what yourself and the professor thought about - I hear less and less that we took out Saddam Hussein, a secular dictator, who had a very big vested interest in keeping this kind of fringe, suicide bomber element out of his country, and I was wondering also what the both of you would think about changing to more of a dispassionate, less Judeo-Christian, moralistic foreign policy and abandoning words like evil and just what's - you know, what's in it for us, basically, for lack of a better word.

MARTIN: J.B., that is a tall order. I'm going to let Professor Pape address the first part of your question, if you would.

J.B.: Okay.

Prof. PAPE: Well, several years ago, many people believed that because Saddam was so secular, we could invade Iraq and not produce much terrorism, certainly not religious terrorism. And the fact of the matter is, I was one of the people on the other side of this, and I was suggesting that given the nature of the causes of suicide terrorism, the invasion of Iraq was especially likely to produce suicide terrorism, even if there weren't religious fanatics sitting in the country.

And so I think that unfortunately this idea that suicide terrorism's a product of religion has caused us to make a number of mistakes and to wage the war on terrorism on a faulty premise.

MARTIN: Do you believe, professor, that the agencies are adjusting their assumption on that score?

Prof. PAPE: I think they are moving rather considerably, and I'm actually quite encouraged, because you have to remember, these 16 agencies, many of the people in these agencies have been waging the war on terrorism according to an alternative premise. Well, it's really quite important to give them credit, because these are people who are willing to look at new data and take a different view, even though you might think they should be wedded to the old view they had since they (unintelligible) executed.

That doesn't mean that, you know, that we should, you know, think that the problem is solved, because after all, I'm afraid political leaders have often ignored some of the best advice by their intelligence agencies, but it does mean that we should have some confidence that, in fact, there are folks in government who are willing to put some politics aside to actually look at the hard data with fresh eyes.

MARTIN: Robert Pape, professor at the University of Chicago and director at Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism. He joined us by phone from North Carolina. Thank you, professor.

Prof. PAPE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related Content

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.