Coalition troops in Iraq 'lightning rod for terror'?

Over in the current WMD thread, a poster noted

and followed up with

Other posters picked up the theme:

Something about this really bothers me, and maybe the Dopers can straighten it out. I agree that there’s a distinction between attacks on troops and attacks on civilians, and I also agree that it’s part of the military’s job to expose themselves to danger to protect civilians.

But is it a good thing for civilians to think of troops as a “lightning rod” that provides terrorists with an easier target and makes them more likely to leave us alone? And if they hit that target, would we really not call it terrorism?

I can see how the “lightning rod effect” might easily be an unavoidable consequence of necessary military action. (Whether the invasion of Iraq was “necessary military action” is another issue and one that can be, and is being, discussed elsewhere.) But could it tempt civilians to support or prolong unnecessary exposure of troops to deflect danger from themselves?

Would it be acceptable deliberately to station troops in a vulnerable area in order to benefit from the “lightning rod effect”?

Is there actually a “lightning rod effect”, in fact? Is Sullivan right in thinking that the US mainland is safer from terrorists as long as there are numerous US troops in Iraq?

Does anyone believe that the “lightning rod effect” was actually one of the reasons for invading and occupying Iraq? (It sounds absurd to me, but some other posters seem to take the basic concept so much in stride—although AFAIK nobody has yet suggested that it did play any part in the decision—that I started to wonder if such an idea could really have a place in explicit policy considerations.)

Yes I have read this argument and I think it’s exceedingly dubious and merely an excuse for a war that is looking more and more foolish by the day.

First of all it assumes that the people killing American troops in Iraq would otherwise be attacking American civilians. What is the evidence for this? For instance most of the attacks are probably being carried out by Baathist militia who would just be part of the Iraqi state apparatus if there had been no war. There may be a few Islamic extremist types in Iraq but there is no particular reason to believe that even they would otherwise be attacking the US. There are plenty of Islamic extremists to go around and the kind of people who would be able to enter and live in the US are not type who are likely be sent to Iraq.

Secondly it assumes that the stock of Islamic extremists is fixed. But what if the war increased it by increasing the anger towards the US in the Arab world. Then there would be enough extra recruits to fight the Americans in Iraq and still attack American civilians with the same resources.

And of course it’s not as if there have been major attacks in the US since 9-11 anyway so there isn’t much reason to believe that the US is in desparate need to sacrifice its soldiers for some dubious “lightning rod”.

If I were a terrorist, and I had a choice between making a statement about the Evil Yankee Running Dog Imperialists by killing a bunch of Evil Yankee Running Dog Imperialists in their own backyard, say in New York, or making a statement about the Evil Yankee Running Dog Imperialists by killing a bunch of Evil Yankee Running Dog Imperialists in my own backyard, I know which one I’d pick.

Statement #1: “Hah! You Evil Yankee Running Dog Imperialists are not safe even in your own backyard!”

Statement #2: “Hah! I am simply killing whatever Evil Yankee Running Dog Imperialists happen to be around!”

One vote here for “Andrew Sullivan is a silly person”.

Wasn’t Saudi Arabia - where US troops are withdrawing - the terrorists’ backyard?

As Duck Duck Goose points out, the argument assumes that terrorists are essentially idiots who are incapable of forming broader strategy. It is true that we have now established a new “front line” US presence in Iraq. A terrorist, however, is the last sort of person who could be expected to attack only the front line.

Sure, the average disgruntled Iraqi may lack the means to strike the continental United States, but they didn’t have the means to do so before the Second Gulf War either. On the other hand, more organized movements like al-Qaa:ada obviously did have the means to strike the continental United States, and by knowledgeable accounts continue to attempt to do so. The effect of the Second Gulf War has not been to deprive ; rather, it seems to have been to inflame the passions of otherwise reasonable Muslims and, almost certainly, divert some otherwise peaceful people to violence. In essence, the Iraq campaign will confirm for these people that they are in a state of war with the United States. Thus swayed to a more radical, al-Qaa:ada-like point of view, they can be expected to make war on the United States in whatever manner they find possible, to achieve the greatest effect possible.

It could be said Japan in 1945 had its own “lightning rods” in Burma, China, Indonesia, et al. Did they prevent the Home Islands from coming under attack?

Moreover, the United States has had its own “front line” in the Arab world for years: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain. et cetera. Did our presence there prevent New York and Washington from coming under attack?

We’re all guessing. FWIW I’m split on the two quotes in the OP. I don’t see the American troops as a lightning rod for terrorists who otherwise would be attacking America. I’m guessing that a lot of the attacks come from Feyadeen and other Ba’athists. These people were committing terrorism inside Iraq, but AFAIK were not attacking the US.

However, I tend to approve of the fact that the war is “being taken out of America and to the terrorists’ backyard.” I think a purely defensive effort by Homeland Security and Tom Ridge cannot possibly succeed. We have to attack and defeat terrorists wherever they are.

In other words, I’m not glad that terrorists are attacking coalition troops, but I’m very glad indeed that coalition troops are attacking the terrorists.

Let me see if I get this straight, first the US goes into Iraq to fight terrorist that never where there (AFAIK I had never heard of Iraqis executing a terrorist attack to the US); then as a concequence of the attack and invation terrorist groups emerge in Iraq… so the US has to stay there because it has to fight the terrorist that the US actions create, and so forth… :rolleyes:
Geez, that´s what I call perpetual violence motion.

"However, I tend to approve of the fact that the war is “being taken out of America and to the terrorists’ backyard.” "
Except that Iraq wasn’t the “terrorists’ backyard”. It was quite marginal to the world of Islamic terrorism especially the kind that targets America.

Of course with the increasing assertiveness of radical Shia groups in Iraq it may become a source of Islamic extremism in the future so the war may well have succeeded in making Iraq more dangerous to the US than it was .

Well, I’m the one that’s being quoted, so I might as well respond.

Here are links to articles on the troops as diversionary targets for attack:

First Andrew Sullivan (look at 7/3):

Then David Warren:

Then LT Smash, a soldier stationed in Iraq (clearly a pseudonym):

And completely off topic, but still interesting, here is LT discussing “Bush Lied” from another thread:

All of these are in relation to Bush’s “bring it on” that received so much scorn.

Now discuss.

And I don’t see any evidence in any of your links that US troops in Iraq are diverting terrorists from attacking the US.

David Warren’s main argument appears to be about diverting terrorists away from Israel. The idea of sacrificing American soldiers to act as a “lighning rod” to protect Israelis is controversial to put it mildly. Does anyone here actually support this even if it were true? And even this is implausible. First of all there is little evidence that large numbers of Hejbollah are fighting in Iraq. Secondly most of the terrorists attacks in Israel are carried out by Palestinian groups not Hejbollah.

The troops in Saudia Arabia worked smashingly as lightning rods. That’s why al Qaeda struck out at them instead of targets in the mainland US on Sept 11.

Only for people who have no objections with lying to start a war.

The troops in Saudi Arabia were attacked by Al Qaeda. Khobar Towers, anyone?

After Khobar, the US troops were moved way out into the middle of nowhere (and the middle of nowhere in Saudi Arabia is quite an accomplishment), which made them hard to strike. It was easier to hit America directly. Now, it’s probably easier to hit American troops in Iraq than it is to strike America.

Evidence? Like what, minutes from an Al Qaeda executive council meeting?

We have 30K US troops as a “tripwire” for South Korea. Does that bother you? Did the massive US troop deployments in Europe during the Cold War, protecting West Germany bother you? I’m just, you know, curious.

“Evidence? Like what, minutes from an Al Qaeda executive council meeting?”
Well you are the one making the claim, you should know what evidence you have in mind. Otherwise it’s just a random theory pulled out of thin air.

