Thursday, January 9, 2020

Navin A. Bapat's "Monsters to Destroy"

Navin A. Bapat is Dowd Professor in the Study of Peace and War and the Chair of the Curriculum of Peace, War, and Defense at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Monsters to Destroy: Understanding the War on Terror, and reported the following:
Page 99 of the book discusses the effect of the Afghan surge on the counterinsurgency effort against the Taliban in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces. There is a plot at the top of the page indicating that violence in both provinces was trending downward. Although the U.S. has long avoided body counts as a metric of success, these initial trends seemed positive for U.S. efforts.

Although these passages are important to the study as a whole, the page 99 test does not work particularly well for the book. Rather than focusing specifically on the Afghan surge, the book asks the question: why did the U.S. government spend trillions fighting the war on terror when the risk of dying from terrorism is lower than the risk of being struck by lightning, murdered by firearms, or killed in a traffic accident?

The book argues that while terrorism is indeed insignificant, the randomness and the shock of terrorist attacks typically convinces citizens that the risk is substantial. In these times of fear, citizens may turn to their governments, and will demand that governments adopt policies to protect them. Since the risk of terrorism is so low, any policy adopted by governments would appear effective. And since the risk of terrorism may always be present, governments may justify a continuation of policies they favor if they appear to be reducing the risk of terror.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks therefore offered the U.S. an opportunity to shape the world in a way that would preserve American dominance in perpetuity. Using the cover of preventing terror, the U.S. attempted to cement its control over the world’s global energy market. The U.S. engaged in military attacks against its adversaries in Afghanistan and Iraq, and promised protection to its key allies critical to the extraction, sale, and transportation of energy.

However, since the U.S. would only protect these leaders if a terrorist threat existed, the leaders of these regimes had no incentive to disarm their terrorists. These dynamics led to the growth of more powerful and virulent insurgencies in the territories of U.S. allies, which ultimately increased both the economic and the human cost of the war to the U.S. When the U.S. indicated it could no longer pay the price of the war, it weakened its commitment to its allies, which encouraged leaders to become more aggressive to protect themselves before the U.S. abandoned them. Although the U.S. began the war to maintain its dominant status, it is now continuing the war to preserve what power it has left in global energy markets.
Learn more about Monsters to Destroy at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue