Now we know why apocalyptic jihadists rule vast stretches of the Middle East, beheading and burning alive all who oppose them.
Because it’s too hard to start a business in Syria.
At least that’s the verdict of State Department spokesperson Marie Harf, who declared earlier this week that fighting the Islamic State terror group, or ISIS, means focusing on “root causes,” like economic conditions that make it easier for young Muslim men to “pick up an AK-47 instead of trying to start a business.”
She was roundly mocked for this statement, but was only giving voice to the president’s own ideology. Writing in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, President Obama declared:
Efforts to counter violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. Those efforts must be matched by economic, educational and entrepreneurial development so people have hope for a life of dignity.
This is the language of an anti-poverty program – more suitable for the war on poverty launched in the 1960’s by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson.
This is not the language of war.
And it betrays willful ignorance of the facts and of the nature of our enemy.
There is no significant connection between poverty and jihadist terror. Of the ten poorest nations in the world, only one – Somalia –is on the global index of the Top 10 most affected by terrorism.
Indeed, terrorists are flocking to the ISIS banner from Western Europe, a place where it is indeed easier to “start a business” than to “pick up an AK-47.” France, Germany and Britain are among the wealthiest nations on Earth and feature welfare states more lavish than America’s.
Yet more British Muslims are reportedly fighting for ISIS than have voluntarily joined the British Army.
The most notorious terrorists are often wealthy, coming from educated backgrounds. Usama bin Laden came from a wealthy Saudi family. Mohamed Atta -- one of the key leaders of the 9/11 attacks -- was an architect. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has advanced degrees from the University of Baghdad.
Jihadists are motivated by religious belief, not by poverty.
The situation is both absurd and tragic.
Writing in The Atlantic, Graeme Wood refutes the notion that we can explain jihadists through modern political or economic analysis:
The situation is both absurd and tragic.
There is a temptation to rehearse this observation -- that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise -- and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.
When the apocalypse is at stake, “starting a business” is a waste of time.
In my book, “Rise of ISIS, A Threat We Can’t Ignore,” I argue that the right response to jihadists is time-tested: Overwhelming force.
In fact, we faced and defeated the precursor to ISIS before. ISIS spawned directly from Al Qaeda in Iraq, and by the end of the Surge (where we used crushing force to defeat terrorist militias) Al Qaeda in Iraq was largely defeated, unable to threaten the Iraqi government. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi spent time in American custody -- just another no-name terrorist crowding Iraq’s detention facilities.
But the Obama administration threw away victory, withdrawing our troops and then withholding support from key allies until it was almost too late. Al Qaeda in Iraq gained new life in Syria (as ISIS), then poured back into Iraq, triggering the geopolitical crisis we face today.
Now we’re left with the worst of both worlds -- an administration that is plainly not committed to using the necessary force to defeat our enemies while mouthing platitudes about economic opportunity that seemed purposefully designed to make Americans complacent about the threat.
As a result, we neither fight with the force required nor do we actually do anything about the poverty and lack of opportunity that the administration says is the real “root cause” of the conflict. What’s the administration’s plan for new tech start-ups in Mosul?
The situation is both absurd and tragic. Absurd, because the language of new businesses and “legitimate grievances” is virtual self-parody. Tragic, because our willful blindness and lack of will is costing lives and harming our national security.
Our fight against ISIS is a real war, not a fake “war on poverty” or a politically correct war on “extremism.”
And in real war, you fight your enemy until he surrenders or ceases to exist.