The problem is trying to prove a negative. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. So that’s pretty hard to do. But it is interesting that the US didn’t raise the threat level during July 4th, like it did last year. And it’s interesting that there haven’t yet been any organized terror attacks on the US mainland in retaliation for Iraq. Why not? Meanwhile, there are 10-25 attacks a day on US troops in Iraq.

If you had asked me on 9/12/01 to predict what it would be like in the US in 2003, I would have expected 10-25 attacks/day from Muslim terrorists inside the US. Instead there are zero, despite the fact that the US has stirred up multiple hornet’s nests since 9/11. Why is that? Do you think that there’s just the slightest possibility that the presence of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq might be diverting attention away from the US mainland? And if not, why not?

I dont believe in the “Lightning Rod” scenario either. The troops stationed there are not being used as bait to lure the local terrorism element away from plans of home strike. International terrorism will operate internationally regardless of what happens in Iraq. What the war removed was a financer and supporter of terrorism. Saddam, as well as Osama, are heroes to the repressed Arab world. Defeating them tends to deflate their invincibility myth. Troops in Saudi Arabia and now in Iraq are rationalization to a logic which I still dont comprehend fully. As what happened during the war, any damn thing that happens, no matter who was responsible, it always became America’s fault, so terrorism doesnt need a logical reason to exist or function and it certainly doesnt limit itself to any locality. Terrorism is a media grabber. Its gotta be flashy, sensational, over the top. You cant do the same thing twice or the media gets bored and wont put your story in (along with soundbytes of your manifesto)

The reason international terrorism isnt rampant is because of heightened alerts and the war in afghanistan. The reason Iraqis arent buying parts to make WMD is because theyre busy shooting US troops and the family assistance program for suicide bombers is offically terminated. No more free oil for Syria so maybe terrorists training there will have to scrounge for their own money. The US showed that with or without popular approval of the world, it will do what it thinks is necesary to keep its interest secure, so maybe Palestine and Israel will think twice about perpetuating their private little war with each other. We have several dozens of people in legal limbo in Cuba. Not many westeners approve of it, but a lot of terrorists can relate to being imprisoned indefinitely. Maybe they’ll think several times over about walking into america and blowing something up.

All those things contribute more to the stability of that region than troops in that area. The troops are there to actually protect Iraqi resources so that they will have something to live on when the troops leave. The troops are there to maintain order so that a new govt can take over. Personally they could use twice the number of troops than what are stationed there now.

Now as far as deliberately stationing troops in an area that is obviously hostile, thats their JOB. Its what they were trained to do. They know the risks and have worked hard to learn the ways no minimize the risk and overcome any obstacle. If they attract terrorist elements, then that is a bonus since they would function as protectors of the civilians. This is fine so long as they are allowed and able to counter those elements. If they US forces there are used as bait, keep in mind that this 'bait" bites. One last thing, since it is my opinon (that you quoted) that people who target troops are not terrorists, then that makes the “lightning rod” scenario even more dubious. If the troops are a lightning rod, they are certainly not attracting terrorists.

So they struck both military and civilian targets despite having military targets in easy reach.

“And it’s interesting that there haven’t yet been any organized terror attacks on the US mainland in retaliation for Iraq”
But there were no major attacks between 9-11 and the war on Iraq either. And there were no major attacks on US soil for several years before 9-11. For whatever reason terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists on US soil have been rare before and after 9-11. So the absence of attacks after the recent war shows nothing at all.

“And if not, why not?”
I have already explained why the lighting rod theory is implausible in my first post. Since you continue to provide zero evidence for it there is no reason to take it seriously.

Also turning Iraq into a deathly playground between the USA and terrorist groups would shatter the idea that this whole business is about giving Iraqis a better life, I don`t know you, but I wouldn´t like to get cought in a cross fire, as already has happened.