Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Iraq and the Terror Threat

The New York Times (paid access) writes that a new intelligence report indicates that the terror threat from the Islamic world has grown in response to the Iraqi War, Guantanimo Bay and Abu Graib. The Times also indicates that prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 there was a similar report which argued that the invasion might increase support for political Islam and terrorism.

I don't have the polling facts, but let's say that popular dislike of the United States among Germans increased in Germany after Germany declared war against the US in 1941. Should we not have declared war on Japan in order to avoid the decline in popularity in Germany? The New York Times appears to think so.

The problem with the Times's reporting in this article ("Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat", Mark Mazzetti, September 24, 2006) and in general is its imbalance. In this article Mark Mazzetti examines only Type I but not Type II error. Type I error is the probability that the null hypothesis is true given a finding that it is false. Type II error is the probability that the alternative hypothesis is true, given a finding that the null hypothesis is true.

In plain English, you need to be aware of and control for the effect on terrorism of both invading and not invading. While it may be that the risk of terrorism has increased following the invasion of Iraq because of increased Islamic support for terrorism, it may also be that if we did not invade Iraq the risk of terrorism would have increased even more because terrorists would have perceived us as weaklings. Popular opinion is not the only necessary condition for terrorist threats. The ability and willingness to engage in terrorism are also important. It is entirely possible that these have been deterred while popular dislike for the US has increased. Better a hobbled terrorist infrastructure with hatred of us than a robust terrorist infrastructure with the entire world in love with us.

For example, we did not invade Iraq after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and that was followed by the attack on the Cole in 2000. We did not invade Iraq after the bombing of the Cole in 2000, and that was followed by September 11, 2001. It is clear that the trend toward shorter time intervals between major terrorist attacks that evolved during the Clinton administration has been reversed. It was seven years between the World Trade Center I and the Cole. It was less than two years between the Cole and 9/11, but it has been five years since a major attack against the US outside of Iraq.

The intelligence report may be completely correct, but that might speak well for President Bush. Would the Times have liked to see the German people have more positive feelings about the US in 1945 than in 1935?

Ommission as per Charles Ellison of the University of Denver

Charles Ellison of the Center for African-American Policy of the University of Denver points out three additional major terror strikes during the Clinton years, namely Nairobi Kenya in 1998 and the car bomb explosion at the United States embassy in Dar es Salaam. In addition, there was the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Ellison writes:

>You may have inadvertently omitted the U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi, Kenya in 1998 that killed 257 people and the car bomb explosion at the United States embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. These two explosions also resulted in he wounding of 4,000 people. In addition, we shouldn't forget the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

It was the 1998 Kenya bombing that attracted serious international attention to bin Laden for the first time and put him on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.


Charles D. Ellison
Senior Editor/Producer
Center for African American Policy
University of Denver

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