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Enter Stage Gabbing

How not to deal with terrorists

The Professor

By Steven Martinovich

(February 25, 2002) - Old soldiers may fade away, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur once famously said, but it's a rule of thumb that old politicians keep going. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton illustrated that during a visit to Canada on February 18. In Montreal for a fundraiser for that city's hospitals, Clinton asked Canadians to continue supporting America's war on terrorism even as it expanded past Afghanistan.

The former president also spoke on the roots of terrorism, perhaps best illustrating why his administration failed when it came to dealing with terrorists like Osama bin Laden. In order to address the root cause of terrorism, said Clinton, the world's resources had to be shared more equitably to combat the poverty that hundreds of millions live with.

"A billion people will go to bed hungry tonight," he said. "We cannot afford a strategy that is based just on defense, prevent-and-punish."

It is Clinton's notions that poverty fuels terrorism and that improved health care and education would undercut support for future terrorist groups that perhaps is the reason why groups like al-Qaida were able to build up massive organizations capable of perpetrating the acts of September 11. It is also a remarkably wrong-headed approach.

"[I]t is not poverty that causes terrorism and violent upheaval so much as it is development," said author Robert Kaplan this week.

"The French, Mexican, and other revolutions were preceded by social and economic change more than by stagnation. It is precisely the dramatic economic growth and modernization in places such as Indonesia, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, and so on that we have witnessed in recent decades that will cause political upheavals -- some violent -- in the years to come. While foreign aid may be a moral good in and of itself, do not assume that it will alleviate terrorism. The terrorists of September 11 and the suicide bombers in Israel were products of middle class development, not of poverty."

The development that Kaplan spoke of leads not to poverty but to increased urbanization. That urbanization, as any social scientist can attest to, promotes the creation of new social groups who increasingly make their ambitions -- both benign and malign -- known. That inevitably begins to put pressure on governments and the weaker those insitutions are, the more likely that violence will occur. The terrorists of September 11 were largely from Saudi Arabia, a rich and urbanized nation which nonetheless is facing increasing pressure from Islamic militants in its midst. Saudi Arabia's encouragement of so many young men to venture to Afghanistan in the 1980s to make war on the Soviet Union's forces was less about a holy war and more about protecting itself from future political upheaval.

As Kaplan points out, increased foreign aid may be good but it does little to cease the fomenting of militancy. Egypt is a recipient of billions of dollars in American aid every year and yet it is nonetheless a nation facing huge political and social upheavals caused by militants.

Where Clinton, and Kaplan for that matter, go wrong is their belief that global capitalism is the force that is causing these upheavals and is indirectly responsible for the events of September 11, ironic given that the mastermind behind the destruction of the World Trade Center was the son of a fantastically wealthy businessman.

What is really needed to combat terrorism isn't a redistribution of wealth from the first to the second and third worlds, but rather a committed policy of encouraging capitalism, democracy and stability. Clinton would be hard pressed to name one nation that enjoys those three virtues and hasn't become at least a reasonable success at fulfilling the dreams of a majority of its citizens. Even Turkey, admittedly far from a perfect example, has slowly begun to reconcile the dreams of its secularist, Islamic and Armenian populations not by following the advice of Clinton and Kaplan, but by pursuing a course of action that makes it look to the West for its inspiration, not to the East.

A pardoning of Puerto Rican terrorists in 1999 and inaction when it came to the acknowledged threat of bin Laden marked the Clinton administration's approach to terrorism. His response to attack was an ineffectual display of military power that sent a message of weakness. Now he wants to pay off disaffected middle class terrorists with money, education and health care. George W. Bush is beginning to look like Winston Churchill in comparison.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich

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