President George W. Bush has joined the root-causes-of-terrorism crowd.
It seems this stunning development has escaped the attention of the conservatives and non-cons who have decried the commentators and analysts who dare assert terrorists are assisted by unwise U.S. foreign and economic policies. If one raises the possibility terrorists find support in other lands partly due to antipathy toward American actions (and not only so-called American values), conservatives are lightning-fast to label such talk the muddled-headed thinking of a self-hating, blame-America-firster. If one speaks of the dire economic and political conditions in which many people overseas are forced to live, such sentiment is blasted as evidence one is soft on terrorism and a coddler of evildoers. Yet when Bush spoke at a recent U.N. conference on international development, he explicitly recognized a direct link between poverty and terrorism and he implicitly suggested that the U.S. policies have not sufficiently addressed this matter.
At the confab in Monterrey, Mexico, Bush said the United States would gradually increase its assistance to poor nations by 50 percent–which would mean in several years a $5 billion boost over current levels. “We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror,” he declared.
With that sentence, Bush seemingly recognized that terrorism is not irrational behavior unattached from the surroundings in which it arises. And he was acknowledging that “draining the swamp” for terrorists–as Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the military action in Afghanistan–requires more than armed force. Bush was saying the United States and the other wealthy nations must counter conditions that can cause people to turn to terrorism or to cheer on terrorists.
Such a statement carries serious implications. It does not excuse or justify terrorism. But it does expand the obligations of those who bear the responsibility for protecting the United States from acts of terrorism. If “hope” is indeed one “answer to terror,” then the leaders of the United States must work to expand hope in faraway lands–not an easy or cheap mission. Bush has just assumed a greater burden, one that extends beyond trouncing al Qaeda.
Bush’s Monterrey speech received less media attention than his troublesome encounter with a pretzel. But it deserves notice as a marker, an IOU (or we-owe-you). There are, no surprise, signs that he may not make good on this. The United States will place conditions on the money, meaning that recipient nations must pass certain tests to qualify for help. The new standards might be legitimate. For example, the United States could require assurances that the money will not be skimmed by corrupt bureaucrats. But these standards could also follow in the tradition of coercive Western demands that impoverished nations privatize and engage in structural adjustments that cause economic dislocation. Secretary Paul O’Neill has been ordered by Bush to help draw up the rules, and he has long been skeptical of international aid.