T Nation

More Terrorists?

Interesting article – I don’t know if I agree with each and every example - specifically, I don’t think we have any numbers on the effect of Israeli tactics on terrorism recruitment either, even if we do have data on attacks on Israel – but I do agree that the little trope of “conventional wisdom” that we are off creating more terrorists is a pure guess.

If people are going to throw this around like it’s a fact, perhaps we should have some proof…


Where Do Terrorists Come From?
Pundits keep maintaining that George W. Bush’s policies are creating more terrorists than John Kerry would. How’s that?
by Jonathan V. Last
11/01/2004 7:20:00 PM

BY NOW, you have no doubt heard that President Bush is “creating more terrorists” with his neoimperialist wars on terror, Iraq, Arab nationalism, etc. The meme has gotten so out of control that even mostly sensible people such as Mickey Kaus are spouting it. Sayeth Kaus:

"In the larger war on terror, however, it's no contest. Both candidates will hunt down and kill existing terrorists. The issue is how many new terrorists are we creating. . . . Let's say that n is the number of net new terrorists who'll come online in the next four years. Isn't it obvious that n is a lot lower if Kerry is president than if Bush is president?"

Obvious how? The creation of terrorists is one of those perfect little Rorschach tests since, as Reuel March Gerecht recently pointed out, there is (a) no data on how many terrorists there are today; (b) no data on how many terrorists there were yesterday; and © no foreseeable way to collect data on how many terrorists there will be tomorrow. In other words: You can take whatever position you want with utter confidence because nobody will ever be able to prove you wrong.

Kaus theorizes that terrorists are like the brooms in Fantasia–and he may be right. But he has no evidence–statistical or anecdotal–to support him and his conclusion is far from obvious.

What do we know?

  • Prior to George W. Bush, American policy towards Islamic extremism was basically one of malign neglect. This policy–the adverse of Bush’s–seems to have created very many terrorists. Or at the very least, it seems to have created very many terrorist attacks. See September 11, 2001.

  • Kaus and others theorize that America’s war on terrorism is helping recruit many new terrorists. Maybe, maybe not. There’s no proof either way. There is proof, however, that soft American policy in Somalia–again, the opposite of Bush–was used as actual al Qaeda recruiting propaganda. (Remember that bin Laden called America the “weak horse.”) So it would seem that, at the very least, the terrorists thought the old, softer, American policies were good for helping them create new terrorists.

  • There’s another country which has some applicable experience in these matters: Israel. Under Ehud Barak–the Israeli Bill Clinton / John Kerry–terrorism in Israel skyrocketed. This may well have been accompanied by an increased number of terrorist recruits. Under Ariel Sharon–the Israeli Bush–terrorist attacks dropped precipitously. It seems possible–maybe even obvious!–that terrorist recruiting also suffered.

So where do Kaus and the rest of the world get this strange notion that confronting, fighting, and killing terrorists only makes more of them? Partly it comes from confusing anger with recruitment. Arab Muslims may be angrier at the United States under Bush, but that does not mean, ipso facto, that they will all subsequently go and sign up at the al Qaeda chin-up bar.

The other factor is an implicit belief that Islamism is different from other pathologies. I doubt Kaus would have argued in 1944 that killing Nazis was only going to create twice as many of them. But he, and others, seem to believe that there is something about Islamism that causes its adherents to be less-than-rational actors.

Whatever the case, the world should let go of this silly trope.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard and runs the blog Galley Slaves.

Then, of course, there’s this, which undermines the commonly-held hypothesis that poverty causes terrorism:


Freedom squelches terrorist violence
KSG associate professor researches freedom-terrorism link

By Alvin Powell
Harvard News Office

A John F. Kennedy School of Government researcher has cast doubt on the widely held belief that terrorism stems from poverty, finding instead that terrorist violence is related to a nation’s level of political freedom.

Associate Professor of Public Policy Alberto Abadie examined data on terrorism and variables such as wealth, political freedom, geography, and ethnic fractionalization for nations that have been targets of terrorist attacks.

Abadie, whose work was published in the Kennedy School’s Faculty Research Working Paper Series, included both acts of international and domestic terrorism in his analysis.

Though after the 9/11 attacks most of the work in this area has focused on international terrorism, Abadie said terrorism originating within the country where the attacks occur actually makes up the bulk of terrorist acts each year. According to statistics from the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base for 2003, which Abadie cites in his analysis, there were 1,536 reports of domestic terrorism worldwide, compared with just 240 incidents of international terrorism.

Before analyzing the data, Abadie believed it was a reasonable assumption that terrorism has its roots in poverty, especially since studies have linked civil war to economic factors. However, once the data was corrected for the influence of other factors studied, Abadie said he found no significant relationship between a nation’s wealth and the level of terrorism it experiences.

“In the past, we heard people refer to the strong link between terrorism and poverty, but in fact when you look at the data, it’s not there. This is true not only for events of international terrorism, as previous studies have shown, but perhaps more surprisingly also for the overall level of terrorism, both of domestic and of foreign origin,” Abadie said.

Instead, Abadie detected a peculiar relationship between the levels of political freedom a nation affords and the severity of terrorism. Though terrorism declined among nations with high levels of political freedom, it was the intermediate nations that seemed most vulnerable.

Like those with much political freedom, nations at the other extreme - with tightly controlled autocratic governments - also experienced low levels of terrorism.

Though his study didn’t explore the reasons behind the trends he researched, Abadie said it could be that autocratic nations’ tight control and repressive practices keep terrorist activities in check, while nations making the transition to more open, democratic governments - such as currently taking place in Iraq and Russia - may be politically unstable, which makes them more vulnerable.

“When you go from an autocratic regime and make the transition to democracy, you may expect a temporary increase in terrorism,” Abadie said.

Abadie’s study also found a strong connection in the data between terrorism and geographic factors, such as elevation or tropical weather.

“Failure to eradicate terrorism in some areas of the world has often been attributed to geographic barriers, like mountainous terrain in Afghanistan or tropical jungle in Colombia. This study provides empirical evidence of the link between terrorism and geography,” Abadie said.

In Abadie’s opinion, the connection between geography and terrorism is hardly surprising.

“Areas of difficult access offer safe haven to terrorist groups, facilitate training, and provide funding through other illegal activities like the production and trafficking of cocaine and opiates,” Abadie wrote in the paper.

A native of Spain’s Basque region, Abadie said he has long been interested in terrorism and related issues. His past research has explored the effect of terrorism on economic activity, using the Basque country as a case study.

Abadie is turning his attention to the effect of terrorism on international capital flows. Some analysts have argued that terrorist attacks wouldn’t have much of an impact on the economy, since unlike a war’s widespread damage, the damage from terrorist attacks tends to be relatively small or confined to a small area.

In an era of open international capital markets, however, Abadie said terrorism may have a greater chilling effect than previously thought, since even a low risk of damage from a terrorist attack may be enough to send investors looking elsewhere.