May 29, 2005

Deadly Complacency

In a recent column on the CEOs who have been "missing in action," Tom Friedman certainly points to one dimension of of our national risk assessment that could, all by itself, render us as helpless as an upwronged turtle. But although our CEOs are failing in their leadership roles the problems are, unfortunately, far deeper. There is, for instance, a significant minority of Americans who believe that its their mission to convince the rest of us that we really don't face a problem at all. The take of people like James Fallows, and Andrew Bacevich is that we're vastly over-mobilized in the current war. Indeed, their argument is that we're not actually at war at all, and the sooner we come to that realization the better. It's certainly true that, as Friedman observes, our CEOs aren't acting as though we're at war. But from the perspective of Fallows and Bacevich such leaders are the repository of realism and good common sense, because we aren't. Far from seeing this as our last real chance to exit a highway headed to catastrophe, by taking up the challenge of helping install greater degrees of freedom in the "repressive neighborhood" that's the nursery for terrorist cults, they're convinced that we aren't sufficiently nice to those tyrannical regimes. We should respect the oppressed by respecting their oppressors. In other words they respect the sovereignty of a nation even if it systematically tramples the sovereignty of every individual within its impious borders. People have accused George Bush of being naively Wilsonian, but he at least hasn't bought the notion that living under tyranny is a matter of national "self-determination." Would we use that principle to support a regime that decided to nuke itself, just to drag the rest of us along? Fallows and Bacevich hold that there's no problem as long as the curtains on those internal national dramas stay drawn. Is that so!

Meanwhile we have an administrative establishment who, although doing generally the right thing, not only refuses to mobilize the talent that America has at its disposal, but systematically rejects a pervasive desire by a huge and increasing number of Americans who want nothing more than to become participants in the effort. One recent book characterizes this is the "war of the one-percenters," because the price is being paid by only one-percent of the population. But another equally valid characterization might be that it's "the war of the rejected twenty-percenters" who are willing and ready to stand in the breech, but who are being told in no uncertain terms to find their "pause" buttons. "You're not needed. Go home. Take a nap."

To make matters worse, the left isn't slinking away in defeat. Instead they've decided to move their basis points of argument from unlikely to preposterous, no doubt on the theory that foolishness can be irresistibly fascinating to some people. Congressmen like Conyers and McDermott held ersatz-congressional quasi-hearings this week promoting the claim by some to have proved beyond a shadow of doubt that we do not have a left-biased media. If anything, they argue, it's right-biased. One discussant even went so far as to say that every single study arguing for a left-bias had been utterly disproved... so resoundingly in fact that no one would even deign to meet or debate him any longer, apparently out of a paralyzing fear of being intellectually humiliated by his superior proof and argument, rather than simply because they didn't want to be photographed in the company of a left-wing nut.

What I see seems ominous and disturbing. It's a trend of unspeakable complacency. Not only are our enemies, including our domestic masochists, up to all the mischief they can conjure... but our friends and supporters are being ignored or dissed, asked to hibernate while our leadership has decided that it needs no support or help beyond that which can be controlled on a very short leash, thank you very much. The last thing they're interested in is harnessing under-employed American ingenuity to do anything much. If the enemy were to attack us now with a nuclear or bio-chem "city-killer" they might run the significant risk of waking us up. So their best strategy is probably to actually lay low for the time being and wait until we've convinced ourselves that we, rather than they, are the problem....

Few seem to even think it odd that the Islamic Street can sit calmly while Sunni Salafists not only destroy Qur'ans, but the mosques that house them and the believers who read them... yet manage to erupt in murderous rage at the largely false accusation that we've mishandled a book or two. Does anyone really think it prudent or fruitful to appeal to the reason of this "public?" Or do we need to conceive an entirely different model of public diplomacy that isn't so... surreal? (One that even goes so far as to involve the public?) If the enemy manages to exercise a little patience right now, waiting quietly a few years to let this magic complicity with their cause slowly sink in, gestating within the most powerful civilization that has ever existed, a devastating attack on the US might one day have the effect they seek: to humiliate, demoralize and defeat us. But if so, we'll clearly need to do most of the work ourselves.

Unfortunately, we seem more than equal to the task.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 01:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 20, 2005

Fisking Robert A. Pape

There's something about ths piece from the New York Times Op/Ed page that just got me riled up, and I had to tackle it. I don't really have a problem with the basic thesis that terrorism, and even suicide terrorism, is a rational strategy.  But I really do not like what Professor Pape does with that, at all.

Blowing Up an Assumption
Published May 18, 2005

MANY Americans are mystified by the recent rise in the number and the audacity of suicide attacks in Iraq.

I'm not.  I'm mystified by the absence of reporting about the success of our strategies in Iraq, and the rather obvious fact that we're winning.  So is there a reason why I need to read the rest of this?  I'll read it though, because I have a hunch there are illusions waiting to be dispelled.  Call me psychic.

The lull in violence after January's successful elections seemed to suggest that the march of democracy was trampling the threat of terrorism. But as electoral politics is taking root, the Iraqi insurgency and suicide terrorism are actually gaining momentum.

If the march of democracy is such a great catalyst for terrorist-supported causes you have to wonder why the terrorists are resisting so strenuously? It's a kind of miracle.


In the past two weeks, suicide attackers have killed more than 420 Iraqis working with the United States and its allies. There were 20 such incidents in 2003, nearly 50 in 2004, and they are on pace to set a new record this year.

To make sense of this apparent contradiction, one has to understand the strategic logic of suicide terrorism.

Tell us, oh sage.  There were 6 suicide terrorist attacks in Iraq during 2004 according to the NCTC chronology, although there may have been more that were directed specifically at allied military, and I may have missed one or two in the narratives (though I don't think so). A terrorist attack is, according to the definition, directed at civilian targets, so I don't know how Dr. Pape came up with 50 suicide attacks. But even if there were 50 it shouldn't be all that difficult to either predict or explain the increase. It happens whenever the desperation of a totalitarian cause is sparked by the prospect of imminent defeat. That's what led to the Kamikaze attacks on allied shipping in the Pacific and Project Werewolf in Europe at the end of WWII.  How out-of-the-loop must you be to have overlooked something so obvious?

Totalitarian regimes use suicide aggression during the period when they're either coming to power and when they're losing power at the end. While they're actually in power and relatively unmolested, as were the Ba'ath through much of Saddam's career, they use state terror rather than terror-ism.  And what would be the point of a suicide torturer, other than as comic relief?

Since Muslim terrorists professing religious motives have perpetrated many of the attacks, it might seem obvious that Islamic fundamentalism is the central cause, and thus the wholesale transformation of Muslim societies into secular democracies, even at the barrel of a gun, is the obvious solution. However, the presumed connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is misleading, and it may spur American policies that are likely to worsen the situation.

The correlation is with totalitarianism not fundamentalism.  And nothing Professor Pape presents as evidence runs counter to that.  End of story.  Regarding suicide terrorism, hereinafter referred to as "suicidism," if a pedophile can convince a young heterosexual to have homosexual sex for no good reason is it such a stretch to believe that a ruthless totalitarian would be able to manipulate otherwise benign and impressionable youth to strap on a bomb?  Gimme a break.  In the minds of totalitarians those people are just intelligently guided missiles to be exploited, and the NYT is participating in the deception by sewing the impression that those seeking the license to oppress are equivalent to those resisting oppression.  They deserve to be kicked to the curb for such abuses of logic and ethics.

Over the past two years, I have compiled a database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 through 2003 - 315 in all. This includes every episode in which at least one terrorist or herself while trying to kill others, but excludes attacks authorized by a national government (like those by North Korean agents against South Korea). The data show that there is far less of a connection between suicide terrorism and religious fundamentalism than most people think.

So?  Who said religion was the sole operative?  It's a particular KIND of religion that's operative, and that kind may even be atheistic, like Marxism.  All that's required is that it hitch itself to a compelling Ur-myth, and that it be completely unprincipled in pursuit of the fulfillment of that myth.  Which, of course, it is... because the ends justify the means and all that.

The leading instigator of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion. This group committed 76 of the 315 incidents, more than Hamas (54) or Islamic Jihad (27). Even among Muslims, secular groups like the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Al Aksa Martyr Brigades account for more than a third of suicide attacks.

What nearly all suicide terrorist attacks actually have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.

Actually, what they have in common is a mythology of getting back to the Garden, whether that's a worker's paradise or the Caliphate, or a racially pure "Springtime."  The only reason that seek to compel the withdrawal of the forces of democracy is because they've never actually achieved the first goal in their fanatical march toward Ur.  Had they ever actually made it to first base, they'd be in the process of consolidation after which  they'd begin a strategy to steal second. This is true of Marxist totalitarianism; it's true of Fascist totalitarianism; and it's true of Islamist totalitarianism. Indeed, the pattern is so obvious that one wonders how Professor Pape could possibly miss it, with his eyes open?

Religion is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in seeking aid from abroad, but is rarely the root cause.

Three general patterns in the data support these conclusions. First, nearly all suicide terrorist attacks - 301 of the 315 in the period I studied - took place as part of organized political or military campaigns. Second, democracies are uniquely vulnerable to suicide terrorists;

Why would suicide terrorist attacks take place as anything other than an aspect of an organized political or military campaign? What is remarkable about the fact that they do? Is it simply the astonishment of people like Professor Pape that religions can follow a strategy, or is it that he has trouble with the notion that Marxism is a religion? As for the what, where, when and how of the Islamist strategy, Mary Hadek, among others, could clarify that a bit for him. (See a video of Dr. Hadek here.)

If you'd like to really know why democracies are vulnerable, and what we can do about it, see Bill Whittle's just released essays: Sanctuary 1 and Sanctuary 2. And we're not as vulnerable as we look.

America, France, India, Israel, Russia, Sri Lanka and Turkey have been the targets of almost every suicide attack of the past two decades.

Spain took a pretty big hit recently, in the long ball tradition.  Same with Russia.  Spain topped the list for casualties in 2004, and Russia was second.  Small number of attacks, but highly lethal.  India was third, although the average quality and lethality of individual attacks in Kashmir was low.  (See my earlier post on this topic here or here.) There weren't really very many suicide terrorist attacks last year.  I count less than 30 worldwide, or fewer than 5% of the total number of attacks in the NCTC database (651).  They were, however, highly lethal, accounting for almost 1,000 of about 1800 civilian deaths.  All but one occurred in Iraq, Russia or Israel, the isolated exception being in Spain (its only terrorist attack that killed or injured anyone).

Most of the attacks in India were in Kashmir, rather than in the Tamil Tiger stronghold of southern India or Sri Lanka.  In lethality Iraq was the most deadly, Russia second, India third and Spain fourth.  Together, on just about any measure--lethality, casualties, quality--those four countries accounted for about 85% of the terrorist activity in 2004.  France had ten casualties and no deaths, America zero,  Turkey  22 with only 2 deaths. So what's the pattern?  Jihadism, that's the pattern.  Where they can register an attack, they do, even if it's only a home invasion. Salafist extremism is what's driving things, and that's only because it's the most recent form of totalitarianism. After we defeat them, it'll be something else... until liberalism matures and gets its head out of you-know-where.

