Hitting Terrorism’s Roots

Hitting Terrorism’s Roots


While the Bush Administration continues to build an international coalition it hopes will allow it to strike back effectively at those responsible for the September 11 attacks, three issues that helped set the stage for those atrocious crimes must be dealt with.

The first is the troublesome question of Israel and Palestine. Last year the two came within a hair’s breadth of a land-for-peace deal. It failed, and Ariel Sharon’s first instinct after the September 11 attacks was to cancel further meetings with the Palestinians–exactly the wrong instinct, and one now haltingly reversed by pressure from Shimon Peres and the White House. But until that deal is signed–and the two peoples accept the resulting settlement, however imperfect–there can be no peace or security for any of us. Such a deal may finally require a long-term multinational peacekeeping force placed between the two, but its cost, however great, is less than we will all bear if we do not find resolution to this central issue.

Second is the matter of governance. One hardly needs intimate familiarity with the human rights records of governments from Morocco in the West to Pakistan in the East to realize that many of America’s allies and enemies alike fail the most minimal tests of democracy and human decency–and that they must change. This is not to advocate invasion, CIA subversion or Iraq-style embargoes but rather to support concerted multilateral action that expands pressures for political and social reform and that works with forces within those countries toward that end. Nothing will come quickly or without risk, but to leave intact the power arrangements of the Middle East–as we did in the wake of the Gulf War–invites the worst possible outcome. Terrorists are bred most easily among terrorized and humiliated peoples.

Finally there is the issue of economic development and aid. There are a billion Muslims, most of them desperately poor, and most living in a swath of the globe stretching from the Strait of Gibraltar east to the Indonesian archipelago. In the days following September 11, Congress authorized $40 billion in emergency funds without debate, then $15 billion for US airlines, and George W. Bush has now proposed spending up to $75 billion more. Given such numbers, and with the economies of America, Europe and Japan producing more than $20 trillion a year, why pretend that we can do no more than promote failed “structural adjustment” programs?

As it readies for war, America would do well to remember that 3 billion human beings live on less than $2 a day, and at least 10 million die of easily preventable disease and malnutrition each year. Then there is the global impact of the terrorist attacks and US-led preparations for retaliation. James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, predicts a “largely unseen” human toll, estimating that “between 20,000 and 40,000 more children will die worldwide and some 10 million people will be condemned to live below the poverty line of $1 a day.” Wolfensohn attributes these effects to severe drops in commodity prices and a burgeoning global recession; a World Bank study predicts 2001 growth of less than 1 percent in the industrialized countries.

Even if Osama bin Laden is dead next year, given such realities, no new airport security measures or Special Forces deployments or missile defense shields will protect us from those who arise to take his place. Instead, we must re-engage with the world, attacking not the enemies we cannot see but the enemies we can. We need what has been called a “new era of global Keynesianism”–a commitment to relieving the globe’s most fundamental problems of food and health and joblessness. That, plus a stiff dose of political fairness and human rights, offers the best antidote to terrorism.

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