Certain enlightened people keep trying to convince me that we can only solve the problem of terrorism by humanitarian, rather than military, efforts. After all, the jihadists wouldn’t be able to recruit terrorists if those people weren’t so poor and desperate. So, perhaps, if we really want to end this war, we should cut our entire military budget and give all that money to the Arab nations, in the hopes that it will raise their collective standard of living and make them all love us.
Unfortunately, no matter how much money we might shower upon them, it’s hard to see how it would raise the average standard of living of their populations. The countries we’re talking about are not particularly poor, though the vast majority of their citizens are. (How does one come up with a way to blame the U.S. for that?) No matter how much foreign aid we might bestow on these oil-rich countries, why would their governments redistribute our wealth any more beneficently than they redistribute their own?
Even if it were possible for us to raise their standard of living, what evidence is there that they would no longer hate us? My personal experience with people collecting entitlements is that they don’t feel any great love for the middle and upper classes whose taxes subsidize them. (If you imagine they do, try taking field trip to your nearest ghetto and take a survey on how grateful they feel.) People who receive benefits without providing anything in return grow to feel entitled to those benefits, and soon start feeling resentful that they aren’t getting enough — because the ones giving it to them still live much better than they do. Obviously, the money is owed to them. Otherwise, why would they be getting it? Once the war was “over,” we’d have to keep on paying forever, to sustain whatever standard we set, or risk their hatred and reprisal for withdrawing it.
As warm and fuzzy a fantasy as it may be, it isn’t realistic to assume that we can buy the hearts and minds of all the people in the world by altruistically showering our money on them. Especially when some of those people have a history of using the money we’ve given them to launch deadly attacks against us. Blindly trusting people who have proven they cannot be trusted doesn’t make them trustworthy. And using our defense budget to arm our enemies somehow just doesn’t seem wise.
The ideal world imagined by the willfully naive is not grounded in reality. The poverty argument is a red herring. This war is not about poverty. It’s about terrorism. Islamic terrorism is not about poverty. It’s about extremist ideologies. No amount of redistribution of wealth is going to address that issue.