Security Studies Program Seminar

Terrorism and Deterrence: Lessons from Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza

Shibley Telhami
Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development
University of Maryland

November 1, 2006


In conjunction with Zogby, he conducts regular public opinion polls in the Arab world ( Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Morocco, and Lebanon ). Two related themes in the discourse have emerged since 9/11: religion/Islam and rogue states as they relate to terrorism.


Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda (AQ) does employ Islamic justification for its actions. Ideas are framed in Islamic terms. He doesn't dismiss that al Qaeda is ideologically motivated; they are seeking a puritanical Islamic state. But he dismisses the swell of anti-Americanism and the support of other Islamic groups as symptoms of the same problem.

Poll Data. Poll results show that there is a profound misunderstanding of cause and effect:

Rogue States

  •  Non-State Actors. Non-state actors thrive in anarchy. But this argument was not discussed prominently prior to the Iraq war. Instead we heard about the link between rogue states and terrorism. In the push for democracy in the region, the three celebrated cases are Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. You really did have reasonably free elections. But, if you look at them today, those are the places that are the most devastated, the most unstable, and the most effective non-state actors that are most able to disrupt security.

•  Iraq. We're not coming to grips with the magnitude of our failure there. To put this in context, the United States is the only superpower in the world. It made this a priority issue, for 3-4 years and devoted unprecedented resources. And for unrelated reasons, every faction in Iraq wanted the country to stay together, and every neighbor in the region wanted Iraq to stay together. Yet its still falling apart. Hard to see how it can be put back together. With all or their warts, it is hard to see how to have security without effective states in the international system. AQ had taken a hold in Iraq whether we like it or not. It may become like a base in Afghanistan, but this time it is closer to the Middle East .

•  Lebanon & Palestinian Authority. Rapid push for Syrian withdrawal (which was reasonable), but perhaps too rapidly without central authority. Syria was the central authority. Similar trend with the Palestinian Authority. There was a deliberate weakening of Arafat and the PA on the part of the U.S. and the Israelis.

•  Democracy. A lot of people bought into we were observing serious democratizing taking place in the Middle East . When you ask Arabs if the region is less or more democratic, the vast majority believe it has become less so. They are witnessing their relations with their regimes (which has tightened because of the war), and the elections matter much less. They are passionately opposed to the war in Iraq, and the governments are going the other away, so the latter tightens control and the public sees this.

•  Distribution of Power in the Middle East. Going back to his realism roots, Iraq war has in some ways changed the distribution of power in important ways, and also revealed other unnoticed shifts. First, Iraq not a power in the foreseeable future. Iraq used to be a central power; it was a pole vis-à-vis Iran and Egypt. Now it's gone. It can't project power, and that has consequences. Second, Arab states have been weakened in terms of military, political, and econonomic leverage in the world. Third, the decline of Egypt, in relative power terms. He expects major foreign policy shifts after Mubarak because it is playing an uncomfortable role counter to the expectations of the elite and the public.

Rapporteur: Stephanie Kaplan

back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Fall 2006