Third, suicide terrorist campaigns are directed toward a strategic objective: from Lebanon to Israel to Sri Lanka to Kashmir to Chechnya, the sponsors of every campaign - 18 organizations in all - are seeking to establish or maintain political self-determination.

Well that's a quaint way to put it. What they're seeking is a base of operations from which to launch more attacks free from the effects of police surveillance and suppression.  Has this fellow never heard of the "Method of Muhammed?"  The first objective is to establish an Islamist state.  They don't plan to stop with that, though. Yes that's strategic. That's part of why we're at war, as opposed to a long drawn-out police manhunt for a few bad actors.

Before Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, there was no Hezbollah suicide terrorist campaign against Israel;

See the pattern here? He's attempting to say that this is all the fault of the "Old Jews" in Israel and the "New Jews" in the US, and he's using this brain-addled theory about suicide terrorism to do it. But the fact is that the attacks in Israel and Palestine look like a bell curve, and they're now tapering off again.  Total killed last year in Israel and Palestine combined was 88, after all that provocation from the New Jews invading Babylon, too.  That number was exceeded in Spain by almost 220% in one day.  So, what was their objective?  What's the percentage of Muslims in Spain seeking a Spanish homeland, do you think?  And lest you believe Iraq was the objective, well in a sense sure, but virtually none of the assailants in the Madrid transit bombing were Iraqi. So what do they want Iraq for, do you think? A place to hold birthday parties?

indeed, Hezbollah came into existence only after this event. Before the Sri Lankan military began moving into the Tamil homelands of the island in 1987, the Tamil Tigers did not use suicide attacks. Before the huge increase in Jewish settlers on the West Bank in the 1980's, Palestinian groups did not use suicide terrorism.

And, true to form, there had never been a documented suicide attack in Iraq until after the American invasion in 2003.

The Palestinians hadn't used terrorist attacks before 1980 because they hadn't been reinvented yet, in their modern form. It just didn't occur to them. Qutb had laid the groundwork and there were occasional instances, but until Arafat had his brainstorm they were infrequent. The case that suicidism was invented because of an outrage against Palestinian nationalism is just eyewash. Why wasn't it used in Vietnam, which had a fairly intense nationalist outrage to nurse? Yes, suicidism is a rational strategy. So what else is new? And the reason it wasn't used in Iraq prior to the US invasion is no great mystery. That's because it was a freakin' TERROR STATE!  What need did it have for terror-ism? Is this fellow on drugs?

Much is made of the fact that we aren't sure who the Iraqi suicide attackers are. This is not unusual in the early years of a suicide terrorist campaign. Hezbollah published most of the biographies and last testaments of its "martyrs" only after it abandoned the suicide-attack strategy in 1986, a pattern adopted by the Tamil Tigers as well.

It might be a good idea to attempt to suppress these "biographies," don't you think?  Since they're essentially written by the folks trying to recruit more. But with the internet that would be impossible, and anyway the fact is that there were only 6 suicide terrorist attacks in Iraq last year, so recruitment must've been down for some reason.  I wonder why?  (In truth it wasn't suicide-willing recruits that were down, but opportunities to deploy them. And that's because we were using, er... counter-measures.)

At the moment, our best information indicates that the attackers in Iraq are Sunni Iraqis and foreign fighters, principally from Saudi Arabia. If so, this would mean that the two main sources of suicide terrorists in Iraq are from the Arab countries deemed most vulnerable to transformation by the presence of American combat troops. This is fully consistent with what we now know about the strategic logic of suicide terrorism.

It's a stretch to read into this some special freedom-fighting ethic, I think. It's also trivially obvious that these folks would defend their freedom of movement and their prerogatives, including access to a victim population to be oppressed or incited to jihad, depending on the need. Finding people to volunteer for suicide attacks is easy.  What they'd like is an Ummah-wide Fallujah, complete with scaled-up baby Auschwitz slaughterhouses so that they could institutionalize terror on a massive scale, and use terror-ism only on "the far enemy." (That's us, and Europe, of course.)

Some have wondered if the rise of suicide terrorism in Iraq is really such a bad thing for American security. Is it not better to have these killers far away in Iraq rather than here in the United States? Alas, history shows otherwise. The presence of tens of thousands of American combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula after 1990 enabled Al Qaeda to recruit suicide terrorists, who in turn attacked Americans in the region (the African embassy bombings in 1998 and the attack on the destroyer Cole in 2000). The presence of nearly 150,000 American combat troops in Iraq since 2003 can only give suicide terrorism a boost, and the longer this suicide terrorist campaign continues the greater the risk of new attacks in the United States.

6 suicide attacks in Iraq last year, but only three accounted for most of the deaths (310).  Again, from a statistical standpoint I really don't know how you can say very much about suicide attack recruitment.  The most prudent assessment would be that they can probably recruit enough to meet their needs no matter what we do, and Bin Laden has said that there was a far greater supply of volunteers than missions.  What does that tell you?  Surely not that controlling the spigot of suicide attackers is the best strategic option for winning the war?  Rather, the best strategic option is to control the RECRUITERS and control or moderate THEIR LETHALITY.

Understanding that suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than a product of Islamic fundamentalism has important implications for how the United States and its allies should conduct the war on terrorism.

Who cares what it's a response to, actually.  It could be a response to indigestion, for all it matters.

Spreading democracy across the Persian Gulf is not likely to be a panacea so long as foreign combat troops remain on the Arabian Peninsula.

There is no panacea.  It's a strategy, and it's working.  How much more does it have to be, to appeal to what small increment of logic and ethics is left to the Left?

If not for the world's interest in Persian Gulf oil, the obvious solution might well be simply to abandon the region altogether.

Well, lucky for the Iraqis we want their oil, huh?

Isolationism, however, is not possible; America needs a new strategy that pursues our vital interest in oil but does not stimulate the rise of a new generation of suicide terrorists.

Again, it's unimportant.  Suicidists are a dime a dozen. How to deploy them is the problem, for the totalitarians.  That's the part of the equation where we come in.  We screw up their deployment regime, simple as that. And we take out there leaders, the people driving the recruitment.  It seems to me that if Professor Pape is at all awake and aware he'd be able to see that the suicidists aren't directing themselves, but they're being recruited and directed by someone.  That ought to tell him that controlling the handlers and recruiters is the problem, not the willingness of impressionable people to sacrifice themselves.  What's wrong with the Professor Papes of the world?  Why isn't this obvious?

BEYOND recognizing the limits of military action and stepping up domestic security efforts, Americans would do well to recall the virtues of our traditional policy of "offshore balancing" in the Persian Gulf. During the 1970's and 1980's, the United States managed its interests there without stationing any combat soldiers on the ground, but keeping our forces close enough - either on ships or in bases near the region - to deploy in huge numbers if an emergency. This worked splendidly to defeat Iraq's aggression against Kuwait in 1990.

Offshore balancing didn't do diddly to forestall the attack on the WTC.  But I have no problem withdrawing to a redoubt somewhere WHEN THE MISSION IS COMPLETELY FULFILLED. That part's obvious.  Out of sight, out of mind.  But ready to pounce on short notice should the need arise.

THE Bush administration rightly intends to start turning over the responsibility for Iraq's security to the new government and systematically withdrawing American troops. But large numbers of these soldiers should not simply be sent to Iraq's neighbors, where they will continue to enrage many in the Arab world. Keeping the peace from a discreet distance seems a better way to secure our interests in the world's key oil-producing region without provoking more terrorism.

And where they'll inspire more sincere reformers to continue pouring acid into the brains of the Zarqawis of the region: the vanguard of liberalism/democracy against their vanguard of totalitarian Islamism. Not complicated.  (Here I use the term "liberalism" in the classic, rather than the partisan sense.)

There's such minimal value in this "analysis" that I fail to perceive why it was even published, unless it's just part of a power struggle in the West.  Essentially it makes little, if any, sense.  It certainly contributes nothing to winning the struggle against a rather formidable enemy, unless we have some serious problem coming to grips with the notion that terrorism isn't a scream in the dark, but a war strategy. I don't have a problem with that, do you? Of course it is. But it doesn't follow that terrorism is a strategy of liberation from an oppressor. In fact, history says precisely the opposite. It's a strategy designed to obtain the license to oppress. Sort of rolls off your tongue, doesn't it?

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia, Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 03:10 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 19, 2005

The Silver-Lined Gitmo Commode

Well, I'm frankly puzzled by this whole Koran-flushing thing.  I understand how a people steeped in a vengeful literature for a thousand years might get upset when a few red infidels use laser-guided bombs to blow up their neighborhoods while we're liberating them from tyranny.  And I grasp the idea of the shame of a proud people when inferior mongrel troops are sent into a place like Fallujah or Ramadi to uncover baby Auschwitz slaughterhouses with shaky plaintive notes from the victims scrawled on the walls in their own blood, or when we bomb Baghdad in "Shock and Awe" while they stand on their rooftops so as not to miss anything, or when a group of our miscreants discomfit captives guilty of far worse, with the cultural indignities of plebe hazing.  I understand that, and it sorta makes sense.  But why do they wait until they think we might have flushed a [holy] book down the crapper before instigating an Ummah-wide lethal street uprising?  Why now, and not then?

I asked some people I know, including some Muslims, about this, because I'm stumped. I related the story of how Sir Ernest Shackleton tore up the pages of the Bible when the Endurance was stranded at the South Pole, to impress upon his men the necessity of leaving some things behind for the march across Antarctica. A Jewish friend observed that a Jew, at least an Orthodox Jew, would probably not have done what Shackleton did with the Torah. But she also said that they probably wouldn't have rioted had someone flushed it, either.

My Muslim friends didn't help much, because they're the sort that wouldn't have rioted... but they allowed that perhaps there's some sort of deep-seated scatological aversion that merges into the "holy book" thing. It's as if they're saying: "Shit on us, and we'll manifest a controlled but bemused anger. We can take it. But shit on the holy book that in the midst of generations of tyranny has been our last refuge, and we'll just go completely berserk." It's wacky sure, but admirable, to place what you abstractly value above yourself. I can relate.

I suppose, when it gets right down to it, we Americans, who live in a nation founded on an ideology rather than an ethnic heritage, can understand that attitude pretty easily. It's not really Big Macs or even the World Trade Center that holds us together as a nation. There are indignities that would move at least some of us to kill, though we'd look the other way at the insult of being likened to Nazi Germany when we've spent treasure and 1600 of our best lives just to preserve the option of liberty for a people who personally mean little to us. I thought one only did that sort of thing for one's family? We're a pretty intense lot. Passionate. You know what I mean, don't you?

I think I'm tolerant. I understand that there's a difference between intense deep love for someone, and unhealthy obsession. And I think we need to make a similar distinction about religious conviction. I understand that there were lots of Muslims pissed at the US, but horrified by the riots. But sometimes I wonder if Muslims, the deeply religious and the fanatical alike, shouldn't be just a little more worried that we might just fly off the handle once in awhile. I worry that our apologists have been too successful at convincing them we're nice, even-tempered barbarians.

We may need to communicate with the Ummah a bit more honestly about our own Koran-flushing-like trigger points: the sort of thing that happened in the 1830s when non-native-American settlers in the West got the idea that native-Americans weren't just quaint, but practiced a religion that preached the total annihilation of the white man (The Ghost Dancers). It's true that the Ghost Dance religion was naught but a distorted reflection of apocalyptic Christianity, and not only wasn't based on native-American beliefs, but wasn't even violent. It looked awfully dangerous, so the townfolk grabbed their pitchforks and slaughtered the Ghostdancers. Confusion has its cost.

