America should redouble and refocus its military action, not increase its foreign aid, if it wants to attack the root cause of terrorism.
Five years after Sept. 11, with Islamic terrorism flourishing while Americas military efforts are floundering, many recognize that we still have not identifiedand dealt withthe root cause of the terrorist threat.
The most popular theory about the root cause of terrorism is that terrorism is caused by poverty. The United Nations and our European and Arab allies repeatedly tell us to minimize our military operations and instead dole out more foreign aid to poor countriesto put down our guns and pick up our checkbook. Only by fighting poverty, the refrain goes, can we address the root cause of terrorism.
The pernicious idea that poverty causes terrorism has been a popular claim since the attacks of Sept. 11. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has repeatedly asked wealthy nations to double their foreign aid, naming as a cause of terrorism that far too many people are condemned to lives of extreme poverty and degradation. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell agrees: We have to put hope back in the hearts of people. We have to show people who might move in the direction of terrorism that there is a better way. Businessman Ted Turner also concurs: The reason that the World Trade Center got hit is because there are a lot of people living in abject poverty out there who dont have any hope for a better life.
Indeed, the argument that poverty causes terrorism has been central to Americas botched war in Iraqwhich has focused, not on quickly ending any threat the country posed and moving on to other crucial targets, but on bringing the good life to the Iraqi people.
Eliminating the root of terrorism is indeed a valid goalbut properly targeted military action, not welfare handouts, is the means of doing so.
Terrorism is not caused by poverty. The terrorists of Sept. 11 did not attack America to make the Middle East richer. To the contrary, their stated goal was to repel any penetration of the prosperous culture of the industrialized infidels into their world. The wealthy Osama bin Laden was not using his millions to build electric power plants or irrigation canals. If he and his terrorist minions wanted prosperity, they would seek to emulate the United Statesnot to destroy it.
More fundamental, poverty as such cannot determine anyones code of morality. It is the ideas that individuals choose to adopt that make them pursue certain goals and values. A desire to destroy wealth and to slaughter innocent, productive human beings cannot be explained by a lack of money or a poor quality of lifeonly by anti-wealth, anti-life ideas. These terrorists are motivated by the ideology of Islamic Fundamentalism. This other-worldly, authoritarian doctrine views Americas freedom, prosperity, and pursuit of worldly pleasures as the height of depravity. Its adherents resent Americas success and the appeal our culture has to many Middle Eastern youths. To the fundamentalists, Americans are infidels who should be killed. As a former Taliban official said: The Americans are fighting so they can live and enjoy the material things in life. But we are fighting so we can die in the cause of God.
The terrorists hate us because of their ideologya fact that filling up the coffers of Third World governments will do nothing to change. What, then, can our government do? It cannot directly eradicate the deepest, philosophical roots of terrorism; but by using military force, it can eliminate the only root cause relevant in a political context: state sponsorship of terrorism. The fundamentalists hostility toward America can translate into international terrorism only via the governments that employ, finance, train, and provide refuge to terrorist networks. Such assistance is the cause of the terrorist threatand America has the military might to remove that cause.
It is precisely in the name of fighting terrorism at its root that America must extend its fist, not its hand. Whatever other areas of the world may require U.S. troops to stop terrorist operations, we must above all go after the single main source of the threatIran. This theocratic nation is both the birthplace of the Islamic Fundamentalist revolution and, as a consequence, a leading sponsor of terrorism. Removing that government from power would be a potent blow against Islamic terrorism. It would destroy the political embodiment of the terrorists cause. It would declare Americas intolerance of support for terrorists. It would be an unequivocal lesson, showing what will happen to other countries if they fail to crack down on terrorists within their borders. And it would acknowledge the fact that dropping bombs, not food packages, is the only way for our government to attack terrorism at its root.
Alex Epstein is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the ideas of Ayn Randbest-selling author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and originator of the philosophy of Objectivism.
From the Nov.8-14, 2006, issue