Thursday, July 17, 2008

Robert Gates: A Beacon of Reason in a Sea of Madness

**Update Appended 7/17 @ 1900**

Though statements like the ones Secretary of Defense Gates made recently warning of "creeping militarism" in American foreign policy would have set off a Cat-5 storm and resulted in collective gnashing of teeth if Barack Obama had uttered them, they are worth noting simply for their imposition of a rare, even if fleeting, incursion of reason on the body politic. Gates, in the process, has just earned himself a new nickname from his boss: Fredo.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned yesterday against the risk of a "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy, saying the State Department should lead U.S. engagement with other countries, with the military playing a supporting role.

"We cannot kill or capture our way to victory" in the long-term campaign against terrorism, Gates said, arguing that military action should be subordinate to political and economic efforts to undermine extremism.

This of course is obvious to plenty of people with a resume less impressive than Gates, but still remains almost entirely absent from the foreign policy discussion. What Gates understands is that in fighting 'terrorism,' the US is not fighting a definite enemy. Terrorism is a tactic, not a foe. It's easy to pin terms like 'Islamofascism' on it, but those do nothing to address the core cause of terrorism itself. No matter how many 'enemy combatants' the US detains and/or tortures, the root causes of militancy remain. Truly, "we cannot kill or capture our way to victory."

The root causes are not difficult to ascertain, with that ever-present 'militarism' of American foreign policy having a share in it, as well as the economic devastation in many regions of the world. Though the US may capture thousands of 'enemy combatants,' the economic and nationalistic reasons for terrorism remain, and until our leaders begin to address that core, terrorism will survive.

"America's civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long -- relative to what we traditionally spend on the military, and more importantly, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world," Gates said at a dinner organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign, according to prepared remarks of his speech.

Over the next 20 years, Gates predicted, "the most persistent and potentially dangerous threats will come less from emerging ambitious states, than from failing ones that cannot meet the basic needs -- much less the aspirations -- of their people."

In my estimation, a significant effort on the part of the Western World to lift up the economies of the Middle East and elsewhere would go much further toward achieving the goals of the War on Terror than a thousand bunker busters or cluster bombs ever will. Given an outlet other than poverty, the reasons for militancy will begin to fade away.

History is full of examples of economic devastation leading to militancy, as it is far from a new phenomenon. When populations face economic devastation, natural instinct causes them to seek out a scapegoat, and nationalism grows exponentially. The rise of Hitler in the 30s cannot be divorced from the obscene levels of inflation in Weimar Germany.

When I speak of economic aid, it's important to stress that it must differ from the aid we've offered in the past. Typically, loans to foreign countries come with stipulations that they privatize their entire system, gut their government, and allow multinational companies to take nearly all of the profits back home. In other words, the aid never gets to, and often worsens the prospects of, the people it's meant to help. The West must provide the populations at large in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan an opportunity for economic success, on their own terms and with the proceeds benefiting the target country.

Obviously this only begins to scratch the surface, but until more leaders like Gates are willing to accept that terrorism is a tactic that has root causes and stems from a discernible set of circumstances, there is no possibility of stemming the tide.


My mistake, Obama has said something similar. Commence the gnashing of teeth.

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