President Obama’s vow to destroy ISIS by way of a bombing campaign sets the course for another American misadventure.
His strategy fails to recognize that global terrorism is inspired and well financed by systemic flaws in the international economy, and that global security cannot be accomplished without greater commitments of military resources – from the United States and its allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Germany, Japan, China and a few of their acolytes have selfishly exploited global commerce. They pursue export-oriented development strategies that cheat on the international rules for global competition and thrust gaping trade deficits, crippling debt and terrible unemployment onto other nations.
Consequently, youth in too many nations lack any prospect for decent jobs. Hopeless young Muslims fall easy prey to radical intellectuals who offer religious meaning for their despair and disaffection. They end up performing heinous acts and toting a rifle for ISIS.
And often U.S. allies turn a blind eye and permit their businesses and banks to profit from commerce that helps support terrorism.
The cancer has metastasized to spawn terrorist groups and cells on every continent financed through business fronts, extortion and donations. They recruit fighters from the United States, Britain, France and all the way to Australia. They kidnap Westerners and Africans for ransom, and they commit far-reaching acts of wanton violence.
American bombings in Syria and Iraq will slow down ISIS, but they will hardly destroy it.
Leaving moderate rebels to fight both Bashir al Assad and ISIS on the ground in Syria is folly, even with Western logistical and materiel support. Al Assad will get what he needs from Russia, and Western soldiers – not just Americans – will be needed to fully root out ISIS.
Germany, moderate Middle East states and others lament the withdrawal of American leadership in the face of aggression – be it from Russia or terrorist groups in the Muslim world. But for too long now, those governments have expected and been willing to let Americans and a few others to do the fighting. They provide only logistical support and limited money, even though their militaries are quite well endowed through purchases of U.S. arms and their economies are well able to bear the full cost of war.
European governments have even paid ransom for kidnapped citizens rather than wrinkle the uniforms of their soldiers to rescue them. Along with appeasement of Russian aggression in the Ukraine and elsewhere, those have only emboldened terrorist notions that the West and its more moderate Muslim allies are weak, decadent and worthy of extermination.
Obama won the presidency promising to redress global economic imbalances and offering greater economic justice for Americans whose wages are beaten down by the abuses of globalization. And the notion that the latter can be done with little cost by withdrawing the U.S. military from foreign engagements and turning the savings into universal health care and other social welfare.
Terrorists will remain ardent in their conviction that the West is vulnerable as long as the United States and its pacifist allies are unwilling to put their troops in harm’s way to rescue their own citizens and destroy those who threaten them. Even on a full war footing, the United States military, along with a few willing allies, cannot confront terrorism on a global scale if Germany and others are not willing to step up and fight too.
And until the global economy functions to ensure meaningful futures for young people everywhere – not just in the mercantilist states of northern Europe and Asia – they will remain easy pickings for twisted ideas. Terrorism will continue to be an uncontainable threat.
In the end, an American president will simply have to demand and receive more help from U.S. allies, and Americans must be willing to pay the full price for liberty – in money and lives.
Peter Morici served as Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission from 1993 to 1995. He is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland.