2004 November 23 Tuesday
Former CIA Case Officer Provides Terrorist Profiles

Marc Sageman, a CIA case officer in Afghanistan between 1987–89 retired from the CIA, a forensic psychiatrist, and author of Understanding Terror Networks, has written a piece for the Foreign Policy Research Institute on 400 terrorists on which he collected biographical information.

The 400 terrorists on whom I’ve collected data were the ones who actually targeted the “far enemy,” the U.S., as opposed to their own governments. I wanted to limit myself for analytical purity to that group, to see if I could identify anything different from other terrorist movements, which were far more nationalistic.

Most people think that terrorism comes from poverty, broken families, ignorance, immaturity, lack of family or occupational responsibilities, weak minds susceptible to brainwashing - the sociopath, the criminals, the religious fanatic, or, in this country, some believe they’re just plain evil.

Taking these perceived root causes in turn, three quarters of my sample came from the upper or middle class. The vast majority—90 percent—came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.

Jihadists were overwhelmingly educated in sciences and engineering with few receiving religious or humanities educations.

Al Qaeda’s members are not the Palestinian fourteen-year- olds we see on the news, but join the jihad at the average age of 26. Three-quarters were professionals or semi- professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion. The natural sciences predominate. Bin Laden himself is a civil engineer, Zawahiri is a physician, Mohammed Atta was, of course, an architect; and a few members are military, such as Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, who is supposedly the head of the military committee.

So then if we could only raise educational attainments in Muslim countries more of them would try to kill us? This doesn't fit with the modern left-liberal pablum that more education is the solution to just about every problem.

Why are few humanities students represented among terrorists? It could be that few Middle Easterners study humanities subjects. But then why are few religious students represented? Surely there are plenty of students studying Islam in places like Saudi Arabia.

Then there is the American religious conservative exaltation of family values as their alternative cure-all for what ails society. Well, the terrorists are big on families and also big on killing us.

Far from having no family or job responsibilities, 73 percent were married and the vast majority had children. Those who were not married were usually too young to be married. Only 13 percent were madrassa-trained and most of them come from what I call the Southeast Asian sample, the Jemaah Islamiyya (JI). They had gone to schools headed by Sungkar and Bashir. Sungkar was the head of JI; he died in 1999. His successor, Bashir, is the cleric who is being tried for the Jakarta Marriott bombing of August 2003; he is also suspected of planning the October 2002 Bali bombing.

The terrorists also do not provide evidence that mental illness is the root of all evil.

As a psychiatrist, originally I was looking for any characteristic common to these men. But only four of the 400 men had any hint of a disorder. This is below the worldwide base rate for thought disorders. So they are as healthy as the general population. I didn’t find many personality disorders, which makes sense in that people who are antisocial usually don’t cooperate well enough with others to join groups. This is a well-organized type of terrorism: these men are not like Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, loners off planning in the woods. Loners are weeded out early on. Of the nineteen 9-11 terrorists, none had a criminal record. You could almost say that those least likely to cause harm individually are most likely to do so collectively.

France is a substantial source of terrorists.

France happened to generate a lot of my sample, fourth behind Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco. Eighty percent were, in some way, totally excluded from the society they lived in. Sixty-eight percent either had preexisting friendships with people already in the jihad or were part of a group of friends who collectively joined the jihad together: this is typical of the Hamburg group that did 9- 11, the Montreal group that included Ahmed Ressam, the millennial bomber. Another 20 percent had close family bonds to the jihad.

Note that luckily for us and in spite of our dumb immigration policies the United States lacks sufficient concentrations of the right sorts of Muslims to sustain a lot of terrorist cells. Mostly that is due to geography. Muslims can far more easily reach Europe than America.

In order to really sustain your motivation to do terrorism, you need the reinforcement of group dynamics. You need reinforcement from your family, your friends. This social movement was dependent on volunteers, and there are huge gaps worldwide on those volunteers. One of the gaps is the United States. This is one of two reasons we have not had a major terrorist operation in the United States since 9/11. The other is that we are far more vigilant. We have actually made coming to the U.S. far more difficult for potential terrorists since 2001.

France has millions of Muslims in much larger concentrations which are capable of producing functioning terrorist cells. If the United States had a Muslim country where Mexico is at and millions of Muslims were crossing the border into the United States every year then the US would be facing a much larger terrorist threat at present. Even as things stand now the ability of groups of Muslims to just spontaneously organize themselve to make a trip to Mexico and travel illegally over the border poses a real risk as a source of future terrorist attack.

We hear that Al Qaeda plans its attacks for years and years. It may have before 9-11, but not anymore. Operatives in caves simply cannot communicate with people in the field. The network has been fairly well broken by our intelligence services. The network is now self-organized from the bottom up, and is very decentralized. With local initiative and flexibility, it’s very robust. True, two-thirds to three- quarters of the old leaders have been taken out, but that doesn’t mean that we’re home free. The network grows organically, like the Internet. We couldn’t have identified the Madrid culprits, because we wouldn’t have known of them until the first bomb exploded.

So in 2004, Al Qaeda has new leadership. In a way today’s operatives are far more aggressive and senseless than the earlier leaders. The whole network is held together by the vision of creating the Salafi state. A fuzzy, idea-based network really requires an idea-based solution. The war of ideas is very important and this is one we haven’t really started to engage yet.

I had a hard time choosing what to excerpt. Strongly suggest you click through and read the whole article.

Update: Speaking at a conference broadcast on C-Span Sageman said that 10% of the terrorists in his sample were converts to Islam from Christianity. Also, 70% were expatriates. They were "the best and the brightest" sent abroad to study. They were homesick, felt lonely and marginalized, and sought out companions at mosques. They moved in together. That led to feelings of collective identity, and rejection of in-group love and out-group hate.

