Robert Pape, author of “Dying to Win”, an extensively researched book about suicide terrorism, joined ‘Situation’ host Tucker Carlson on Wednesday to talk about the motives behind suicide bombings. As terrorism experts analyze the attack in London, police believe at least three of the bombers were born and raised in the U.K. He says these attackers may have been compelled by more secular, political goals rather than simply religious fervor.
TUCKER CARLSON: I should also say you’ve compiled the world’s largest database on suicide terrorism. You studied every suicide bombing in the world since about 1980, so you’re a good guy to ask, obviously, the guy to ask. You make the point, if I understand it correctly, that, most of the time, suicide bombing is a response to foreign occupation, you say, not a product of religious extremism. Can you explain that?
ROBERT PAPE: Yes. Over 95 percent of all suicide terrorist attacks around the world since 1980 have in common not religion, but a clear strategic purpose, to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly.
CARLSON: But I can think of many examples, I’ll give the most obvious one. The United States has troops in over 100 countries. But we’re not facing suicide bombers from any group other than Islamic extremists.
PAPE: We have advisers in over 100 countries. But if you look around the world and you try identifying where we have combat troops stationed, that is, large combat troops, tanks, fighter aircraft, you’ll see that they’re heavily concentrated in the Persian Gulf. And I’m not saying that foreign occupation is the only condition. That’s a necessary condition.
PAPE: In my book, I develop several other key conditions, which also have to exist. One of those is a religious difference between the foreign occupier and the local community, because it’s the combination of the presence of foreign combat troops, plus a religious difference, that enables a terrorist leader like Osama bin Laden to paint us as a religiously-motivated aggressor and use that to instill fear in communities and to inspire numerous people to oppose our presence.
CARLSON: And, yet, as far as I know -- and I think this is correct -- the bulk of U.S. forces still in Asia, not the Middle East, Asia, where there are, of course, religious differences between most of the U.S. forces and the local populations. And you haven’t seen suicide bombings there. My point is, isn’t there something special about Islamic fundamentalism that’s causing the terrorism that’s so bedeviling the world right now?
PAPE: The answer is, there’s not something special about Islamic fundamentalism. In fact, since 1980, the world’s leader in suicide terrorism isn’t an Islamic fundamentalist group at all. They’re the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist group that is completely secular. They draw from the Hindu families of Sri Lanka. The secular Hindu Tamil Tigers have done more suicide terrorist attacks than Hamas. The secular Hindu Tamil Tigers invented the famous suicide vests for their suicide assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. The Palestinian and al-Qaida and other suicide terrorist groups got the idea of a suicide vest from the Tamil Tigers. You’re right that, in Asia, there’s no suicide terrorism against us. But, in my book, I point out that, in addition to the necessary condition of foreign occupation and a religious difference, there’s a third critical difference, which is a prior rebellion. So, the fact is, if we ever saw a local rebellion against the presence of our troops in South Korea, that might actually lead to suicide terrorists.
CARLSON: Don’t you think you’re downplaying the religious aims of al-Qaida? And al-Qaida is what I think most Americans aren’t concerned about the Tamil Tigers. And al-Qaida has made it pretty clear it would like to establish an Islamic state in the Middle East.
PAPE: I have no doubt that Osama bin Laden harbors additional goals beyond expelling foreign combat groups from the Persian Gulf. However, this has also been the case with other groups, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon in the 1980s. And, as the foreign forces left, that is, as American forces and as French forces and Israeli forces left Lebanon, Hezbollah didn’t use terrorism for those other essentially domestic political goals.
CARLSON: OK. But... suicide terrorism isn’t the only threat. I sort of see where this is leading. And I half agree with you. But you seem to be suggesting or saying point blank that pulling out, withdrawing offshore, you say, I believe, in your book, is one way to stop suicide terrorism. But if the United States withdrew offshore in the Middle East, it would risk the development of lunatic governments that might threaten us in other ways, say, with nuclear weapons.
PAPE: I don’t for a moment believe that we should withdraw hastily or precipitously. And, in fact, I wouldn’t define our policy principally against the terrorists. However, the fact is, the United States‘ main interest in the Persian Gulf is not micromanaging the domestic politics of states. It’s in securing access to oil.
PAPE: And so, if we fight another war, it should be over access to oil. And I’m very much in favor of guaranteeing that, even at the price of a war. We have an alternative strategy, however, to secure that interest. It’s called offshore balancing.
PAPE: In the 1970s and ‘80s, the United States secured its interests in oil without stationing a single combat soldier on the Arabian Peninsula.
CARLSON: But it didn’t work very well, did it? I mean, there was still profound instability in the Middle East, to the point where we were compelled to go in again with troops. For instance, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, which got this whole horrible ball rolling in the first place.
PAPE: It worked marvelously against Saddam Hussein in 1990, because, you see, we had built the military bases, so that we could rapidly deploy hundreds of thousands of combat troops to the Persian Gulf quickly in a crisis, rather than stationing them there on a near permanent basis.
PAPE: And we, relatively quickly, reversed Saddam Hussein’s aggression against Kuwait, which, of course, we should do again. But, see, the presence of our forces is creating as much instability as it is actually providing help. The main instability to the Saudi government at the moment is from the presence of our forces.
CARLSON: Yes. Well, I agree with you there.
PAPE: By staying there, it’s helping Osama bin Laden.
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