In a way, it is too early to talk or write about this, but there is great hope for America and the world in the revolutions now sweeping through the middle east. If they continue and if they succeed in creating new, more participatory states in their wake, we could be watching the beginning of the end of international terrorism as an ongoing threat.
Why? Terrorism has grown out of isolation, frustration and dire poverty. If the revolutions manage, as I think they will, to end the first two and seriously attack the third, the rich soil of disappointment and anger which gave birth to terrorism could dry up. Busy people don’t have time to go about the world blowing themselves up for a cause, lost or otherwise.
What people need most in life, besides hope, is something to do. New, more democratic governments offer the prospect of great activity for many people and the possibility of a broader economic revival could mean jobs, the most hopeful sign of all. I would argue that there was no way these autocratic states would ever approach full employment, or anything close to it, as long as most of the money stayed in the hands of the few. Democracy doesn’t guarantee prosperity, but the creation of a wider pool of those with money to spend could help everyone in the region.
Remember, also, that one of the great selling points for terrorists has been the idea that the U.S, and Europe, the “imperial powers”, were part of a system that oppresses the region. “You,”, young Arab man, “Are oppressed by the evil powers beyond our borders!. The reason you don’t have money, don’t have a job is because the great powers of the world have taken it from you.”
When the economic and social frustrations are combined with religious beliefs which have been instilled in generations from birth onward, there is a volatile mix of anger and unfocused energy. The terrorist groups came along to provide some focus: America.
What happens if all of that, or a large part of that, is wiped away? We saw with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 that some dreams can come true, but some nightmares continue. It didn’t bring about peace on earth and harmony between all peoples, did it? This is, in part, because our government and our military continued to search the entire globe for places where American military power could be applied and they found it, many times, in the middle and near east.
We have to also face that fact that the narrative sold to would be terrorists was not entirely wrong: the United States has played a large, continuing role in determining what happens in that part of the world, for better or worse. One item that should be considered very carefully when the revolutions are complete is whether we inadvertently created the problems we wished to solve by supporting autocratic governments. We wanted peace and trade, but we got little peace and a lot of trouble for trying to support “stability” in the region. Did we fertilize the soil for terrorism unintentionally? In the past, this is an issue that could not be calmly considered, even in academic circles. In the post revolutionary world that will be emerging over months and years, it is a compelling question that must be answered.
Some Republicans, including Limbaugh, Santorium and Huckabee, have come forward with statements which indicate they think they have an answer already. They said the U.S. should have supported Mubarak more, indicating that they plan to criticize anyone in our country who called for revolutionary change toward democracy in the region. That is always the best defense, isn’t it?, a fresh line of attack. They were getting ready with the new line before the old one had even slipped Cairo.
Doug Terry, 2.22.11