I think part of the calculation of the jihadists is that we always at least strive to be fair and moderate in our responses, so that when we fall short it's always a mistake. And this faith in our restraint (with a few predictable and comforting lapses to convince them we're not saints) offers a tempting advantage for extremism. They've seen us stumble over the imaginary line of propriety and get up off the ground slapping and cursing ourselves. I mean, if we don't excuse ourselves once in awhile, why should they?

But they haven't really seen our dark side, have they? We can be as unyielding and irrational as they. We've got crazy buttons too. What they need to understand is that under certain circumstances we may no longer moderate our responses. If, for instance, there's a WMD attack on a major city in the US those people in the streets, as well as the people looking on in horror at them, need to understand that our response may not be measured at all. It's not fair to mislead people and leave the impression that we'd just take the hit, or even that we'd only respond in kind or degree, city for city... or something nice like that. That, I'm afraid, is the Ummah's brand of wishful thinking.

So, I understand their reaction to the Newsweek story. They've made their point, and I even admire them for it. Because I partake on some level of the same sort of unreasonableness about values vs person, and more importantly I know that my fellow Americans can be far more unreasonable than I. They should know more about our history. They should read about Andrew Jackson, and Curtis Lemay, and U.S. Grant, and Phil Sheridan, and William Tecumseh Sherman, for starters. Street riots are nuthin'.

So, I guess the silver lining in all of this pottygate stuff is that we're not really that different after all, and they can understand a bit about us by looking at themselves. The Ummah can travel a familiar road to understanding, instead of worrying about our wimpy apologists. No, we wouldn't flush the Koran, not because we revere it, but because we're with you in your convictions. They make a lot more sense to us than to the Europeans. Our convictions aren't about the same things, but they're just as intense... and just as self-forgetful. We mean business when it comes to preserving this civilization... and it's entirely possible to just push us to far. We go a little berserk once in awhile too.

John Bolton, a pretty mean American, could be good for the cross-cultural dialogue.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia, Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

Posted by Demosophist at 03:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 16, 2005

Which Numbers Matter? The NCTC Report Revisited, Recoded and Reanalyzed

Marc Danziger (by way of reader T.M. Lutas) recently emailed an Excel file containing the narratives from the report released by the National Counterterrorism Center entitled A Chronology of Significant International Terrorism for 2004, describing the 651 terrorist attacks it identified.  (Although there has been a debate with Larry Johnson over the significance of these numbers I've no argument with the idea that we ought to be concerned.  After all, I'm concerned or I wouldn't be posting this re-analysis. However, I object to the notion that these numbers are some sort of signal that we're not winning the war.)  At any rate, I've been mulling over these data since Marc dropped them to me about two weeks ago, doing a lot of what data geeks do with this sort of delicacy, and thought I'd post a little of what I've found. 

First of all, Marc's post on Winds of Change describes his preliminary findings, according to which it's clear that two countries, India and Iraq, account for over 3/4ths of the terrorist attacks that took place in 2004. (If all attacks listed in the report are included these two countries account for 76.2%).  After looking more carefully at the narratives in the glossy report the first thing that one finds is that there are about 70 events on the list of terrorist attacks that may not belong.  That's because the target of those attacks was clearly military, rather than civilian.  These amount to about 11% of the total number of attacks listed, and more than 80% of these (57 of 70) occurred in Kashmir.

Now, it's true that the folks who did these dirty deeds probably were not very concerned about "collateral damage" to civilians, so I don't have reservations about including them, provided some civilians were either wounded or killed, but in 36 of the 70 cases where the objective was clearly military there were no civilian casualties at all.  I'm not sure why these events even appear in a terrorist attack database, but their inclusion tends to put more emphasis on terrorist activity in the troubled Indian state than might otherwise be the case.  This is not so much because the events were included for Kashmir, but more because similar events were not generally included elsewhere.  But whatever the justification, as one deletes some of these questionable "terrorist" attacks from consideration the percentage of attacks in Iraq rises from roughly 31% to 34% while those in India/Kashmir fall from about 45% down to 41%.  So, while the proportion of "terrorist" attacks rises for Iraq and falls for India after you do a bit of circumspective culling, those two nations still account for approximately 3/4ths of all terrorist attacks in the world.  That fact doesn't change.  And in sheer frequency of attacks, India/Kashmir is still more active than Iraq, or anywhere else.  But that's not the whole story, by a long shot.

Dimensions of Evil

Another dimension that hasn't been touched upon in the blogosphere or elsewhere in any rigorous way is the lethality of the attacks, by country.  And here Iraq is clearly in the lead.  Moreover, India and Iraq account for "only" slightly over half the terrorist-related deaths in the world, while Russia rather than India, is second in gross lethality.  Moreover, four nations--Iraq, Russia, India and Spain--account for 85% of the terrorist-caused deaths in the world.  Here's a brief table that ranks the most to least deadly:

Country Deaths Percent
Iraq 552 30.41
Russia 436 24.02
India 364 20.06
Spain 191 10.52
Israel 60 3.31
Afghanistan 47 2.59
Saudi Arabia 46 2.53
Egypt 36 1.98
Palestine 23 1.27
Indonesia 10 0.55
Angola 9 0.50
Sudan 9 0.50
Pakistan 4 0.22
Thailand 4 0.22
Uzbekistan 4 0.22
Bangladesh 3 0.17
Philippines 3 0.17
Venezuela 3 0.17
Serbia 2 0.11
Sri Lanka 2 0.11
Turkey 2 0.11
Argentina 1 0.06
Congo 1 0.06
Nepal 1 0.06
Somalia 1 0.06
Ukraine 1 0.06
Total 1815 100.00

[No military deaths are counted in this ranking, although it does count police, counterterrorism personnel and officials, as well as paramilitary forces.  I identified a total of 95 military deaths that were included in the report, though I'm not sure what rationale was used.  80 of the 95, which were excluded from the tally above, occurred in Kashmir.  I can understand why one might use a different yardstick there, but to be strictly comparable to terrorism elsewhere these probably ought to be omitted from the tally.]

