Consequences of bin Laden’s Death

Clint Watts over at Selected Wisdom conducted a voluntary (self-selected) response poll shortly after bin Laden’s death asking about likely consequences. He put up the first of the results yesterday:

Here is a graphic representation of the results.  The bottom scale represents the total number of votes for each responses.

Here’s a graphic representation of the four largest groups broken down by percentages for each choice  (Sum of the %’s of each group across all categories equals 100%).   Interesting initial findings in these results are:

  1. Government respondents chose “Status Quo” less than any other group.  Additionally, government respondents were more evenly distributed across all answer choices than any other group.
  2. Academic respondents were highly clustered around “Status Quo” and “Zawahiri takes control of AQ”
  3. Students appear strongly aware of AQAP’s rise.  This may be indicative of how they get their information (Only a hypothesis at this point).
  4. Private sector respondents chose “AQ directed plots increase” at a much higher rate than all other groups.  Private sector voters also selected “AQ fundraising will decrease” at double the rate of any other group.

Tomorrow, I’ll post additional representations of this data.

The first thing that jumped out at me is that “AQ Central plots increase” had NO votes from academics, but was one of the top three responses for the private sector. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here and say that private sector folks actually believe this and aren’t giving poll results along lines that will keep them employed–and maybe their beliefs on this question are why they self-selected into the private sector anyway.

When I took the poll it seemed obvious to me that Zawahiri would take control of AQ at least temporarily, since he’s their #2 (whether he can keep the group united or not is an entirely different matter). However, there was little difference in my mind between this answer and “status quo”–in fact there were a lot of answers that fit with my belief about the most probable outcome. But Clint’s a pro so I’m sure he had reasons for asking the questions the way he did–and there’s a lot more good stuff here that he will be expounding on in the coming days, so stay tuned over at his blog.

UPDATE: First saw this on BBC Arabic last night this morning and now that it’s coming from Peter Bergen, it looks like I was wrong: an Egyptian named Saif al-Adel is reportedly now leading al-Qaeda. The FBI has known about this guy for a while.

Effects of Killing bin Laden, Pt. 3

This will be quick because I’m on my way to present my findings on the Mexico project (which I will share more about here after getting some feedback from the workshop today).

1. The Mission – The more details emerge about the mission to kill OBL, the more impressed I am with our Special Operations Forces. Apparently their helicopter wouldn’t take off at the end of the raid, so they had to destroy it and find an alternate route. I’m sure they already had a backup plan or two, but this shows just how far we’ve come in the 30-plus years since the failed raid to recover Iranian hostages. As I note in my research, the specific method of removal (eg shot from a mile away with a sniper rifle or killed up close and personal like this seems to have been) has almost no effect on future levels of violence.

2. The Body – It took almost no time for conspiracy theories to start swirling around this, and it doesn’t help that the body was buried at sea. There is a certain rationale to the whole treating his body respectfully thing, and the not giving terrorists a martyr’s shrine thing, but I think the American people deserve a little more satisfaction than this. Ultimately if jihadists want to visit a site related to bin Laden’s death, they can go to Pakistan and do so, whether his body is there or not. And I can only imagine the way that Saudi Arabia treats the bodies of criminals that it executes in the name of “Islam.” I’ll be interested to see if we do notice an uptick in violence once pictures/videos of his body actually are released.

Discuss in the comments section below.

UPDATE: Andrew Exum echoes my first point (about development of SOF since Desert One) here

Effects of Killing bin Laden, Pt. 2

Since John Sides at The Monkey Cage was so kind as to link to my blog, I thought I had better get a new post up for the anticipated influx of viewers.

To answer the question of what would happen after the removal of bin Laden, I looked at a wide ranging of groups across time and space in an effort to get a generalizable answer. The primary finding that I explore in my paper is that violence seems to decrease after the removal of Tier One leaders and increase after the removal of midlevel leaders. The possible causal mechanisms for this are explained in the paper.

As mentioned before, my prediction for the coming months is this: no significant backlash against citizens in the continental US. Domestically we may see a few lone wolves who take this as a window of opportunity to air their own grievances, and internationally our troops may see sporadic, minor upticks in violence. But no reasonable person expects this to result in another 9/11: make no mistake, killing Osama is a victory.

There is plenty in my paper that can be critiqued, and has already at various conferences. I welcome any additional criticism or remarks here. In an effort to further test my theory, I am also nearly finished with a paper that explores the same question in Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations. So far, the Tier One/Tier Two distinction holds up well.

The ultimate test of my theory will be what happens in the coming months and weeks. Stay tuned.


1. Today’s events notwithstanding, I have great appreciation and respect for the work that John and others do at The Monkey Cage. Many of my favorite political scientists have appeared there. They are in large part the inspiration for this blog. I was happy to read John’s recent article [pdf] about blogging in April’s issue of Political Science and Politics.

2. Standard disclaimer: all views and opinions on this blog and in my paper are my own. The University of Houston, Duke University, and the US Government in any of its agencies, offices, or contracts, are in no way responsible for the content, although I am deeply indebted to my colleagues and advisors for their support and guidance.

Effects of Killing bin Laden: Links

I’ll update this as good info comes in.

Foreign Policy has a timeline of the mission.

Taiwanese animation of how it may have gone down. (Warning: Graphic content. Not kidding.)

CSIS: “What might have been a decisive blow in 2001 or 2002 may have far less effect today.”

BBC has some satellite imagery and background info.

Terrorism expert Daniel Byman, who has written on this question before [gated], says Osama is dead but al Qaeda isn’t.

And Peter Feaver, a professor in the Security, Peace, and Conflict Studies program at Duke, shares these sensible remarks.

Effects of Killing bin Laden, Pt. 1

News is still flooding in on this, so I’ll be brief here and follow up when we know more. The question of “what will happen when we kill bin Laden?” has been the topic of my research for the last year-plus. I’ve attempted to answer this question in my undergraduate thesis and a series of conference papers that resulted from it. The March 31 version of the paper, presented at WPSA, is available via the Social Science Research Network.

In February I also gave a poster presentation in Austin, attempting to answer the question above.

So what do I predict will happen? Since bin Laden is a Tier One leader, I don’t think we’ll see any major backlash in violence in the short-term (3-6 months). However, I offer this with the huge caveat that al-Qaeda is unique in its corporate structure, networking with other groups, and (perceived) capabilities. If this had happened seven or eight years ago I think we would’ve seen huge protests from Jeddah to Jakarta, but now Arab youth seem to have other things on their mind.

Comments, follow-up questions, and even mildly informed disagreement are all welcome.


(Yes I know, Indonesia is not Arab.)