Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Program on Energy and Sustainable Development Stanford University


Al Qaeda's Miscommunication War: The Terrorism Paradox

Journal Article

Max Abrahms - Post-Doctoral Fellow at CISAC

Published by
Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 17, page(s) 529-549

The Bush administration's response to the September 11 attacks has rendered more urgent Al Qaeda's stated objective to eject the United States from the Middle East. The aim here is not to evaluate the direction of the war on terrorism, but to explore why Al Qaeda has been so unsuccessful in capitalizing on its political violence. The article begins with the premise that terrorism is a communication strategy. It contends that Al Qaeda's policy failures are due to its inability to convince Bush that it would refrain from attacking Americans if the United States moderated its Middle East policies. Borrowing from the literature in political psychology and perception and misperception in international relations, the article offers several explanations for Al Qaeda's ineffectiveness in getting this message across. The article concludes by deriving general observations about the limitations of terrorism as a form of political communication.