As mentioned previously India is third in lethality, after Iraq and Russia.  Furthermore, there are 13 lucky countries that had significant terrorist events according to the report, but suffered no civilian deaths. These countries don't appear on the table above, at all.

If we count both dead and wounded, which some would argue is reasonable (even though the over 1,000 injured in the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 elicited little more than a large collective yawn from both the citizenry and their political representatives) Spain moves to the top of the list!

Country Casualties Percent
Spain 2095 25.72
India 1708 20.97
Iraq 1550 19.03
Russia 1387 17.03
Israel 380 4.67
Saudi Arabia 248 3.04
Indonesia 192 2.36
Palestine 113 1.39
Afghanistan 104 1.28
Bangladesh 103 1.26
Thailand 52 0.64
Egypt 48 0.59
Pakistan 26 0.32
Turkey 22 0.27
Sri Lanka 21 0.26
Angola 19 0.23
Sudan 19 0.23
Ukraine 14 0.17
France 10 0.12
Venezuela 6 0.07
Serbia 5 0.06
Congo 4 0.05
Uzbekistan 4 0.05
Bolivia 3 0.04
Philippines 3 0.04
Argentina 2 0.02
Germany 2 0.02
Malaysia 2 0.02
Somalia 2 0.02
Nepal 1 0.01
Total 8145 100.00

[Again, these are civilian casualties only.  The tally doesn't include 166 military wounded or 95 killed, the vast majority of whom were in Kashmir.]

The same four countries still account for 83% of terrorist activity in the world.  However, counting injured as equivalent to those who lost their lives obviously distorts the picture, and Spain moves to the top of the list only because of the March 11 Madrid attack, which killed 191 and injured almost 2,000.  There was only one other terrorist attack recorded for Spain in the report, perpetrated by the Basque Separatist ETA, which killed or injured no one.  Moreover, 9 countries that appear in the report were lucky enough to have had no civilian casualties at all!

The Quality of the Enemy

So, counting injured in this way leaves something to be desired in terms of method, and we need a better metric for "terrorist activity." This was the real reason I embarked on the current project to reassess the NCTC Report.  Raphael Perl, at the Congressional Research Service, and others emphasize the need for some sort of measure that guages the "quality" of terrorist attacks.  Although Perl stresses the importance of public opinion, I maintain that it's hard to distinguish between public opinion created by media bias and that attributable to the terrorists deft manipulation.  Clearly the media is a critical dimension in the war, but the proper way to account for it isn't necessarily to treat it as a reflection of enemy quality. 

I have to assume that a public well-informed about the nature and risks involved would be able to resist media manipulation, whether engineered by a crafty enemy or by a pliant media.  So until I can figure out how to assess that dimension better I've decided that the best approach is to concentrate on the quality of the information and analysis that I present, thereby diminishing the vulnerability of the public as much as possible.  Public opinion would then better reflect real conditions, and would begin to approximate the "wisdom of the people" that presents the toughest possible obstacle to an enemy, even one presenting in the guise of a friend.

There isn't a lot of information contained in the short descriptions in the NCTC Report that would enable an extensive assessment of quality, but I figured that even a crude measure might provide better insight than any of the quantity measures alone.  Although the scale I came up with for quality is pretty crude and limited, I think it's at least useful. 

The quality measure is composed of two elements that are summed and that are then multiplied by casualties to produce an overall number that's a composite of both quality and quantity.  I call this composite "gain," both for the sake of simplicity and because I'm just not very imaginative.  The two elements of quality I've used are "Success/Failure" and "Skill/Coordination."  The judgments for making the determination of success/failure are simply based on whether, and how well, the objectives of the attack seem to have been achieved.  Obviously I had to make some assumptions about the objectives to assign a score to this element, but those assumptions seem reasonable. An armed attack on a police barracks that results in no deaths and few injuries, except for the attackers, has to be viewed as an attempt that did not meet its objective.  The assessment of success/failure ranges from -1 to 2, where a negative score indicates that an attack was conducted that was either foiled outright, or that resulted in significant negative consequences for the perpetrators (such as an attack that was carried out with no casualties where all the perpetrators were immediately killed or captured).  In other words the attack backfired, in a big way.  There weren't many of these events, unfortunately (only 7, or 1%), so they don't account for any large swings in quality.  The distribution was: -1(1%), 0(9%), 1(26%), 2(64%).  Unfortunately, almost 2/3rds of the attacks were very successful.

The second element of quality is the "Skill/Coordination" aspired to by the terrorists.  This is basically a measure of whether multiple attacks were coordinated, or whether an individual attack was planned to be concurrent with political events so as to influence outcomes.  The metric also involves the prominence of authority figures who are targeted.  It's a measure of the strategic element, in other words.  Skill/coordination ranged from 0 to 3.  Here the news is a bit more promising.  The frequency distribution is: 0(72%), 1(22%) 2(4%) and 3(1%).  Well over 2/3rds of attacks did not exhibit any appreciable skill or coordination.  They weren't attempting to play a symphony, they were just making noise.  By this measure the terrorists are either not very ambitious, or their organization has been seriously disrupted, or I'm simply being too tough on them.  I can certainly see an argument for a much more refined measure of skill/coordination, but such an assessment would really demand much better data than are available to me.  Besides, although I have a good strategic sense and am a methodologist by trade, I'm not an expert in counterterrorism.

