Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
August 12, 2016 (posted August 17, 2016)
Mr. President: Every working person needs a vacation, and for someone in a
stressful job like yours a long one. Unfortunately, the world doesn't stop and the
problems don't go away. One cannot just stop thinking about them. So it is with
professors and their research. And some research makes for critically useful reading
for an American head of state.
The University of Chicago's Robert Pape, a political science professor directs
CPOST (Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism). Among other things, it compiles
a Suicide Attack index in which data are gathered combing through media, and even
from reports by the terrorist groups themselves. One of the findings is that
large-scale attacks like in Paris and Nigeria reached a 12-year high in 2015 without
signs of a let-up. This year we have already had Nice and then Quetta, Pakistan.
On Monday (August 8), lawyers had gathered at the Government Hospital Quetta for
a procession to mourn a prominent lawyer, shot dead earlier in the day. His body was
about to be brought out when a suicide bomber struck, killing 70 and wounding more
than 120. It is significant that suicide and terrorist bombings of civilians was a rarity
until Pakistan joined the US war on terror aimed initially at Taliban rule in Afghanistan
-- where a huge recent bombing in Kabul killing 80 people points to the inability of the
US to bring stability after more than a dozen years.
What has Professor Pape learned from his research? First, he argues convincingly
that suicide terrorism is a direct result of military intervention; often a consequence of
such in territory prized by these adversaries.
They fight back, and lacking advanced weapons and the equipment of modern
militaries the suicide bombing becomes, by default, the most effective weapon at their
disposal. The data clearly reveal the effectiveness of the method for roughly a third
of suicide attacks enable these groups to seize and hold territory.
Next, Pape's data challenge the common perception -- Mr. Trump take note -- that
suicide bombing is a tactic employed only by Islamic radicals. No, it was the Tamil
Tigers in Sri Lanka fighting a Tamil-Sinhalese war against a militarily superior enemy,
who pioneered this modern phenomenon of suicide bomber as a war tactic. They
bombed the military; they bombed civilians in the city; they even used a Tamil woman
wearing a suicide vest to kill Rajiv Gandhi, the then Indian Prime Minister, who was
trying to mediate a solution. From 1980 to 2003, Pape's data show they launched
more suicide attacks than any other group, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad in
One might add that terrorist bombings without suicide have been used even earlier in
numerous struggles for independence: against the British in Cyprus and Kenya; and
against the French in Algeria to name a few.
Pape's solutions stem from his data: Limit military intervention and focus on
improving domestic security; support stable governance to benefit local people not
just American interests -- usually corporate, if the past is a guide. In the end, "political
solutions are the true lasting solutions." Sound advice from Professor Pape for
interventionists, even oppressive governments.