There is a lesson here that is glaringly obvious: Muslims coming into the West to go to school are at greatest risk of becoming terrorists.

Sageman believes that Al Qaeda is operationally dead. He thinks we are too busy fighting the next war. He thinks the next war is 3/11 (the Madrid attack), Istanbul, and similar attacks. New kinds of networks are going to generate the next wave of attacks. Sageman says that Bin Laden had a monopoly control of the movement from 1996 through 2001. "9/11 was a strategic mistake for Al Qaeda". The environment has changed because now we are looking. The entire population has gotten much more vigilant. This prevents 9/11 style operations. But disconnected locally organised groups can still carry out attacks. Local groups do not need a lot of money.

The social movement is growing. Rapid development of attacks (5-6 weeks for the Madrid attack) prevents detection of groups. The first inkling of the existence of a group will happen when the attack happens. The planning for the assassination of Anwar Sadat was 2 weeks.

Internet: Virtual Ummah. Specific strategy and tactics are posted anonymously on the internet. Sageman's nightmare is that chatrooms will take the place of face-to-face interactions to build up a network and commit to an operation.

Thye challenge is not the existing network, but the future networks. Sageman says that means the real war is a war of ideas. However, I think there are other approaches that will work against this type of threat. For example, keeping young Muslim men from coming to the West to go to school will reduce the incidence of expatriates deciding to become terrorists.

Sageman also says the terrorists are reacting to a feeling of humiliation and get a feeling of dignity by joining terrorist groups. The feeling of humiliation may be due to a feeling of vicarious poverty. The terrorists may feel humiliated by the poverty in their home cultures.

Jessica Stern, a terrorism expert at Harvard University, says that there are groups in prisons and in ex-military communities in the United States who have turned to Islam who are becoming more radicalized. So the US may be faced with a larger amount of natives engaging in terrorism in the future.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 November 23 01:58 PM  Terrorists Activities

John S Bolton said at November 23, 2004 3:16 PM:

For many years now, we've been told to expect wonderful flowerings of cultural interactions from diversity and multiculturalisms in proximity. Cross-fertilization is the metaphor used, no doubt since a rational argument in explicit terms cannot be given. Explosive mixture would be more apt perhaps, in light of the above information on what circumstances major terrorists come from. The scholars who urged these changes on us, cannot have been ignorant of history to the extent of not knowing that conflict and war happen at the borderlands. Lengthen the zone of friction and potential for conflict, generate salients to the limit, and the chances of war are increased at each step. Now Europe quakes in fear, as the war of religion breaks forth, the liberal projects of centuries are made to hurtle back at a stroke. They couldn't help it, cry the materialist officials, the selfish businessmen made them do it. Officials and scholars of Europe; the blood of the victims to come is on your hands, there is no escaping the blame.

George said at November 23, 2004 6:16 PM:


Gunboat democracy is failing
Why has so little come of the intention of the Iraq war's leaders to give democracy a chance in that country? One reason is that bringing democracy with missiles and tanks is almost a contradiction in terms.

By Ralf Dahrendorf

Allow me this one quote, since it applies to more than just Iraq:
"..would also be recognition of the fact that democracy does not mean the same institutions in all cultural contexts. If there are elections in Iraq in January -- and this is a very big "if" -- they may not resolve much. Involving the people and providing for peaceful conflict resolution may require institutions peculiar to the region and its history.."

james said at November 23, 2004 7:49 PM:

Democracy can and has been brought with missles and tanks. Germany and Japan, two undemocratic cultures, had democracy forced upon them. Yes, they did have very different societies from Iraq and you can focus on the cultural differences aall you want but that would ignore that we treated them ver diferently from Iraq. Here's a hypothetical situation. If Munich rebelled, proclaimed a Nazi state in 1947, would we have treated it like Fallujah and tried to avoid civillian casualties? If we wouldn't flatten Munich(conventionally or with nukes), the Russians would have. For the Germans and Japanese it was Democracy or die. The Iraqui's have a view that if they kill enough Americans the foreigners will eventually leave (probibly true). ALexander the Great, the mongols and the Turks pacified the area which is now iraq the same way, they made an example of any city which rebelled and no city whould rebel after. Democracy can not be brought with missles and tanks who have comromised drivers and operators who have unclear objectives of weather to protect civillians or destroy a rebellion.

gcochran said at November 24, 2004 12:38 AM:

I have the feeling that WWII is receding into myth. Of course Germany and Japan, especially Germany, had fairly extensive experience with representative government.

And it's not as if democracy is a sovereign remedy against aggressive war: after all, we just did that very thing. I'm pretty sure that Polk was elected, and he started an aggressice war - although at least it was profitable, unlike Iraq. Come to think of it, the British and French Empirea were reasonably democratic for long periods but that didn't stop them from conquering and stomping various peoples in Africa and Asia. Hmmm.. Do we really approve of the Opium War, in which a freely elected British government attacked China in order to legalize dope sales? Maybe they were wogs and deserved it: they're all the same, you know.

Mark LaRochelle said at November 24, 2004 8:29 AM:

Polk "started an aggressive war"?

"By 1846 Texas's independence had been recognized by the United States, England, France, and other nations. California was already lost to Mexico. The real question was which country would control it: England, France, or the United States. Polk, trying to avoid war, dispatched John Slidell to Mexico City with an offer to purchase New Mexico and California.