It is possible in my schema to simultaneously achieve a high score on success/failure with a low score on skill/coordination, or  visa versa.  Operationally the two elements of quality are summed, and are then multiplied by a weighted number reflecting casualties, to create a composite quality/quantity score that I've chosen to call "gain," at least until someone gives me a better term.

The casualties number doesn't account injuries equivalent to deaths, for obvious reasons.  It is a weighted sum where the number of deaths is 10 times more important than injuries.  This weighting seems reasonable in light of the public's reaction to injuries, though I'm open to suggestions.  Essentially the weighted casualties formula is:

Weighted Casualties = Deaths + 0.1*Wounded or Injured.

The formula for Quality is:
Quality = Success or Failure + Skill or Coordination Level Attempted. 

The ultimate formula is then:
Gain = Casualties * Quality. 

Rocket surgery, it's not.

As an example of how I scored these events let's look at the single most devastating terrorist attack in history, so far: 9/11/01.  That attack involved 4 separate coordinated events where the first three achieved their objective, and the fourth did not.  The first three events received a "2" for success/failure and a "3" for skill/coordination.  These are both the highest score possible for each element.  The Shankesville event also received a "3" for the skill/coordination aspired to, but received only a "0" for success/failure, largely as a result of the resourcefulness and courage of ordinary Americans.  The event wasn't a complete failure for the terrorists, because it killed 44 courageous people, but because its main objective wasn't achieved it may have actually contributed more hope than despair on that awful day.

Total "gain" for this single attack, composed of four separate events carried out on the same day (each scored separately), was approximately 15,000, or roughly 5 times the number of people killed.  (I didn't count 9/11 injuries, because I couldn't find a source for that information.)  By way of comparison, the combined gain score for all terrorist events during 2004, or at least those recorded in the NCTC Report, was a little over 8,000.  And that number includes the attack on the school in Beslan, in the Russian province of Ossetia, as well as the Madrid transit attack on 03/11.

Again, I'm open to other scoring suggestions... but the primary drawback of making a highly refined quality assessment is the paucity of detailed information contained in the short narratives.  If there are flaws in the specification some of those will wash out as a result of using the same method for all events, so there'll be a mix of over- and under-estimation of gain.  Consistency is my remedy for imprecision.  (If the distribution of error is approximately random this assumption is more valid than if it's highly skewed, obviously.) 

I felt it valid to assume that an armed attack on a police HQ, or a security bunker, that didn't kill anyone was probably something of a failure, while an attack that created lots of carnage was a "success."  I realize this is a perverse notion of success, but I think I've made reasonable decisions that optimize the potential of the data I had available.  So, without further ado, here's the ranked table for "terrorist gain"--the enemy's best (or worst) performance, depending on how you look at it:

Country Gain Percent
Iraq 2315.2 27.88
Russia 1952.2 23.51
Spain 1906.2 22.96
India 1013.9 12.21
Israel 276.6 3.33
Saudi Arabia 240.4 2.90
Egypt 186 2.24
Afghanistan 103.6 1.25
Indonesia 84.6 1.02
Palestine 54.1 0.65
Bangladesh 26 0.31
Thailand 20.4 0.25
Angola 20 0.24
Sudan 19.7 0.24
Uzbekistan 16 0.19
Turkey 13.6 0.16
Pakistan 9.3 0.11
Philippines 9 0.11
Sri Lanka 7.8 0.09
Venezuela 7.7 0.09
Argentina 4.4 0.05
Serbia 4.4 0.05
Nepal 3 0.04
Ukraine 2.3 0.03
Congo 2.2 0.03
Somalia 2.2 0.03
France 2 0.02
Malaysia 0.4 0.00
Bolivia 0.3 0.00
Total 8303.5 100.00

What Do We Know?

A few caveats.  According to the metric that I've devised, if a kidnapping or abduction occurred, but the abductees were released without injury (or if their fate is unknown), the event contributed nothing to the "gain," because at least one of the two terms in the product (in this case casualties) was zero.  Clearly terrorists probably gained from some of these abductions, either in terms of publicity or ransom.  Plus, it doesn't seem quite accurate to account zero gain from an abduction simply because the fate of the victim isn't known. Worldwide there were 66  kidnap cases with apparently no casualties, 49 of which were in Iraq and 7 in Kashmir.  In fewer than a handful of these was the fate of the victim still in doubt, but it might be worthwhile to modify the metric to include these abductions somehow.  However, doing so would only amplify the significance of Iraq which the current metric already reveals as the front line in the War on Terror, so that modest deficiency in the composite gain measure is not a good reason to reject these findings.

Next, to make any ultimate assessment of how well we're doing in the mis-named "War on Terror" it ought to be obvious that one needs comparable indices to quantify the gains for both sides.  Ignoring the performance of the allies is like looking at the polling data and campaign contributions for only one candidate in a Presidential race, without considering how well his opponent is doing.  But having said that, it's at least possible to get a sense of the price we're paying even if it's not clear what price the enemy has paid, by simply comparing the aggregate gain score with the analogous number for 9/11.  And the price the opponents of terrorism paid in 2004, distributed mostly over a handful of countries, was a little more than half what the US paid in one single day, almost four years ago.  That, at least, gives us some perspective.

