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Fight the root of terrorism with bombs, not bread

By Alex Epstein
web posted March 25, 2002

How can America ultimately win the War on Terrorism? According to the UN and our European "allies," we should put down our guns and pick up our checkbook. Opposed to any major expansion of our military campaign beyond Afghanistan, foreign leaders urge us instead to dole out more foreign aid to poor countries. Only by fighting poverty, the refrain goes, can we address the "root cause" of terrorism. Our government is listening: while the "axis of evil" remains untouched, President Bush has just proposed a $5 billion expansion of American foreign aid to "help defeat terrorism."

Bush waves before entering his limo after arriving at Mariano Escobedo's airport in Monterrey, Mexico on March 21
Bush waves before entering his limo after arriving at Mariano Escobedo's airport in Monterrey, Mexico on March 21

The pernicious idea that poverty causes terrorism was be a central theme at last week's UN Conference on Financing for Development, which President Bush attended. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has repeatedly asked wealthy nations to double their foreign aid, naming as a cause of terrorism "that far too many people are condemned to lives of extreme poverty and degradation." Secretary of State Colin Powell agrees: "We have to put hope back in the hearts of people. We have to show people who might move in the direction of terrorism that there is a better way." Businessman Ted Turner also concurs: "The reason that the World Trade Center got hit is because there are a lot of people living in abject poverty out there who don't have any hope for a better life."

Eliminating the root of terrorism is indeed a valid goal--but military action, not welfare handouts, is the means of doing so.

Terrorism is not caused by poverty. The terrorists of September 11th did not attack America in order to make Afghanistan richer. To the contrary, their stated goal was to repel any penetration of the prosperous culture of the industrialized "infidels" into their world. The wealthy Osama bin Laden was not using his millions to build electric power plants or irrigation canals. If he and his terrorist minions wanted prosperity, they would seek to emulate the US--not to destroy it.

More fundamentally, poverty as such cannot determine anyone's code of morality. It is the ideas that individuals choose to adopt which make them pursue certain goals and values. A desire to destroy wealth and to slaughter innocent human beings cannot be explained by a lack of money or a poor quality of life--only by anti-wealth, anti-life ideas. These terrorists are motivated by the ideology of Islamic Fundamentalism. This other-worldly, authoritarian doctrine views America's freedom, prosperity, and pursuit of worldly pleasures as the height of depravity. Its adherents resent America's success, along with the appeal its culture has to many Mideastern youths. To the Fundamentalists, Americans are "infidels" who, according to the Koran, should be killed. As a former Taliban official said, "The Americans are fighting so they can live and enjoy the material things in life. But we are fighting so we can die in the cause of God."

The terrorists hate us because of their ideology--a fact that filling up the coffers of third-world governments will do nothing to change. What then, can our government do? It cannot directly eradicate the deepest, philosophical roots of terrorism; but by using military force, it can eliminate the only "root cause" relevant in a political context: state sponsorship of terrorism. The Fundamentalists' hostility toward America can translate into international terrorism only via the governments that finance, train, and provide refuge to terrorist networks. Such assistance is the cause of the terrorist threat--and America has the military might to remove that cause.

It is precisely in the name of fighting terrorism at its root that America must extend its battle beyond the Taliban. Whatever other areas of the world may require US troops to stop terrorist operations, we must above all go after the single main source of the threat--Iran. This theocratic nation is both the birthplace of the Islamic Fundamentalist revolution and, as a consequence, the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. Removing that government from power would be a potent blow against Islamic terrorism. It would declare America's intolerance of support for terrorists. It would be an unequivocal lesson, showing what will happen to other countries if they fail to crack down on terrorists within their borders. And it would acknowledge the fact that dropping bombs, not food packages, is the only way for our government to attack terrorism at its root.

Alex Epstein is a writer for the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) in Marina del Rey, California. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. If you want to read more editorials produced by the Ayn Rand Institute go to http://www.aynrand.org/medialink/op-eds.html. If you would like to learn about the rational ideas needed to win the war against terrorism and the states that support it visit the Ayn Rand Institute's special website "America at War" at http://www.aynrand.org/medialink/actofwar.html.

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