"War broke out in 1846 primarily because Mexican President Mariano Paredes, who seized power in a military coup in early 1846, thought a war with the United States could be easily won. The Mexican Army dwarfed that of the U.S., with 27,000 regular troops against an American army numbering only 7,200. The Mexicans were better armed and better trained. President Paredes boasted that he would see the "Eagle and Serpent" of Mexico floating over the White House. British and French military observers predicted an easy victory for Mexico.

"In April 1846, President Paredes ordered his commander of the Army of the North to "commence hostilities, yourself taking the initiative against the enemy [the U.S.]." On April 24, 1846, General Mariano Arista sent 1,600 cavalry across the Rio Grande to attack American forces on the northern side of the river. Later that day, a Mexican force cut down Captain William Thornton and 60 American dragoons, and "American blood was shed on American soil." (For those interested, the best treatment of this period remains Seymour V. Conner and Odie B. Faulk, North America Divided: The Mexican War, 1846-1848, Oxford University Press, 1971.)"


mnw said at November 24, 2004 9:45 AM:

The profile of these 400 terrorists, does it remind you of the SS? It did mr.


gcochran said at November 24, 2004 10:39 AM:

Christ, of course it was an aggressive war. Grant thought so and he was there - and he was no fool. > Ulysses S. Grant considered the Mexican-American war "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation" and one of the causes of the American Civil War: "The occupation, separation and annexation [of Texas] were ... a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union. >
Abraham Lincoln thought so and said so, loudly enough to seemingly end his political career.

But as agrressive wars go, this one was pretty successful. We got lots of nice stuff out of it. Rather the opposite of Iraq, where we're paying $200 million a day for nothing at all. Less than nothing.

p said at November 24, 2004 3:28 PM:

One must stop the cycle of violence at times with violence ... to assert that violence begets violence is trite but the correct ... Iraq will be democratic ...

If one does not accept Germany or Japan, how about Afghanastan, Nicaraqua or El Salvador. Let's not live solely on dogmatism. Let's have the courage to accept that history shows us that war can when properly managed as a polictial tool yield progress.

Bush actually may know what he is doing ... Open-minded may relly close-minded

crush41 said at November 24, 2004 7:11 PM:

Obviously, infiltration into terrorist "communities" is the key to breaking plots in the short-term. Long-term success, Sageman says, depends on winning the war of ideas. Is that not an endorsement of forced regime change in authoritarian nations? Neither Saddam nor the hard-line Ayatollah in Iran will be brought down internally and even if strong world support for hard sanctions could be garnered they would likely fall apart because of global thirst for oil. As the host has pointed out, China's cooperation with Iran alone makes purely economic "battle" infeasible.

Afghanistan, Iraq, and then Iran and even Saudi Arabia some time in the future? Okay, maybe not. But Bush's "strategery" is the right idea.

Randall Parker said at November 24, 2004 7:24 PM:


Afghanistan is ruled by warlords. I just saw a documentary made by some Afghan women reporters who found lots of people wanted to see the soldiers of the warlords disarmed because those soldiers are not exactly being cricket in their treatment of everyone else.

The courage to show us what history shows us about war? Suggest you read my own post about the history of US interventions in other countries: History Of American Interventions Bodes Poorly For Democracy. Germany and Japan are historical outliers.

Also, see some Stanley Kurtz essays about how Germany and Japan differ from Iraq.

Also, see the middle of this previous post for a list of obstacles to democracy in Iraq.

Bush does not know what he is doing.

gcochran said at November 24, 2004 9:54 PM:

You can tell that the Administration doesn't know what it's doing because all of their predictions come untrue. As far as I can tell, the Administration really thought that Iraq was rebuilding some kind of serious WMD. But if you knew what that involved, what it would cost, what human and financial resources were available to Iraq - then it was obvious that not much could be happening. Obvious, that is, if you understood that sort of thing. Bush doesn't - you think you learn it as a baseball frontman or governor of Texas? Not hardly. Thus he was vulnerable to incompetent and/or dishonest advice . And if you think that the Administration was just lying - well, is that a good thing, really?
The Administration thought there would be no guerrilla resistance - bet the farm on it, really, since they made no serious effort to ready themselves for that possibility. That was a sucker bet. If you knew anything about 20th century nationalism, about specific highly relevant instances such as the Algerian war, or Israel's invasion of Lebanon, you would have thought it quite likely. That one's not a lie: they really believed that they could pull most of the invasion troops out by the fall of 2003. Boy were they wrong: seeing this, how can you think that these guys know what they're doing? On the contrary: we know their general picture of Iraq was very wrong.

They did dumb things with utter abandon. Demobbing the Iraqi Army: I saw that was stupid at the time, must have taken me 30 seconds. But the key players in the Administration were so wrongheaded that the decison seeemed normal: nobody important objected.

They keep talking abour foreign fighters, but those 'foreign fighters' account for

Ennis said at November 25, 2004 7:38 AM:

There is a very interesting study of European Terrorists of the 1970s by Donatella Dellaporta, that does a similar analysis. No background factors distinguished peaceful leftists from those who were radicalized, those who were radicalized from those who joined violent groups, those who joined violent groups from those who became terrorists. The only winnowing factor in Italy and Germany was actually experience of state violence. That might not apply here, but the general point that it is hard to predict who will become a terrorist from his or her background is fairly well established.

Secondly, you do have a sampling problem here. The fact that most terrorists are coming from a few churches may well be explained by the fact that these are the terrorists who we caught. They're a snowball sample, and as such they are tightly connected. A random sample may well show considerably more variation; I suspect they wont be as well connected on the social network.

George said at November 25, 2004 7:40 AM:


I quote from the above link:
Inside the Beltway

National security experts call to reduce dependence on oil
On September 27, 2004 a group of national security experts and representatives of prominent Washington think tanks and public policy organizations released an open letter to Americans and an accompanying blueprint for energy security called "Set America Free," calling for an immediate action toward reduction of America's demand for oil. The document spells out practical steps which can be undertaken over the next four years and beyond to dramatically improve America's energy security. Members of the group called upon America's leaders to adopt the plan, with a view to rapidly expanding fuel choice in the U.S. transportation sector beyond petroleum while exploiting currently available technologies and infrastructures. If the plan is carried out in full, U.S. oil imports would drop by as much as 50 percent.

Comment: The first nation to control its appetite for oil will enjoy an economic and political revival unparalleled in modern history.

P said at November 25, 2004 1:43 PM:

Oil dependence is not the basis of US security concerns ... I am terrified that we have "experts" who believe that dependence on oil is the issue we are struggling with ... What about our dependence on TVs, Perfumes, fine shoes?

Aside from Islamic extremist who have no oil or wealth we have few issues ... North Korea is a problem where is the oil ... China is an issue ... again where is the oil (yes they want more but pay fort it) ...

The real issue threatening the US is a social infrastructure that is so large that Americans are becoming unemployable ... Social Security and Health care costs now account for more of a cars cost than direct labor (about 5%) ...

To construct US foriegn policy around oil is silly ... there is no evidence that it is a risk factor ... I would rather construct it around good milk chocolate resverves ...

A larger question to ask is whether the nation construct has outlived its useful life ... We are all part of a larger social and economic network ... I am not advocating world government ... I think it to has outlived its usfelness ... Stability in social systems is fleeting and to believe that it can maintained through nations acting on oil researves is foolish at best ... We cannot close our boarders as some experts would like to suggest ... we are aging fast and will soon represent a fraction of the world's economic wealth ...

George said at November 25, 2004 5:11 PM:

My apologies, P, I wasn't clear in my thoughts. If you add these sources/links -

http//money.cnn.com/2004/11/12/news/international/piracy.reut/index.htm (insurance costs climbing)

http://www.truthout.com/docs_01/11.26B.Cost.of.Oil.htm (funding the extremists)

http://www.alternet.org/story/17660 - (true consumer cost > US $5 per gallon of gas)

you'll see that economic shortsighted-ness threatens the USA more than any external threat. We owe it to future generations to rebuild our economic capacity starting now. Sustainable development includes oil, believe it or not, but oil plays a vastly different role. It would only be tapped for synthetic plastics and other strategic materials, never for energy (e.g. power plants). Oil as an engine of economic growth was applicable when the price was US 5¢ (5 cents) a barrel. Even then, the true cost was much higher.

Randall Parker said at November 26, 2004 11:12 AM:


You say you are not advocating world government. Then you say the nation-state has outlived its usefulness. Well, then do you advocate anarchy? Or do you advocate world government-lite while pretending not to?

As for oil: Of course it matters for national security. If the Middle East didn't have oil we never would have sent troops there in the first place and there would not be US troops there now. If the US hadn't taken such an interest in the Middle East due to oil (and also due to the Jewish lobby) then the Muslim dislike of us would not be nearly so great.

Canadian Headhunter (Michael) said at November 26, 2004 1:23 PM:

I remember reading Eric Hoffer, probably in The True Believer, say that revolutionaries are above-average people who are blocked from getting ahead in their own society. They are alienated because the social order cannot accomodate them so they turn against it to open up a way forward.

I also read that Mussolini, a nationalist and ex-socialist, divided the world into proletarian and non-proletarian countries. According to him, Italy was a proletarian = oppressed nation. And his goal was to return it by violent means to its former glory.

Moreover, fascism lauded technology. It was a return to the earth sort of movement that celebrated the pastoral life. And lots of young engineers supported it. Communism, in its determination to modernize backwards countries held a similar attraction for young engineers.

Doesn't this sound like your description of Al Qaeda? An non-democratic, "nationalist" revolutionary movement of the people that seeks to restore the "proletarian" = oppressed Muslim "nation" to its former glory by violent means.

lugh lampfhota said at November 26, 2004 1:42 PM:

Oil is merely a trapping of power like any other resource. Oil is not the reason that Muslim fascists hate America. America is hated because of it's power. That same power that the Muslim fascist's deity claims should be theirs. Muslim fascists don't just want America out of the ME nor do they care about about where Palestinians live. They want hegemony over the world.

So the game is afoot. Shall we play? I think we shall. If it tis a clash of civilizations then let ours prevail. We have brought wonders to the world while the Muslims have brought slavery, oppression, poverty, intolerance and a hatred for life. The Creator of the Universe gave us power of creation and Muslims the power of destruction (or at least stagnation). Whom does God favor?

Tis interesting that Sageman points out that jihadis are often learned folk, technicians capable of creating. But do they create? No. They use the knowledge to create for destruction. Against the Creator of the universe and mankind they stand. A fine game indeed. To victory.

p said at November 26, 2004 2:03 PM:

Randall, yes oil matters ... My point is that it's not the central policy concern ... Many nations have prospered without any oil reserves ... Oil is a factor input for commerce just like machine tools and labor ... It has no priveledged position ... On the margin at any point in time it has leverage ... just like any other factor input. Our current trade imabalance is more than oil ...

Questioning the nation state construct does not make one an anarchist ...

Randall Parker said at November 26, 2004 2:14 PM:


Gulf War I was not fought over machine tools. It was fought over oil. The US does not have large naval forces deployed to keep open a strait to ensure the shipment of perfume or fine shoes.

