Humiliation, Not Poverty

A Matter of Pride: Why we can’t buy off the next Osama bin Laden.
by Peter Bergen and Michael Lind

While there are deep and divisive fissures across the political spectrum over how to combat terrorism, there is a surprising level of agreement as to its cause. “We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror,” George W. Bush told an audience in Mexico in 2002. “Today, billions of people live on the knife’s edge of survival, trapped in a struggle against ignorance, poverty, and disease. Their misery is a breeding ground for the hatred peddled by bin Laden and other merchants of death,” Howard Dean declared during his 2004 presidential run. Kim Dae Jung, the former dissident who became the president of South Korea and won the Nobel Peace Prize, agrees: “At the bottom of terrorism is poverty.” And the editors of the New York Times, arguing that reducing duties on exports from Pakistan can play a significant role in the war on terrorism, wrote in 2004, “Economics cannot be separated from national security. Young Pakistanis who can’t get jobs in factories that export to America sometimes go to training camps to learn how to kill Americans.”

This analysis, at its root, is an optimistic one. It holds out the prospect that widespread prosperity can be a universal solvent for political violence employed by stateless actors and states alike. Conflict, in this view, is not endemic to the human condition; it is simply a relic of primitive stages in social development, which can be corrected by enlightened policy. Liberals tend to prefer the idea of a global or regional “Marshall Plan,” while conservatives and libertarians claim that cutting subsidies and promoting free trade will produce development in poor countries. Despite their different prescriptions, many on the left and right agree that fighting world poverty is important in the fight against transnational terrorism since it removes the attractiveness of these revolutionary and utopian worldviews…

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