Terrorism Math

Daniel Henninger is not at all surprised by the latest poll numbers showing disapproval of the war in Iraq. He notes the study drumbeat of stories detailing the Americans killed by terrorists and insurgents. He argues that some context would be useful, though.

According to the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (established after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing), there have been about 8,300 terrorist bombings in the world the past 10 years. They have killed more than 10,000 human beings and injured–often appallingly, one assumes–some 43,000 people. (There are separate tallies for arson, kidnapping, hijacking, etc. September 11 is listed as an “unconventional attack.”)

Before September 11 happened in the United States, and ever since, factions with grievances have been blowing up unprotected people going about the act of daily life–shopping, praying, taking their children to school, laughing with friends, burying the dead–all over the world. Places where the sudden cloudbursts of blood don’t always merit our front pages include Spain, Colombia, Israel, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Northern Ireland, Russia, Afghanistan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt and elsewhere.

July 7, 2004: At least five people were killed and 11 wounded when a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber blew herself up inside a police station in the Sri Lankan capital.

Living in the U.S., one could make the cold-blooded calculation that 21,000 dead and 55,000 injured from all terrorist acts over 10 years is a drop in the bucket and that the war in Iraq has mainly increased the rate of death. This may be true. But if as many suicide bombs went off in Manhattan as have gone off in Israel, Manhattanites would have demanded martial law and the summary execution of suspects on street corners. Their greatest goal in life would not be, as it is now, the closing of interrogation rooms on Guantanamo but instead the erasure of terrorists hiding across the East River.

Feb. 9, 2005: A car bomb exploded near Madrid’s main convention center, injuring 43 people, hours before Spanish and Mexican leaders were due there and after a warning from the Basque separatist group ETA. It was the worst blast in the Spanish capital since last year’s March 11 al Qaeda train bombings.

No matter how fat the diet of stories about Iraq suicide bombings or Gitmo shoved down our throats and no matter how many distraught opinion-poll results come back up, no serious person can allow post-9/11 American security to be reduced to that.

The death march of homicidal zombies in Iraq is trying to push us toward accepting the idea that acts of unrestrained violence against other human beings is now a normal part of politics. It is not normal. Any civilized person should want to resist the normalization of civilian killing as a political act–whether in Iraq, Spain, Indonesia or Kashmir.

A fair point. It’s not unreasonable, though, for Americans to conclude that the Americans getting killed in Iraq by terrorists would not be getting killed if they weren’t in Iraq. Indeed, it’s a truism.

What the Administration needs to do, then, is continue to make the case that the American military presence in Iraq is helping us win the global war on terrorism. The NYT poll shows that, while a majority thinks President Bush is doing a good job in the GWOT, he’s doing a poor job in Iraq. If the Iraq War is justified, that disparity should not exist: They are one and the same.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. carpeicthus says:

    News media tend to focus on areas where their readership has a natural interest? Such as focusing on an area where the U.S. is an occupying force rather than, say, Sri Lanka? Holy cow! This is going to blow the roof off of the field of media studies!

    Next you’re going to tell me that newspapers are biased toward their hometown sports teams.

  2. Anderson says:

    What the Administration needs to do, then, is continue to make the case that the American military presence in Iraq is helping us win the global war on terrorism. The NYT poll shows that, while a majority thinks President Bush is doing a good job in the GWOT, he’s doing a poor job in Iraq. If the Iraq War is justified, that disparity should not exist: They are one and the same.

    The $64,000 word being “if.”

    Leaving aside the obvious (to us moonbats) irrelevance of invading Iraq to any “war on terror,” I think the plus rating on the GWOT comes down to “no more 9/11’s.” If Osama hasn’t hit us again, then good job, W. The curious thing will be to see what happens if/when we’re hit again: will the “rally around the president”/”blame him for the failure” lines follow the 51/48 split we saw last November?

  3. legion says:

    Well, sometimes, if all the news about something is _bad_, it’s because the situation _itself_ is _bad_.

    I think Anderson (and, though he may not realize it, James) have found the nub – many people are no longer buying the line that Iraq has anything to do with GWOT. The longer Osama walks free, the harder that connection is to make.

  4. Anderson says:

    Indeed, with Bush’s numbers in a slump, isn’t it time for Osama to release another videotape?

  5. Jim Henley says:

    But if as many suicide bombs went off in Manhattan as have gone off in Israel, Manhattanites would have demanded martial law and the summary execution of suspects on street corners. Their greatest goal in life would not be, as it is now, the closing of interrogation rooms on Guantanamo but instead the erasure of terrorists hiding across the East River.

    Ooh! I didn’t realize it was okay to just assert stuff like this without any evidence! Punditry’s gonna get a lot easier now.

    How curious that, undeniably, Manhattan residents and workers DID suffer the biggest blow landed against Americans by terrorism, ever. On this Henninger fellow’s logic, we should reasonably conclude that Manhattanites must therefore be marginally more gung ho about security measures, foreign and domestic, taken in the name of anti-terrorism. They should be more pro-Iraq War than elsewhere, less finicky about civil liberties, harsher critics of insufficiently supportive media. AND YET, that seems not to be the case. I suppose you could argue that this is a Bad Thing about New Yorkers – Robert Frost famously defined a “liberal” as “a fellow who is so broad-minded he won’t take his own side in a quarrel” – but it appears to be a true thing about New Yorkers, good or bad.

    Mr. Henninger should stop confusing his mirror with Manhattan.