Yes, oil has a privileged position. Prince Bandar has had privileged access to the Secretary of State and White House for decades running because he is the ambassador from the country that has one quarter of the world's oil.

The United States and Saudi Arabia cooperated to build large air bases and air traffic control capabilities back in the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s because Saudi Arabia exports oil, not because it exports honey or rugs (which it does).

Questioning the nation-state construct without providing a viable alternative that would be seen as legitimate by the people provides one with semi-plausible deniability. You aren''t for anarchy. You aren't for world government. But you are not for the nation-state. But what are you for? (I'm expecting something vague and lofty in response)

lugh lampfhota said at November 26, 2004 2:34 PM:

Gulf War 1 was fought over rule of law.

Randall Parker said at November 26, 2004 3:01 PM:


No, Gulf War I was not about rule of law.

Right after Saddam's invasion James Baker speaking as "a senior American official made it quite clear:

Within days of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, an even more blunt assessment was delivered by a “senior American official” (believed to be Secretary of State James Baker) in a comment to the New York Times: “We are talking about oil. Got it? Oil, vital American interests.”

US Presidents as far back as FDR saw Middle Eastern oil as worthy of consideration in strategic calculations. Harry Truman was characteristically blunt about the importance of Middle Eastern oil.

Control of Middle Eastern oil resources has always been a matter of strategic concern to the United States. In his famous speech of 1947 when he initiated the Cold War and enunciated the doctrine that now goes under his name, US President Truman referred to the Middle East with its “great natural resources” as among the considerations that motivated the fight against “communism.” In 1974-75, in the midst of the OPEC oil price hikes and the threat of extended oil embargoes, the US administration discussed the possibility of undertaking military action against oil-producing states. With the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, who was installed in a CIA-backed coup against the nationalist Mossadegh government in 1953, the US became increasingly concerned about threats to its interests in the region. Accordingly, in his January 1980 State of the Union address, President Carter warned: “An attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

This new policy, known as the Carter doctrine, he explained was necessitated by the “overwhelming dependence of Western nations on vital oil supplies from the Middle East.” In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1990, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, defence secretary (now vice-president) Cheney set out the issues involved in the US-led war.

“Iraq controlled 10 % of the world’s reserves prior to the invasion of Kuwait. Once Saddam Hussein took Kuwait, he doubled that to approximately 20 % of the world’s known oil reserves... Once he acquired Kuwait... he was clearly in a position to dictate the future of worldwide energy policy, and that gave him a stranglehold on our economy and on that of most of the other nations of the world as well.”

Within days of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, an even more blunt assessment was delivered by a “senior American official” (believed to be Secretary of State James Baker) in a comment: “We are talking about oil. Got it? Oil, vital American interests.”

That US leaders usually try to use more diplomatic and coded language does not change the obvious. But it allows some rubes to dream that the US is being so much more highly principled in foreign policy than is in fact the case.

lugh lampfhota said at November 26, 2004 5:30 PM:


Oh I just love it when someone quotes a senior American official, perhaps James Baker or, say, Congressman Dennis Kucinich. C'mon Randall....you can do better than that (you were just cited in TCS for Chris-sakes).

The US had treaties with the Gulf states that said that an attack on them would be considered an attack of the US. Standard diplomatic stuff. Now, you may ask why we would endorse such a treaty and the answer certainly would include oil. Again, pretty standard stuff for all nations just as the right to navigate the nation's oceans, conduct commerce, etc.

The bottom line is that without law (i.e. treaties, contracts, et al), civilization wouldn't function. You couldn't buy nor sell, expect your paycheck to arrive or turn on the switch and get light. Life would be short, brutish and nasty.

So we enforce rule of law . Most of the world understands and accepts rule of law. Those who don't require law at the point of a bayonet. Always been so.

Saying that everything America does is "for oil" is crass and simplistic. Spread your wings and fly dear Randall.

lugh lampfhota said at November 26, 2004 5:36 PM:


BTW....the NYTimes is no longer the paper of record. Henceforth NYT is "the paper of agenda", no more credible than 60 Minutes. I consider the NYT on the level of the National Inquirer. Find better sources. Kinda explains the "senior administration official" citation (eyes rolling in head).

Randall Parker said at November 26, 2004 6:14 PM:


Baker really did say those lines. People high up in government in both Republican and Democratic administrations have routinely talked to the NY Times in order to get the official line clearly broadcast. Baker did this all the time. Whether you respect the Grey Lady or not (and I criticise her here on this blog) get it thru your head: It is a major source of news that people all over the world look to for signs of positions being taken in US government policy.

Rule of law: Ha! The Bush I Administration went thru a succession of justifications for expelling Saddam from Kuwait before deciding that the "Rule Of Law" was the best one to go with. Go back to the summer of 90 in the newspapers and read it. Bush I finally settled on a message and the major figures in his Administration then started denying that assorted other previously offered justifications for the war were ever considered seriously. But Baker's first off-the-record utterances were the truth.

Svigor said at November 26, 2004 6:19 PM:

It's funny to me that anyone who can spell his own name could equate oil with milk chocolate, perfume, or shoes. Milk chocolate, perfume, and shoes don't power the ships that carry goods overseas, or the trucks or trains that carry them overland, or the cars that carry consumers to the retail outlets...

Mein Gott the naivete.

It goes something like this:
Our primary interest in the ME is oil. Our secondary interest in the ME is Israel (i.e., American Jewry). The secondary interest is strengthened substantially by the primary. The primary interest is often used as an excuse for the secondary.

For the cheap seats: American Jewry is easily the most powerful ethnic group (note I didn't say minority) in America. Oil is the most precious commodity in the world. These two factors make the ME and Israel (as a unit) the single most important geostrategic goal in American foreign policy, by far.

