Confusing correlation with causation

Captain's Quarters talks about the leaked NIE suggesting Iraq was responsible for the increase in terrorism:


It makes the classic logical fallacy of confusing correlation with causation, and the basic premise can easily be dismissed with a reminder of some basic facts.

First and foremost, Islamist radicalism didn't just start expanding in 2003. The most massive expansion of Islamist radicalism came after the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, when the Islamists defeated one of the world's superpowers. Shortly afterwards, the staging of American forces in Saudi Arabia to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait created the most significant impulse for the expansion of organized Islamist radicalism and led directly to the formation of al-Qaeda. It put the US in Wahhabi jihadist crosshairs for the first time.


Power Line also comments:


De Young's story conflates a number of different alleged phenomena: (1) terrorism is becoming more decentralized, (2) successful recruting of terrorists is on the rise, (3) terrorists are using the Iraq war as the centerpiece of their recruiting campaigns, (4) the sitation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position with respect to fighting terrorism. De Young's confusion (or the confusion she induces in the reader) reaches its climax when she proclaims that the "conclusions and tone" of the NIE "have been reflected in a number of public statements by senior intelligence officials this year." De Young cites a statement by John Negroponte that "[m]y colleagues and I sill view the global jihadist terrorist movement, which emerged from the Afghan-Soviet conflict in the 1980s but is today inspired and led by al Qaeda, as the preeiminent threat to our citizens, homeland interests and friends." This statement may have some very slight connection to phenomena (1) and (2) cited above, but they do not "reflect" phenomena (3) and (4) at all.

De Young also cites a statement by CIA Director Michael Hayden that "threats to the U.S. at home and abroad will become more diverse and that could lead to increasing attacks worldwide." Again, on its face this statement has no relation to the question of the impact of the war in Iraq on our overall efforts to combat terrorism.

It may be the case that the terrorists are recruiting more members than before, and it's likely that terrorists rely heavily on the war in Iraq when they engage in recruiting. But it does not follow that the war is hurting the overall terror fight or even that it's materially helping terrorists recruit. If we had not overthrown Saddam Hussein, the terrorists would hardly be without a sales pitch. They could cite the "crusade" in Afghanistan (which some liberals assure us would be intense if only we weren't bogged down in Iraq), our support of Israel including our support of its bombing campaign in Lebanon, our support of the Saudis, and the fact that we backed down in Iraq. These sorts of recruiting pitches fueled the rise of al Qaeda in the 1990s. If the NIE argues that this decade's Islamofascists need the war in Iraq on top of its traditional arguments in order effectively to recruit, I'd like to see its evidence.


Even if it is accurate, it is irrelevant, and appears to be politically timed for the fall election to push the agenda of those who want to lose the war in Iraq.

Imagine such an intelligence estimate in the early 1940's. It would suggest that declaaring war on Nazi Germany in 1939 had resulted in higher German recruiting efforts and more attacks on England. Is the point of this "analysis" that we should not resist terrorism?

Isn't another logical conclusion to be drawn from events that the war in Iraq has caused more of the terrorist to reveal themselves so that they can be killed or captured? The honey trap arguement still has some relevance for Iraq when it comes to al Qaeda's response. In fact it can be argued that al Qaeda has been sucked into a losing quagmire in Iraq. It is their forces that are suffering the greatest attrition in Iraq at the same time they are alienating the population.


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