Kori Schake of the Hoover Institute spoke at our “Cutting the Fuse” conference on Capitol Hill, and made (at least) two important criticisms of the argument we make in the book.
First, she critiques our causal argument that suicide terrorism is triggered by foreign military occupation by a democratic state. The crux of her point is that, like Willy Sutton’s explanation for his habit of robbing banks (“that’s where the money is”), terrorism has increased in Iraq and Afghanistan simply because the targets of these attacks (namely US personnel) have become more accessible. There is indeed some truth to her response, but only some. On the one hand, the increase in targets in a particular location explains the geographic distribution of attacks, but not the massive increase in the number of attacks. For Schake’s response to hold, she would have to show that US targets were prohibitively difficult to locate or sufficiently secure against suicide attack prior to the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. You would have to believe that there are thousands of would-be terrorists in places like Indonesia and Morocco who would commit suicide attacks if only there were US targets in their neighborhood. On the other hand, we argue that the deployment of Coalition forces to the region increases the level of fear and perceived grievance among local populations, motivating more people to become suicide bombers and thereby increasing the volume of attacks. To be sure, troops in-country are a focal-point for terrorists and constitute an obvious choice of target for those who are already motivated to commit attacks, but motivation is a critical precursor to target selection. So in both her and our arguments, the location of troop deployment explains some aspect of the pattern of suicide terrorism. However, we feel secure in our argument since her logic only explains target selection, while ours explains both target selection and the increase in attack frequency and number.
Second, she argues that our proposed strategic change (moving away from occupation and toward offshore balancing, replacing military deployment with diplomatic and economic efforts while keeping naval forces just over the horizon) sacrifices important political goals in the region. In her talk, she did not specify what these political values are, but we can, for the sake of argument, assume these goals exist (whether they’re important enough to justify the costs is another argument altogether). The surrender of these values, she argues, would be the predictable result of our proposed strategy because military forces are superior to diplomatic and economic means for achieving these goals. I find this a disputable claim, but can (again for the sake of argument) assume she is correct and still find two problems with her argument. First, she must show not only that military means are superior to others, but that such means are sufficient to the task. If neither method is sufficient, it matters not a whit which is superior. Second, even if military means are sufficient, she must also demonstrate either that other means are insufficient or that the superiority of the military tool is not swamped by the additional costs its use incurs.
In her presentation at the conference, she implied to some degree many of the points I’ve claimed she must make, so I expect that she would feel up to the challenge I’ve laid before her. To summarize, I argue that she must do three things: 1) explain how the dramatic increase in attacks (not just their geographic distribution) under occupation is due primarily to increased target availability and not increased local grievance, 2) show that military means are sufficient to achieve our political goals, and 3) show either that other means are insufficient or that the superiority of the military tool overcomes its attendant additional cost.
UPDATE: Schake has a post at Foreign Policy presenting her critique, and it’s very similar to what she said at the conference. However, there are a few points that I must have missed.
Except for the “improved” political and economic activity. How that will be undertaken in a deteriorating security environment is mysterious. Moreover, if we could do any better at the provision of political and economic engagement, we’d already be doing that.
She assumes that the security environment would be deteriorating, but that’s far from certain, especially since (as we argue) the removal of occupation forces would actually improve an important aspect of the security environment (ie, the suicide bombing campaign). Second, she presumes that our current strategy for political and economic engagement is indeed optimal. Would she have said the same thing about the military strategy we had prior to the “surge?” Strategies aren’t fixed, but can always be improved if they’re made a priority. Furthermore, our economic and political efforts are not working in a vacuum, but rather are operating in a context where the military instrument is in full swing — a situation that is bound to complicate diplomatic efforts and inhibit economic development.