A careful study of this thesis will lead to relevant answers to above questions about whether or not the warhawks were right about their pre-GWII prognostications (they weren't) and whether their interests were served by GWII (they were). Really, the Israel(American Jewry)/ME(oil) threads have become so entangled that they're practically inseparable and indistinguishable.

gcochran said at November 26, 2004 6:27 PM:

We had no treaty with Kuwait. You could look it up. Yet another ugly fact.

lugh lampfhota said at November 26, 2004 8:43 PM:


Should the US have access to resources and markets? If Islamists want to live in the Dark Ages should the world forgo the use of a resource because it offends them? Should we find the lowest standard of civilization that meets the requirements of the most primitive society on earth and proclaim this standard as The Way to live? Should we all return to an agrarian economy, hoe our plots, ride our bicycles and go to bed when the sun sets? Does a resource become evil once the US deems it vital to our civilization?

Does ANY resource matter without the rule of law? Does civilization even exist without rule of law?

Oil is PART of any equation that determines if the US is prepared to engage in foreign intrigue. It is not the only variable. Otherwise it is impossible to explain US foreign intervention in Grenada, Bosnia/Kosovo and other nations.

Every nation has vital trade interests. That doesn't make them evil.

Randall Parker said at November 26, 2004 9:24 PM:


Oh, so now you are saying that we were upholding "the rule of law" because we saw it essential in order to guarantee our access to oil.

You say something hilarious:

Every nation has vital trade interests. That doesn't make them evil.

Why is it that so many Americans do not think it is morally acceptable to look out for one's own selfish but legitimate interests? You assume because I said the first Gulf War was fought for selfish national interests that I'm morally condemning the war. Then you back down from your denial that there was selfish interest involved in terms of access to oil and you feel it necessary to proclaim that this admission does not make it evil. Well, hello there!

Oh, and Saddam's invasion of Kuwait was not about spreading the reach of the Islamists. He was just a tyrant who wanted a larger empire and greater wealth, power, and prestige.

Return to an agrarian economy? No, I recommend we defend our access to oil while simultaneously accelerating the development of a large range of technologies that will lessen our dependence and the world's dependence on Middle Eastern oil. But lots of people don't want to support more aggressive efforts to develop oil substitutes because they think such efforts would be an admission that we are dependent on the Middle East and that one of the reasons we intervene there is to assure our continued access to oil and freedom from leverage by some other government.

lugh lampfhota said at November 27, 2004 3:50 AM:


The point I made was that the calculus of whether we militarily intervene in a nation includes more variables than just oil (or banannas, variously depending on the timeframe in question). Oil is absolutely part of the equation, but claiming oil is the only reason is crass and plays straight into the agit-prop machines of our enemies. Foreign policy is multi-dimensional in every case. Rule of law was a major component in the decision to liberate Kuwait and later, Iraq.

I've never considered Saddam to be a direct participant in World Islamic Jihad. But his very existence, thumb-on-nose and blowing a mighty raspberry at the US and the West (as he willfully violated 17 resolutions for 12 years) sent a message to WIJ that the US and the West were weak, irresolute and ready to fall.

Alternatives to oil will come as technologies develop but the basic science isn't there yet. Are you suggesting government investment for alternative technology?

Randall Parker said at November 27, 2004 12:09 PM:


I have advocated for the development of replacement energy technologies to the point of no doubt boring some of my regular readers. See my Grand Strategy category archive for many posts on the topic. My guess is that at least half of the posts in that category are about energy.

Svigor said at November 27, 2004 1:08 PM:

"The point I made was that the calculus of whether we militarily intervene in a nation includes more variables than just oil (or banannas, variously depending on the timeframe in question)."

That may have been the point you were trying to make, but your diction was poor.

"Oil is absolutely part of the equation, but claiming oil is the only reason is crass and plays straight into the agit-prop machines of our enemies."

1. Who claimed oil is the only reason?
2. Who cares if it's crass? Invading countries is crass, bombing people is crass. You actually think "it's crass" is germaine here?
3. Whether or not the reason plays straight into the "agit-prop" of our enemies is imho irrelevant to the discussion. I don't internalize anyone's lies for any reason. The question isn't "does it support our 'enemies' agit-prop," but rather, "is it true or not?"

Foreign policy is multi-dimensional in every case. Rule of law was a major component in the decision to liberate Kuwait and later, Iraq.

"But his very existence, thumb-on-nose and blowing a mighty raspberry at the US and the West (as he willfully violated 17 resolutions for 12 years) sent a message to WIJ that the US and the West were weak, irresolute and ready to fall."

Try and relate this quote back to social interactions on an individual level. That's an imperfect b.s. test, but one I try and run all such arguments through anyways. I find it's always useful. That aside, the question of whether or not the U.S. and the west were made to look weak isn't a valid one in this context. You can't invade people simply for making you look weak, not if you want to look like anything other than an international bully.

As for the violations, if we accept those as causus belli, then Israel should be next (actually, Israel should've preceded Iraq by that criterion).

Alternatives to oil will come as technologies develop but the basic science isn't there yet. Are you suggesting government investment for alternative technology?

lugh lampfhota said at November 27, 2004 2:14 PM:


"2. Who cares if it's crass? Invading countries is crass, bombing people is crass. You actually think "it's crass" is germaine here?"

When there are soldiers in the field it is relavent, unless of course you could not give a twit about their lives. You seem to suffer from moral relevance, equating lawful soldiers with murderous thugs. Who is indiscriminatly detonating roadside bombs without one care who gets killed?

