Now, of course, today we have
150,000 troops on the Arabian Peninsula, and we are more in
control of the Arabian Peninsula than ever before.
TAC: If you were to break down causal
factors, how much weight would you put on a cultural rejection of
the West and how much weight on the presence of American troops on
RP: The evidence shows that the presence of
American troops is clearly the pivotal factor driving suicide
If Islamic fundamentalism were the pivotal factor,
then we should see some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist
countries in the world, like Iran, which has 70 million
people—three times the population of Iraq and three times the
population of Saudi Arabia—with some of the most active groups
in suicide terrorism against the United States. However, there has
never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Iran, and we have no
evidence that there are any suicide terrorists in Iraq from Iran.
Sudan is a country of 21 million people. Its
government is extremely Islamic fundamentalist. The ideology of
Sudan was so congenial to Osama bin Laden that he spent three
years in Sudan in the 1990s. Yet there has never been an al-Qaeda
suicide terrorist from Sudan.
I have the first complete set of data on every al-Qaeda
suicide terrorist from 1995 to early 2004, and they are not from
some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world.
Two thirds are from the countries where the United States has
stationed heavy combat troops since 1990.
Another point in this regard is Iraq itself.
Before our invasion, Iraq never had a suicide-terrorist attack in
its history. Never. Since our invasion, suicide terrorism has been
escalating rapidly with 20 attacks in 2003, 48 in 2004, and over
50 in just the first five months of 2005. Every year that the
United States has stationed 150,000 combat troops in Iraq, suicide
terrorism has doubled.
TAC: So your assessment is that there are
more suicide terrorists or potential suicide terrorists today than
there were in March 2003?
RP: I have collected demographic data from
around the world on the 462 suicide terrorists since 1980 who
completed the mission, actually killed themselves. This
information tells us that most are walk-in volunteers. Very few
are criminals. Few are actually longtime members of a terrorist
group. For most suicide terrorists, their first experience with
violence is their very own suicide-terrorist attack.
There is no evidence there were any
suicide-terrorist organizations lying in wait in Iraq before our
invasion. What is happening is that the suicide terrorists have
been produced by the invasion.
TAC: Do we know who is committing suicide
terrorism in Iraq? Are they primarily Iraqis or walk-ins from
other countries in the region?
RP: Our best information at the moment is
that the Iraqi suicide terrorists are coming from two
groups—Iraqi Sunnis and Saudis—the two populations most
vulnerable to transformation by the presence of large American
combat troops on the Arabian Peninsula. This is perfectly
consistent with the strategic logic of suicide terrorism.
TAC: Does al-Qaeda have the capacity to
launch attacks on the United States, or are they too tied down in
Iraq? Or have they made a strategic decision not to attack the
United States, and if so, why?
RP: Al-Qaeda appears to have made a
deliberate decision not to attack the United States in the short
term. We know this not only from the pattern of their attacks but
because we have an actual al-Qaeda planning document found by
Norwegian intelligence. The document says that al-Qaeda should not
try to attack the continent of the United States in the short term
but instead should focus its energies on hitting America’s
allies in order to try to split the coalition.
What the document then goes on to do is analyze
whether they should hit Britain, Poland, or Spain. It concludes
that they should hit Spain just before the March 2004 elections
because, and I am quoting almost verbatim: Spain could not
withstand two, maximum three, blows before withdrawing from the
coalition, and then others would fall like dominoes.
That is exactly what happened. Six months after
the document was produced, al-Qaeda attacked Spain in Madrid. That
caused Spain to withdraw from the coalition. Others have followed.
So al-Qaeda certainly has demonstrated the capacity to attack and
in fact they have done over 15 suicide-terrorist attacks since
2002, more than all the years before 9/11 combined. Al-Qaeda is
not weaker now. Al-Qaeda is stronger.
TAC: What would constitute a victory in the
War on Terror or at least an improvement in the American
RP: For us, victory means not sacrificing
any of our vital interests while also not having Americans
vulnerable to suicide-terrorist attacks. In the case of the
Persian Gulf, that means we should pursue a strategy that secures
our interest in oil but does not encourage the rise of a new
generation of suicide terrorists.
In the 1970s and the 1980s, the United States
secured its interest in oil without stationing a single combat
soldier on the Arabian Peninsula. Instead, we formed an alliance
with Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which we can now do again. We relied
on numerous aircraft carriers off the coast of the Arabian
Peninsula, and naval air power now is more effective not less. We
also built numerous military bases so that we could move large
numbers of ground forces to the region quickly if a crisis
That strategy, called “offshore balancing,”
worked splendidly against Saddam Hussein in 1990 and is again our
best strategy to secure our interest in oil while preventing the
rise of more suicide terrorists.
TAC: Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda
leaders also talked about the “Crusaders-Zionist alliance,”
and I wonder if that, even if we weren’t in Iraq, would not
foster suicide terrorism. Even if the policy had helped bring
about a Palestinian state, I don’t think that would appease the
more hardcore opponents of Israel.
RP: I not only study the patterns of where
suicide terrorism has occurred but also where it hasn’t
occurred. Not every foreign occupation has produced suicide
terrorism. Why do some and not others? Here is where religion
matters, but not quite in the way most people think. In virtually
every instance where an occupation has produced a
suicide-terrorist campaign, there has been a religious difference
between the occupier and the occupied community. That is true not
only in places such as Lebanon and in Iraq today but also in Sri
Lanka, where it is the Sinhala Buddhists who are having a dispute
with the Hindu Tamils.
When there is a religious difference between the
occupier and the occupied, that enables terrorist leaders to
demonize the occupier in especially vicious ways. Now, that still
requires the occupier to be there. Absent the presence of foreign
troops, Osama bin Laden could make his arguments but there
wouldn’t be much reality behind them. The reason that it is so
difficult for us to dispute those arguments is because we really
do have tens of thousands of combat soldiers sitting on the
TAC: Has the next generation of
anti-American suicide terrorists already been created? Is it too
late to wind this down, even assuming your analysis is correct and
we could de-occupy Iraq?
RP: Many people worry that once a large
number of suicide terrorists have acted that it is impossible to
wind it down. The history of the last 20 years, however, shows the
opposite. Once the occupying forces withdraw from the homeland
territory of the terrorists, they often stop—and often on a
In Lebanon, for instance, there were 41
suicide-terrorist attacks from 1982 to 1986, and after the U.S.
withdrew its forces, France withdrew its forces, and then Israel
withdrew to just that six-mile buffer zone of Lebanon, they
virtually ceased. They didn’t completely stop, but there was no
campaign of suicide terrorism. Once Israel withdrew from the vast
bulk of Lebanese territory, the suicide terrorists did not follow
Israel to Tel Aviv.
This is also the pattern of the second Intifada
with the Palestinians. As Israel is at least promising to withdraw
from Palestinian-controlled territory (in addition to some other
factors), there has been a decline of that ferocious
suicide-terrorist campaign. This is just more evidence that
withdrawal of military forces really does diminish the ability of
the terrorist leaders to recruit more suicide terrorists.
That doesn’t mean that the existing suicide
terrorists will not want to keep going. I am not saying that Osama
bin Laden would turn over a new leaf and suddenly vote for George
Bush. There will be a tiny number of people who are still
committed to the cause, but the real issue is not whether Osama
bin Laden exists. It is whether anybody listens to him. That is
what needs to come to an end for Americans to be safe from suicide
TAC: There have been many kinds of
non-Islamic suicide terrorists, but have there been Christian
RP: Not from Christian groups per se,
but in Lebanon in the 1980s, of those suicide attackers, only
eight were Islamic fundamentalists. Twenty-seven were Communists
and Socialists. Three were Christians.
TAC: Has the IRA used suicide terrorism?
RP: The IRA did not. There were IRA members
willing to commit suicide—the famous hunger strike was in 1981.
What is missing in the IRA case is not the willingness to commit
suicide, to kill themselves, but the lack of a suicide-terrorist
attack where they try to kill others.
If you look at the pattern of violence in the IRA,
almost all of the killing is front-loaded to the 1970s and then
trails off rather dramatically as you get through the mid-1980s
through the 1990s. There is a good reason for that, which is that
the British government, starting in the mid-1980s, began to make
numerous concessions to the IRA on the basis of its ordinary
violence. In fact, there were secret negotiations in the 1980s,
which then led to public negotiations, which then led to the Good
Friday Accords. If you look at the pattern of the IRA, this is a
case where they actually got virtually everything that they wanted
through ordinary violence.
The purpose of a suicide-terrorist attack is not
to die. It is the kill, to inflict the maximum number of
casualties on the target society in order to compel that target
society to put pressure on its government to change policy. If the
government is already changing policy, then the whole point of
suicide terrorism, at least the way it has been used for the last
25 years, doesn’t come up.
TAC: Are you aware of any different
strategic decision made by al-Qaeda to change from attacking
American troops or ships stationed at or near the Gulf to
attacking American civilians in the United States?
RP: I wish I could say yes because that
would then make the people reading this a lot more comfortable.
The fact is not only in the case of al-Qaeda, but
in suicide-terrorist campaigns in general, we don’t see much
evidence that suicide-terrorist groups adhere to a norm of
attacking military targets in some circumstances and civilians in
In fact, we often see that suicide-terrorist
groups routinely attack both civilian and military targets, and
often the military targets are off-duty policemen who are
unsuspecting. They are not really prepared for battle.
The reasons for the target selection of suicide
terrorists appear to be much more based on operational rather than
normative criteria. They appear to be looking for the targets
where they can maximize the number of casualties.
In the case of the West Bank, for instance, there
is a pattern where Hamas and Islamic Jihad use ordinary guerrilla
attacks, not suicide attacks, mainly to attack settlers. They use
suicide attacks to penetrate into Israel proper. Over 75 percent
of all the suicide attacks in the second Intifada were against
Israel proper and only 25 percent on the West Bank itself.
TAC: What do you think the chances are of a
weapon of mass destruction being used in an American city?
RP: I think it depends not exclusively, but
heavily, on how long our combat forces remain in the Persian Gulf.
The central motive for anti-American terrorism, suicide terrorism,
and catastrophic terrorism is response to foreign occupation, the
presence of our troops. The longer our forces stay on the ground
in the Arabian Peninsula, the greater the risk of the next 9/11,
whether that is a suicide attack, a nuclear attack, or a