Thursday, July 14, 2005


David Ignatius writing in Lebanon's Daily Star, examines two recent works and their possible implications for the U.S. in Iraq. The first is Robert Pape's Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, reviewed here by Michael Scheuer, in which Pape
analyzed the 315 suicide attacks that took place around the world from 1980 to 2003 and concluded that in nearly every case, terrorists were resisting what they regarded as foreign occupation. Their goal was "to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland." They turned to suicide attacks because, in their judgment, these worked against democratic societies, which have difficulty absorbing the pain the terrorists can inflict.

The second is an unpublished paper by Duke University political scientists Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver and Jason Reifler, in which
they argue that it isn't casualties, per se, that drive American public opinion about war. Instead, it's the public perception of whether a war is winnable.

"When the public believes the mission will succeed, then the public is willing to continue supporting the mission, even as costs mount. When the public thinks victory is not likely, even small costs will be highly corrosive," the authors wrote.

Interesting. Both of these works deal with perception: Pape's with the perception by insurgents, and the communities which aid and support them, that the occupation of their country by an invader is an end in itself; Gelpi, Feaver, and Reifler's with whether the American public perceive the war as winnable, worthwhile, and progressing accordingly. It seems that both of these elements could be dealt with to some extent with Iraq by presenting a timetable, even a rough one, for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops over perhaps two years. I think that any tangible sign to Iraqis that they are getting their country back is much more likely to dilute support for the insurgency than it is to invigorate it. And any sort of light at the end of the tunnel will probably arrest, at least temporarily, the shrinking of support for the war among Americans, not that I'm concerned in the least with Bush's political fortunes, just with the negative implications which those declining fortunes could have for Iraq and the Middle East.

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