"3. Whether or not the reason plays straight into the "agit-prop" of our enemies is imho irrelevant to the discussion. I don't internalize anyone's lies for any reason. The question isn't "does it support our 'enemies' agit-prop," but rather, "is it true or not?"

In your world Svigor, do the cops really equul the criminals?

"social interations on a personal level"?

Hmmm. Try letting the schoolyard bully push you around every recess and observe what happens. Guess what? He escalates and other bullies get in on the action. The same applies for nations.

"As for the violations, if we accept those as causus belli, then Israel should be next (actually, Israel should've preceded Iraq by that criterion)."

Now this statement says a lot about you. Three Arab nations attack Israel, intent on Israel's destruction and lose the war twice. Israel keeps strategic territory for defensive purposes and makes good-faith effort to negotiate lasting peace yet are rebuffed by barbarians who use NAIL BOMB DIPLOMACY. Who does Svigor side with? The nail-bombers. These same nail-bombers shot 2 year old Meirav Hatuel at point blank range in the face because she was a Zionist (as they filmed the snuff video for amusement/agit-prop). Svigor, you may need to do a morals check before you presume to lecture anyone about morality.

"Never employ whores to teach morality" - Ralph Peters

George said at November 27, 2004 2:39 PM:

Hello Svigor and lugh,

Both of you have suggested government investment in alternative technologies. Let's examine oil historically; any country that ties itself to a primary resource eventually loses its options regarding that resource. We are seeing that now in the US, possibly Russia (sitting on an enormous government run 'options/rainy day' fund), and elsewhere. The ability to adapt becomes a political, energy-wasting battle as well as a gut-wrenching mental struggle to find 'acceptable' substitutes in terms of lifestyle (see GWII "our lifestyle is sacred" quote).

The only thing a government can or should do is help stimulate a critical mass of thinking in a certain direction. The paradigm shift (or sea change) necessary in oil-consuming countries is certain to be much bigger amd more profound than during any previous economic or social (r)evolution. The 'modern' state and 'state of mind' are much too comfortable, and that is precisely what GWII et al are counting on (in more ways than one).

In this article (www.pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_report&report_id=234) , you will find some details of what is entailed. A short quote:

"..Scheuer warns, "The choice we have is between keeping current policies, which will produce an escalating expenditure of American treasure and blood, or devising new policies, which may, over time, reduce the expenditure of both.""
(Of course, not only American 'treasure and blood' are in play.)

lugh lampfhota said at November 27, 2004 8:41 PM:


I'm not an advocate for government funded research for alternative energy beyond basic research (that the private sector typically avoids because there is no possible return on investment).

As capitalism and free markets spread across the globe the demand for limited energy sources will cause enormous frictions between competing interests. Politics in the US have prevented the construction of nuclear reactors, refineries and the development of new coal and oil fields. The Congress can't even pass a national energy policy due to partisan politics. At some point, energy prices will force compromise but with today's historically low cost (as a percentage of disposable income) that point seems over the horizon.

World Islamic Jihad would like to destroy the US economy and delivered a mighty blow on 911. I've seen estimates as high as one trillion USD. The cost of security and the GWOT are a tremendous drag on the US (and the world) economy. But there is no choice, blood and treasure have always been the price of freedom.

I disagree with the author of the PINR article on the causes of Muslim rage. Robert Spencer's "Islam Unveiled" does a far better job of presenting the reasons for the anger and alienation. Islam is frozen in time in 1000 AD when the umma decided that anything worth knowing is written in the Quran. American foreign policy, Israel, Palestine and headscarf policy in France are just excuses. Muslims need to become introspective about their religion and society if they want to join the modern world. The rest of the world doesn't need to join their Dark Age vision of the world.

Canadian Headhunter (Michael) said at November 28, 2004 4:34 AM:

Correcting my poor editing, above.

I wanted to say that Italian Fascism was not a return-to-the-earth movement that celebrated pastoral life. Although this might have been a theme of Nazism, the art most closely associated with Italian Fascism was Futurism. Fascism in Italy was a (technically) modernizing movement and, as such, it attracted technically trained people like, apparently, Al Qaeda.

My other point stated more clearly but perhaps lost in the mess was that Mussolini saw Italy as a great nation oppressed by the other western powers. And he wanted to restore it to its former glory - by any means necessary. Sounds like Al Qaeda to me.

I started off with Eric Hoffer who said that revolutionaries are accomplished people who can't get ahead in the current order and so seek to change it.

Enlightenment said at October 26, 2006 2:19 PM:

