How to Reduce Terrorism
To overcome the terrorism that is rooted in the Middle East, we must do these things:
We need to make a comprehensive, concerted and sustained global effort to seek out and capture terrorists that have attacked the United States. Enlisting other nations of the world in this effort is critical.
We must provide domestic protection against terrorist acts, including gathering effective intelligence regarding potential attacks. We must know the location and status of nuclear materials around the world. At present, these safeguards are not receiving the funding or priority required because of the cost and distraction of the Iraqi war.
Achieving these goals will only serve to reduce the negative. The infinitely more important and effective work requires building up the positive.
In cases where the cause of the extremists has gained currency among a larger constituency, and where these extremists are carrying out acts of terrorism, the population will only rescind its support if occupation or oppression is addressed. The evidence that this has occurred will be a withdrawal or acceptable compromise with the occupier, or, to replace the oppression, the implementation of government that truly fulfills its basic obligations: providing the affected population with a genuine voice in government, enforcement of property rights, broad opportunity for economic advancement, and personal freedom and safety—along with the absence of large-scale public corruption and suppression of dissenting voices. We cannot reform terrorists, but we can eliminate their appeal. We do not need to appease terrorists, rather we must study closely the plight of the population of those countries that have supported them and use our influence to ease their plight. If we succeed, we deprive terrorists of their sympathizers and their prospective recruits.
The current administration is correct in its belief that bona fide democracy is a key in defusing terrorism. Its mistake was implementing this strategy first in Iraq for reasons we will discuss.
Merely moving a government toward democracy is not enough. There must be an equally vigorous effort to develop economic opportunity—a modern day Marshall Plan. Political power cannot become or remain broadly distributed unless economic power and opportunity and assets are also broadly distributed. Progress on either the political or economic front can accomplish much, yet only progress on both together can bring change that is truly enduring.
There are many ways to assist a country in distributing economic opportunity and wealth. Direct aid has its place, yet cannot achieve the job of broadly and sustainably sowing opportunity when it is poorly conceived, coordinated or managed—which is all-too-frequently the case. Such aid often breeds corruption and benefits only the few. Micro lending programs have shown promise, as have special economic zones. Some of the most successful efforts have been built on trade and land reform and distribution.
Consider briefly the example of Peru, a country of great poverty, which in the 1980s was emerging from a military dictatorship and undergoing rapid change with a concentration of wealth and land ownership among the elite. A terrorist organization known as the Shining Path bombed government buildings and attacked citizens. They were terrorists in every modern sense of the word, but in this case they advocated communism as a solution to the despair of Peruvians. Hernando de Soto writes of the choices facing government leaders:
“As early as 1984, I became convinced that the Shining Path (Sendero) would never be eliminated as a political option without first being defeated in the world of ideas. Like many, I felt that Sendero’s major strength stemmed from its intellectual appeal to those excluded by the system and its ability to generate a political cause for natural leaders, whether in universities or shantytowns…Research told us that one of the primary functions of terrorists in the Third World—what buys them acceptance—is protecting the possessions of the poor, which are typically outside the law. In other words, if government does not protect the assets of the poor, it surrenders this function to the terrorists, who can then use it to win the allegiance of the excluded.” (Hernando de Soto, The Other Path, Basic Books, 1989, pp. xiv-xxxix)
The Peruvian government continued moving toward a more representative form of governance, established and enforced property rights, decentralized decision-making to include citizen input, and transferred public land to private ownership among the disenfranchised. This unlocked a large reservoir of wealth and entrepreneurship within that country. After undertaking these efforts, the Shining Path faded in size and relevance until little remained. Not because the government had attacked its members, but because the government had attacked the root causes of their support. A surprising way to fight terrorism? The weapon is the spirit and power of the individual, not guns.
It is economic injustice that fuels global terrorism, writes De Soto, not cultural heritage. As a powerful example, De Soto reports that despite the world’s poor having accumulated over $9 trillion of real estate, it is their lack of property rights— clear title and a legal system to support it— that prohibits them from leveraging these assets into new capital, and thus retards their progress.
Democracy is a powerful instrument. The current Administration is correct in this regard. But merely the ability to vote is not sufficient. The effectiveness of America’s government rests on three principles of limit, each of which acknowledges the corrupting influence of power:
- Explicit limitation of government, as embodied in our constitution, especially such keys as habeas corpus and property rights
- Checks and balances created by a true separation of powers, including powers over the military
- Decentralization of government so that many decisions can truly be made at the local level.
Representative government by its very nature is not exclusionary. But we should not be misled by false indicators of open government, staged by some countries to create the impression that they are advancing in the proper direction. These are charades; voters are given no bona fide choices; opposition is suppressed.
Government reform, while important, is not sufficient on its own. Broad economic progress must also occur. Sustained, across-the-board economic prosperity cannot occur in a country unless property rights are assured and power is distributed and decentralized.
The United States, in conjunction with the community of nations, should use its economic support, its trade policy, and every other non-military means of positive influence it possesses to encourage countries to migrate in this direction. The path to democracy is complex, and while change will not happen overnight, incremental steps can be taken.
An important additional note must be made. Recent terrorist attacks have occurred in countries like Spain and Britain, where occupation and oppression do not exist in the manner that we have described above. Rather, this terrorism reflects the migration of violence from countries where it does. Palestine is cited more than any other cause. Close behind is the support of countries like Britain for perceived occupiers and oppressors. These acts of terrorism also reflect the scars that result from the colonial legacy and the stark economic disparities in these countries relative to the West. Muslim immigrants from the Middle East residing in London, as one example, have relatives and friends in Palestine, Iraq and elsewhere and often deeply share their concerns. It follows that extremism will not significantly abate in a place like London unless occupation and oppression in the Middle East abate as well.
The extremism in counties like Britain and Spain reflects the plight and alienation of any excluded minority in any society—and in this sense is at least partially akin to the black civil rights movements and race riots in the United States in the 1960s. As America has learned, progressive policies of inclusion—and policies that leave room for the customs and traditions of these immigrants—are a necessary part of addressing the plight of an excluded minority. Properly conceived, these policies will convey a sense of welcome that will bring psychological integration — identification with, and loyalty to that immigrant's new country. Contrast, for example, the vitriol to be found in America’s newspapers and political speeches in the 1890s regarding Jewish, Italian and other immigrants with the contributions they provide to American society today.