In Dying To Win, Robert Pape challenges the conventional view about why suicide terrorists do what they do and to whom.
Using data on suicide terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2003, Pape argues that suicide terrorism is motivated primarily by the desire to coerce democratic states into withdrawing their military troops from the countries of the suicide attackers. The impact of Islam on the terrorists' motives derives not from Islam itself, but from the difference in religion between the occupying and the occupied country.
The book is organized into three sections: the first deals with the strategic logic of suicide terrorism. The strategic logic is to for weak actors (the terrorists) to coerce democratic states to abandon their foreigh occupation. Democratic states are targeted because they are viewed as being more susceptible to the coercision applied through suicide terrorism. But the primary driver is nationalism and rebellion against occupation, not religion or Islamic fundamentalism.
The second section discusses the social logic of suicide terrorism. The social logic of suicide terrorism is the broad support within the community the acts, and the willingness of the community to excuse the act of suicide and murder of innocents by virtue of the attacker's taking on the martyr's role. Significantly, suicide terrorists are not estranged from their community or isolated from society. Rather, they and the broader terrorist/oppositional organization is well emersed in the community and depends upon it for its support.
The third section examines the individual logic--why suicide terrorists are willing to sacrifice their lives to kill others. While the larger motive is nationalistic, the individuals that engage in suicide terrorism do so altruistically, a strange sounding concept considering the death their acts inflict on innocent civilians, but Pape argues that the issue here is how the suicide terrorists themselves view their acts.
channeling Emile Durkheim who wrote about suicides a century ago, Pape identifies three types of suicides: egotistical; altruistic; and fatalistic. Egoistic suicides are those most commonly associated with the causes of individual suicides today--depression, alcoholism, unwillingness to face to life's pains. Suicide terrorism, Pape argues, is not of this type.
Altruistic suicide is that suicide done for the benefit of the group.
Finally, fatalistic suicide is that done out of fear, usually involving "brainwashing" and prior strict separation into a smaller group from the larger society.
Pape contends that suicide terrorism is most like altruistic suicide because it is not done out of depression, isolation, or fear. The key distinction between altruistic and fatalistic suicide is that the former is carried out in the interests of the larger society, while the latter is carried out in the isolation of a smaller group but disconnected from the larger community.
In fighting the war on terrorism, Pape identifies two goals of the west, two goals that are in some ways, and in particular the way in which the west is carrying out the war, in contradiction. The first goal is to eliminate the current suicide terrorists. The second is to prevent a new wave of suicide terrorists from emerging. The current western military strategy, aiming at reforming Islamic socieities may succeed at the former at the expense of the latter.
As Pape argues, since suicide terrorism is motivated by nationalism and driven by foreign occupation, the current western strategy will only serve to create more suicide terrorists and to increase support for suicide terrorism within the occupied states.
Since the problem of suicide terrorism is not inherently a problem of Islamic fundamentalism, western efforts to remake Islamic societies will not solve the problem. Instead, the west should in so much as is possible, remove its troops from Islamic countries, fortify its borders, increase its homeland security efforts and seek energy independence. Since as Pape notes, the placing of U.S. troops in the Arabian Peninsula--Osama bin Laden's chief complaint--was because of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the removal of Hussein from power renders the military's presence in Saudi Arabia of none effect.
What are the problems with Pape's analysis? Pape argues that Al Qaeda's aim is to rid the Arab world of U.S. and western military forces. At the same time, it is evident at least in the short run that the 9-11 attacks have resulted in greater U.S. and western military occupation in the case of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. How does this square with the evidence? Pape contends that Al Qaeda's attacks were designed to draw the U.S. into protracted guerilla warfare and thus to deplete the U.S.'s military and economic position through that effort. While these two contentions may not be intrinsically inconsistent, they do call for a more comprehensive theory as to Al Qaeda's motivations.
Another interesting point Pape makes is that suicide terrorism is limited in its ability to achieve certain goals. That is, its coercive power extends only to those western aims that are not essential to the west's survival. If western interests are peripheral to the suicide terrorist organization's goals, than suicide terrorism has been and may continue to be a successful tool for achieving the weaker actor's goals. However, if the goals of the west--such as the maintenance of access to oil supplies--are considered vitally important to the state's national interests, the limited coercive effect of suicide terrorism may not be successful in driving the west out of the suicide terrorists' homelands.
Pape's work is a much needed contribution to the "market place of ideas" regarding the war on terrorism that until now has been sorely lacking both an intellectual as well as a political alternative to the current administration's set of policies.
As is evident in Andrew Bacevich's The New American Militarism, Pape's analysis suggests that military power will be of limited use in combatting suicide terrorism. America's leaders should begin to address this reality rather than continue to make stale threats about bringing the fight to the terrorists and relying on ever overextended military resources. As Iraq is demonstrating, our presence is generating as many problems as it is designed to cure.