Finally, my intention in conducting this analysis is not to suggest that we ignore "the numbers" that Larry Johnson considers important: the raw frequency of attacks per country.  Clearly the frequency of attacks in India/Kashmir is important for several reasons.  For one thing, the perpetrators are almost certainly linked to influences that are well-placed in the intelligence apparatus of an important US ally (Pakistan) who is concurrently engaged in a kind of "lukewarm war" with another US ally (India).  This isn't good news.  For another, it is at least conceivable that the people responsible for many small attacks in one theater could scale up to many large attacks, a process we could call the "malignancy effect."  It is a real potential, but there are reasons why we shouldn't be alarmed about it just yet.

For one thing, the average competency of the attackers in Kashmir isn't very high.  Compared to Iraq, for instance, which has an average gain per attack of 11.5, the average gain in Kashmir is 3.4, against an enemy not nearly as militarily competent as the US.  The "insurgents" in Kashmir would not last long if transplanted to Iraq.  Almost 20% of the events in Kashmir are home invasions, while a significant number of the rest are small scale street attacks.  There are a lot of attacks directed at police in Kashmir, but many of them are unsuccessful, resulting either in no deaths and few injuries, or harm to civilians who might otherwise sympathize with the attackers.  Many of these are grenades tossed or launched that either miss their targets entirely, or do little damage.  Those terrorists engaged in Kashmir, as well as their managers and organizers, are clearly a second or third string team, the members of which would not survive long if transplanted to the primary theater in the War on Terror: Iraq.

In addition, looked at from the strategic perspective "small ball," either in Kashmir or Iraq, while impressive, is not ultimately very successful.  In both cases the totalitarians are arguably losing the fight.  Talks between India and Pakistan over the disposition of Kashmir are more promising than ever, and it's not inconceivable that one might one day be able to honeymoon in the Vale of Kashmir.  (I may actually be holding out for that, on some deep psychological level.  It's an enchanting place, which explains in part why it has always been so contested.)

And in Iraq not only have the activities of the terrorists awakened a certain revulsion in the larger Middle East, but the restraint of the Shi'a has tapped and inspired a latent Arab pride in humanitarian values, and hope for the future of self-governance that has been dormant since the beginning of the Cold War midway through the last century.  The knees of the autocrats aren't sturdy.

But, the war isn't abating.  If anything it's growing more, rather than less, intense, just as did a previous war when Grant made his fateful decision to turn south in pursuit of Lee after the Battle of the Wilderness.  And one can also expect that as "small ball" doesn't achieve their objectives the enemy may very well intend some large scale attacks to recoup, possibly in areas of the world that aren't prepared for the onslaught.  The parade of names that join those of Antietam, Gettysburg, The Bloody Angle, Chateau Thierry, The Argonne, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, The Bulge, 9/11 and even Hiroshima and Nagasaki, may not have reached their end.  There isn't much room either for complacency, or despair.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia, Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

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May 15, 2005

Who is Nabil al-Wazer?

The wave that’s breaking in the Middle East is no longer the heartless austerity of Salafism, but democracy. One wonders why the former was ever seriously a contender, but when it gets right down to it once Abu Musab Zarqawi let loose his psychopathology the lyrical could no longer obscure the vile nature of that "disease-in-the-guise-of-faith." When enough people had seen the foam and blood dripping from the lips of those "freedom fighters" their mystique evaporated, and since they're no longer the big dog in the neighborhood their allies, including the Yemenis upon whom the fate of Nabil al-Wazer depends, had better think twice about any tricks they have up their sleeves. It's the mercy and responsible deliberation of the Shi'ah of Iraq that has captured the hearts and minds of the Arab world (to say nothing of the Ummah itself). Eyes are watching.

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May 11, 2005

The Western Approaches

The primary characteristic of the current operations in western Iraq, which the Belmont Club discusses here in great depth and with typically impressive insight, is that the insurgents aren't slipping stealthily away as they have in previous engagements. Their "investment" is anchored at these approaches to the Syrian border, and while they may be able to swing a wide arc through the country allowing them the option of relocation after they've been ejected from Fallujah or Ramadi, that arc must be anchored *somewhere*. They may not have other options.

American forces have simply rolled up the axis, directly through the echelon of their operations, to its anchoring point. What Wretchard doesn't make so explicit is that the anchor is probably an inflection point for another, broader, arc that funnels the flow of militants to where they can be injected into the Iraqi bloodstream. That axis too must be rolled up from the other direction... a much more complex and challenging part of the strategy, but not one that is being neglected. He closes with this:

The US military would at first glance appear to be at a tremendous disadvantage. Unlike Zarqawi's terrorist force, they must move uniformed men and vast quantities of materiel and must seem helpless against the Al Qaeda meme dissemination machine. But in reality it is not so. The US military forms the counterbackground against which its real maneuver assets, which are intelligence assets, can operate. Just as Zarqawi's terrorists move in a civilian sea from which they can improvise weapons, US intelligence assets maneuver in a battlespace dominated by the uniformed armed forces. In their own way, US intelligence assets can match Zarqawi's men for flexibility: once they find Zarqawi's men the American dominated battlespace can quickly kill them. They have a nimbleness of a different kind. From the US perspective, the Euphrates River ratlines are a human infrastructure to be disrupted, infiltrated and turned. For different, but equivalent reasons, the Syrian border and its approaches are an opportunity to bankrupt Zarqawi's investment in militants. Some indication [of] the nature of the contest between US intelligence and Zarqawi's army of zombies, and the role of the uniformed military, which delivers the actual blow, can be seen in this statement by Col Bob Chase, operations officer of the 2nd Marine division. "The enemy, as you expect, once you hit them hard they have a tendency to go to ground ... There are some locations that we are waiting for the timing to be correct." From that it is reasonable to infer that we are not witnessing an isolated operation, but part of a campaign. In the coming months, both sides will probably attack and counterattack not only in geographical breadth, but in along the depth of each other's echelons.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

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