Markos Zuniga’s Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

And inconsistent data, and his ability to look at it all and decide that Bush is the cause for increased terrorism! Frankly, in looking at that post I’m at a bit of a loss as to where to begin. I think the easiest place to start is with the post hoc ergo propter hoc. First up is this graph with Markos for some reasons tells us that Bush is responsible for the increase in terrorism.

Based on this graph Kos writes,

Notice when attacks where going down, and when they started going up. Since it’s hard to read, the black bar, at the low point of international terrorist attacks, is the year 2000. Bush took power in2001, and the rest is history.

In other words, because George W. Bush was elected President of the U.S. (and apparently no other reason) the number of international terrorism incidents world wide increased. A boring old logic oriented person would call this post hoc ergo propter hoc. Bush was elected, then terrorist incidents went up…so naturally the reason was the election of George W. Bush. Oh woe is us, if we’d only elected Albert Gore, Jr.

Also, note that Markos’ opening thesis is as follows,

The wingers, stung from the spectacular failure of their “flypaper” theory, are now desperately trying to rebut the obvious fact that Iraq has fueled terrorist attacks.

“What about 9-11?” they shriek. “That happened before Iraq!”

“What about the WTC bombing”, they add. “That also happened before Iraq.”

Yeah, sure. Of course those happened before Iraq. No one is claiming that terrorism was created by Iraq. We’re arguing that letting Al Qaida off the hook in Afghanistan and pursuing an unnecessary war in Iraq has fueled terrorism.

And by all objective measures, that’s been the case.

However, the data in this graph does not sit well with the opening thesis. According the graph that Markos thinks is so damning there was a slight increase from 2003 to 2004, but not triple! But hey, lets not let something like inconsistent data get in the way of arriving at a preferred conclusion. One could try to dodge with noting that the graph lists incidents and the MSN article talks about major incidents. One itty bitty problem though: the graph lists total incidents at about 300…the MSN article says 650 major incidents. Not like I expect Markos to, you know, actually try to figure out why there is a difference. If one goes to the site that generates the graph, and whips up his or her own graph they will note that there is footnote talking about how after 1998 the data is for both domestic and international terrorism. Still no love there for Markos either since, the graph is created by omitting domestic terrorism and the cut off date is 1998, not 2001.

Further this raises a question about Markos’ “objective measures” that he notes in first half of his post. Seems to me based on what we’ve seen of the information Markos has provided measuring terrorists incidents isn’t quite so objective.

Also, if we go further back one would see that right when Markos’ patron saint Clinton plopped his hind end into the big chair in the Oval Office there was a mild spike in terrorism. Hmmm…maybe if we had elected George H. W. Bush to a second term we could have avoided that spike. Using Markos Zuniga logic of course.

If we go even further back and look at the data from 1975 on (the last 30 years) we’d see that the last several years of terrorism incidents on average are about average. Given that we are fighting a war on terrorism that is not all that bad (and it isn’t all that great either). If we go back even further, we can see that terrorism ramped up, then down and is now ramping back up. Are we to believe that this is all due which Presidents are elected…if so, then we need to go take back the Nobel Peace Prize from Jimmy Carter.

And last but not least lets remove the Middle East from the data. Here is the new picture.

In short, this data source that Markos seems to put such store in actually indicates that perhaps there is a flypaper effect. If we define things even more selfishly and restrict things to Europe and North America the results are even more stark with the high point being 1995.

Now none of this answers the question of why the count has tripled from 2003 to 2004 by the U.S. count. But, the idea that Markos is trying to float that the flypaper strategy is not working doesn’t appear to be supported by the data he has pointed too. Not that I’m shocked by this.

Update: (0:22) I am also unimpressed with Markos’ claim that we have let Al Qaeda off the hook in Afghanistan. There was helicopter that was shot down in that region prior to the 4th of July weekend. That helicopter had a SEAL Team and other special forces operators on board. Their job was most likely to hunt for Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters and kill/capture them.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Middle East, National Security, Terrorism, , , , , , , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. ken says:

    Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see that Bush has done little or nothing to effectively counter terrorism. Oh sure, he’s waging war on Iraq, and claims to be fighting terrorists. But as everyone knows that hasn’t led to a decrease in terrorist activities.

  2. cirby says:

    It hasn’t led to a drop in the *number* of terrorist activities, but it has certainly led to a decrease in effectiveness of each attack, and has certainly led to the deaths of a lot of the leaders and operations managers of the old terror networks.

    If the war on terror hasn’t had a decisive effect, then why are the bad guys having to stoop to using kids off of the short bus, or putting the more gullible members of their teams into cars to “transport” and detonating them by remote control?

    If the world of terror was doing so well, why are they forced to use the guys off of the bench (or for that matter, having to use blatant fraud to get their “holy warriors”), and why are they having to go with cheaper and cheaper attacks?

    If Iraq didn’t have all of those piles of weapons laying around (thanks, Saddam), most of the attacks there would be impossible to manage due to lack of material.

  3. BumperStickerist says:

    More damning to Markos/Atrios/Pandagon’s use of the original graphh is that the data analysis tools tell a completely different story.

    Once you disaggregate the nine regions and show them as separate plots on a single graph, you find that ‘international terrorism’ is on the decline in all areas save two: Middle East and Southeast Asia.

    In the case of North America, Western Europe, Africa, and Latin America – markedly so. Also, it’s obvious that overall terrorism (excluding Middle East) was higher during the Clinton administration than during Bush’s.

    Also, the graph shown at Kos includes ‘terrorist incidents’ which have ‘zero injuries’ and ‘zero fatalities’. The data analysis tools there allow you to quickly filter for using ranges of casualties.

    If anything, the flypaper theory seems to bear out – there is an increase in terrorist activities – where the terrorists live.

  4. Building on the work above, when you disaggregate the data, the “international terror” Kos flusters over is mostly local. We used the same data to look at deaths outside the Middle East and found that for 2004, of 2,386 deaths listed,
    – 229 of the fatalities were in Afghanistan, principally Taliban attacks against the government (would Kos have us go back to the good ol’ days of Mullah Omar?)
    – 233 in Pakistan (would he prefer an Islamo-fascist regime?)
    – 459 in Russia, virtually all Chechnya, a conflict which dates to 1994;
    – 316 in Uganda, perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (which is George Bush’s fault … how?)
    – 216 in India and Kashmir … long-running border / separatist problems that are not exactly in the U.S. sphere of influence

    We have more at Independent Sources here.

  5. nextright says:

    actually giving Kos the respect of responding to him, is too much attention. The guy is the leader of the looney left online. Just sit back, and watch them run the Dem party over a cliff. Nobody, not even the religous right is as dependent on blind faith in an ideology, and determined to squash all who do not agree.

  6. Noumenon says:

    You are far, far more reasonable than Kos here and make yourself look good. Nice post. (driveby)

  7. insider says:

    Numbers don’t lie, statistics do.