One thing that struck me as odd in the days after 9/11 was Bush saying "We will not tolerate conspiracy theories [regarding 9/11]". Sure enough there have been some wacky conspiracy theories surrounding the events of that day. The most far-fetched and patently ridiculous one that I've ever heard goes like this: Nineteen hijackers who claimed to be devout Muslims but yet were so un-Muslim as to be getting drunk all the time, doing cocaine and frequenting strip clubs decided to hijack four airliners and fly them into buildings in the northeastern U.S., the area of the country that is the most thick with fighter bases. After leaving a Koran on a barstool at a strip bar after getting shitfaced drunk on the night before, then writing a suicide note/inspirational letter that sounded like it was written by someone with next to no knowledge of Islam, they went to bed and got up the next morning hung over and carried out their devious plan. Nevermind the fact that of the four "pilots" among them there was not a one that could handle a Cessna or a Piper Cub let alone fly a jumbo jet, and the one assigned the most difficult task of all, Hani Hanjour, was so laughably incompetent that he was the worst fake "pilot" of the bunch. Nevermind the fact that they received very rudimentary flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, making them more likely to have been C.I.A. assets than Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. So on to the airports. These "hijackers" somehow managed to board all four airliners with their tickets, yet not even ONE got his name on any of the flight manifests. So they hijack all four airliners and at this time passengers on United 93 start making a bunch of cell phone calls from 35,000 feet in the air to tell people what was going on. Nevermind the fact that cell phones wouldn't work very well above 4,000 feet, and wouldn't work at ALL above 8,000 feet. But the conspiracy theorists won't let that fact get in the way of a good fantasy. That is one of the little things you "aren't supposed to think about". Nevermind that one of the callers called his mom and said his first and last name, more like he was reading from a list than calling his own mom. Anyway, when these airliners each deviated from their flight plan and didn't respond to ground control, NORAD would any other time have followed standard operating procedure (and did NOT have to be told by F.A.A. that there were hijackings because they were watching the same events unfold on their own radar) which means fighter jets would be scrambled from the nearest base where they were available on standby within a few minutes, just like every other time when airliners stray off course. But of course on 9/11 this didn't happen, not even close. Somehow these "hijackers" must have used magical powers to cause NORAD to stand down, as ridiculous as this sounds because total inaction from the most high-tech and professional Air Force in the world would be necessary to carry out their tasks. So on the most important day in its history the Air Force was totally worthless. Then they had to make one of the airliners look like a smaller plane, because unknown to them the Naudet brothers had a videocamera to capture the only known footage of the North Tower crash, and this footage shows something that is not at all like a jumbo jet, but didn't have to bother with the South Tower jet disguising itself because that was the one we were "supposed to see". Anyway, as for the Pentagon they had to have Hani Hanjour fly his airliner like it was a fighter plane, making a high G-force corkscrew turn that no real airliner can do, in making its descent to strike the Pentagon. But these "hijackers" wanted to make sure Rumsfeld survived so they went out of their way to hit the farthest point in the building from where Rumsfeld and the top brass are located. And this worked out rather well for the military personnel in the Pentagon, since the side that was hit was the part that was under renovation at the time with few military personnel present compared to construction workers. Still more fortuitous for the Pentagon, the side that was hit had just before 9/11 been structurally reinforced to prevent a large fire there from spreading elsewhere in the building. Awful nice of them to pick that part to hit, huh? Then the airliner vaporized itself into nothing but tiny unidentifiable pieces no bigger than a fist, unlike the crash of a real airliner when you will be able to see at least some identifiable parts, like crumpled wings, broken tail section etc. Why, Hani Hanjour the terrible pilot flew that airliner so good that even though he hit the Pentagon on the ground floor the engines didn't even drag the ground!! Imagine that!! Though the airliner vaporized itself on impact it only made a tiny 16 foot hole in the building. Amazing. Meanwhile, though the planes hitting the Twin Towers caused fires small enough for the firefighters to be heard on their radios saying "We just need 2 hoses and we can knock this fire down" attesting to the small size of it, somehow they must have used magical powers from beyond the grave to make this morph into a raging inferno capable of making the steel on all forty-seven main support columns (not to mention the over 100 smaller support columns) soften and buckle, then all fail at once. Hmmm. Then still more magic was used to make the building totally defy physics as well as common sense in having the uppermost floors pass through the remainder of the building as quickly, meaning as effortlessly, as falling through air, a feat that without magic could only be done with explosives. Then exactly 30 minutes later the North Tower collapses in precisely the same freefall physics-defying manner. Incredible. Not to mention the fact that both collapsed at a uniform rate too, not slowing down, which also defies physics because as the uppermost floors crash into and through each successive floor beneath them they would shed more and more energy each time, thus slowing itself down. Common sense tells you this is not possible without either the hijackers' magical powers or explosives. To emphasize their telekinetic prowess, later in the day they made a third building, WTC # 7, collapse also at freefall rate though no plane or any major debris hit it. Amazing guys these magical hijackers. But we know it had to be "Muslim hijackers" the conspiracy theorist will tell you because (now don't laugh) one of their passports was "found" a couple days later near Ground Zero, miraculously "surviving" the fire that we were told incinerated planes, passengers and black boxes, and also "survived" the collapse of the building it was in. When common sense tells you if that were true then they should start making buildings and airliners out of heavy paper and plastic so as to be "indestructable" like that magic passport. The hijackers even used their magical powers to bring at least seven of their number back to life, to appear at american embassies outraged at being blamed for 9/11!! BBC reported on that and it is still online. Nevertheless, they also used magical powers to make the american government look like it was covering something up in the aftermath of this, what with the hasty removal of the steel debris and having it driven to ports in trucks with GPS locators on them, to be shipped overseas to China and India to be melted down. When common sense again tells you that this is paradoxical in that if the steel was so unimportant that they didn't bother saving some for analysis but so important as to require GPS locators on the trucks with one driver losing his job because he stopped to get lunch. Hmmmm. Yes, this whole story smacks of the utmost idiocy and fantastical far-fetched lying, but it is amazingly enough what some people believe. Even now, five years later, the provably false fairy tale of the "nineteen hijackers" is heard repeated again and again, and is accepted without question by so many Americans. Which is itself a testament to the innate psychological cowardice of the American sheeple, i mean people, and their abject willingness to believe something, ANYTHING, no matter how ridiculous in order to avoid facing a scary uncomfortable truth. Time to wake up America.

McNeil said at December 23, 2011 2:05 PM:

And now, it is enough just to hear somebody using the word "terrorist" to make us sick. Who'd've known. It's amazing how things change.

Let's hope that we have finally gotten rid of that acute paranoid "terror-itis" in America

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