November 7, 2005, 9:00 am - July 9, 2019, 3:00 am


1761 N Street NW
Washington, 20036 (Map)

The panel discussion "Understanding the Global Insurgency" took place at the 59th annual conference in November, 2005.

Event Featuring:


Syed Farooq Hasnat, Alberto Fernandez, Michael Scheuer, Robert Pape, Zaki Chehab


Event Summary

Any discussion of the Middle East, Syed Farooq Hasnat said, will include some mention of “insurgency.” The key is to understand why. The panelists addressed the question by describing the global insurgency and how to combat it.

The social roots of the global insurgency, according to Alberto Fernandez, lie not in economic poverty, but in the “poverty of politics.” Many people in the Middle East, he said, have long suffered under the oppression and corruption of their own governments. The insurgency is one result of their search for blame and accountability. Although many in the region agree the US has had a partly or wholly negative influence on the region, many also see the holes in Al-Qaeda’s logic. Fernandez suggested that the image of the US in the Middle East is improving, albeit slowly and painfully. The best way to bolster the process, Fernandez contended, is to emphasize that the conflict is not "us versus them" but actually within Islam itself.

Michael Scheuer listed several factors that make the global insurgency a widespread and dangerous phenomenon: the leadership of Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda and its wide-ranging support for insurgent movements without any reciprocal demands to directly influence their activities; legitimate grievances, which form the foundation of the global insurgency by appealing to the masses rather than only to a select group of extremists; and US insistence that all insurgents are terrorists without widespread approval, which serves only to blind policy-makers and the public to the truth. Scheuer said the US must recognize these factors to make informed decisions about the future of US foreign policy, especially in discriminating between insurgencies to engage and ones to leave to our friends and/or enemies to battle. Since only a few, such as Al-Qaeda, directly affect US vital interests, the best way to reduce the danger to Americans is to simply “stand out of the way” of conflicts that do not concern us and focus more intently on those that do.

Robert Pape stressed that over half of suicide attacks are secular, but most people think Islamic fundamentalism is the primary force behind suicide terrorism and the global insurgency. This misperception leads people to overlook his assertion that over 95 percent of the suicide attacks since 1980 have had the same basic goal: to compel a modern democratic government to withdraw military combat forces from territory the terrorists value. For instance, the presence of US combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula since 1990 was the single most important issue that prompted the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Because this continues to be Al-Qaeda’s primary recruitment tool, Pape believed Americans should seriously consider whether that troop presence is worth its cost. He stressed that the US is losing its war on terror because its fight is based on a faulty premise that overemphasizes the role of religion in the global insurgency. A more appropriate strategy would be to reduce the unnecessary stationing of combat forces abroad. The US must pick and choose the battles it needs to fight - with defeating Al-Qaeda at the top of that list - to safeguard American interests without placing US combat troops in foreign territory. The US can retain access to foreign oil and still reduce the likelihood of suicide attacks by making use of aircraft carriers, strategic bases, and support in the Gulf region.

Zaki Chehab spoke about his personal experience with one aspect of the global insurgency as a journalist in Iraq. The horrors of war that stem from a foreign military occupying a region it does not understand, he contended, invariably lead to intense resentment and humiliation among the native population. Cultural insensitivity and ignorance not only feed the global insurgency but also prevent occupiers from effectively dealing with the insurgencies. Chehab argued the US must make greater efforts in Iraq to involve everyone in the political process, which in the end may have a greater effect on the global insurgency than anything else.


William Kramer, an intern at the Middle East Institute, wrote this summary. He is a senior at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.