President Obama has finally figured out the critical element in defeating fanatical Islamic terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaida. The key is a 2 part strategy – don’t mention Islam and create jobs. These are the core issues that the White House is currently focused on, based on the speech made Wednesday and to be announced today at the Countering Violent Extremism summit.
These views are not new. President Obama made a similar call to action at the United Nations General Assembly in 2014. But that was before 21 Christians were beheaded leading to an denouncement by the Pope. That was before a Jordanian air force pilot, and reportedly 45 Iraqis, were burned alive. In the face of these atrocities, it is difficult to accept the simplistic approach that President Obama is presenting.
As stated by Marie Harf, a deputy spokesperson for the US Department of State, on February 17, 2015, on Hardball with Chris Matthews
“But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium and longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups.Whether is lack of opportunity of jobs…”
Secretary of State John Kerry has been reported as backing up that same claim, by the Associated Press on February 19, 2015, that what is needed is an approach that encompasses everything from killing terrorists (his words were “extermists”) on the battlefield to improving opportunities for disaffected youth. A day earlier President Obama emphasized the need to “eradicate this scourge of violent extremism” and that “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
But the stated views from the Obama Administration obfuscate a critical fact that is equally or more to the core of these terrorist groups – fanatical religious belief. No matter how the terrorist groups of the Middle East and Northern Africa (Boko Haram, et al) are looked at, integral to that view is their belief that they are in a holy war. No matter what job is offered, no matter the living conditions, even the boundary of nation of origin is immaterial when a fanatical view of religion is the universally consistent theme of these terrorist groups.
In attempting to ignore the direct and essential religious component of these terrorist groups the Obama Administration is eliminating a tool in understanding how to combat this enemy. The simplistic notion that money is the core problem flies in the face of the fact that ISIS, as an example, is self-supporting financially. It also ignores that an estimated 20,000 foreign nations (including people from Europe and the US) have joined ISIS in its cause, with many of those nations having job opportunities available. In fact, based on the fanatical beliefs of these groups, money is a key problem as that is tied to the excesses they believe are corrupting the world and thus must be removed from the face of the Earth. The wealth and excess of America is the reason that these types of terrorist have called for America to be eliminated for decades.
But let us assume that the President is somehow correct. That the mere ability to access a job will remove fanatical terrorists. How are these jobs to be created? With 158 million Americans receiving Government aid,18.7 million unemployed or underemployed (U-6 data from BLS) and a participation rate of 62.5% ( a level not seen since the winter of 1977) the US can’t create jobs and has failed to do so for more than 6 years. How are poor nations with no infrastructure going to suddenly create jobs en masse to combat fanatical religious terrorist groups when the US is having difficulty? Who is going to pay for the creation of these jobs? Ultimately, even if this were to happen, as Chris Matthews responded to the comment from Marie Harf quoted above,
“We won’t be able to stop that in out lifetime, or 50 lifetimes. There is always going to be poor people, there is always going to be poor muslims, and as long as there are poor muslims the trumpets blowing they’ll join.”
While it may feel good to say that the answer to ISIS and similar fanatical terrorist groups is just ignoring them, or trying to keep them preoccupied, it is hardly an effective plan. Especially when the reality is considered that there will always be someone who is poor, or feels downtrodden, or isolated from the mainstream. Even in a communist utopia, human nature will still leave some on the wayside. Which says nothing of the fact that what some believe as the will of the God they worship cannot be bought or distracted.
The long-term answer to ISIS and other terrorist groups unified by a fanatical religious belief is daunting. There is no one simple answer. That said, addressing poverty should be a part of the solution. At the same time, a committed and resolute response to the atrocity they have committed is equally necessary. Perhaps if President Obama and his Administration could spend as much energy and focus on restricting the territorial growth of ISIS, and on encouraging real action against Boko Haram as opposed to hashtags slogans, then there could be time and opportunity to address the other factors they are promoting.
In the end, the secret weakness that is being revealed is not that of ISIS or other fanatical terrorist groups. The real weakness is in a President who is either unwilling or incapable of addressing the issue at hand. The not so secret fatal flaw, is that the most powerful leader of the world lacks both the conviction to name the enemy he faces, and the failure of leadership to unify allies and nations facing the same threat to effectively combat this foe. While there can be no guarantee, if these fatal flaws were to be addressed, it seems likely that the growth of ISIS and fanatical religious terrorists across the world would not be the same as today.