Terror, Poverty, and the Willfully Naive

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.


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Published in: on February 23, 2008 at 11:18 pm  Comments (25)  
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  1. “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.”

    Wow, who said that? We already give too much money propping up dictatorial regimes in the region. More of that money will not do any better. It’s odd how you revert to a silly kind of “well, if that’s the way you feel I’ll just take my blocks and go home” sentiment when you get challenged on something. It’s fun to beat a strawman eh?

    “This war is not about poverty. It’s about terrorism.”

    Now we’re back to that simple, useless rhetoric? Jeez…

  2. Mr. Guy, the ball is in your court. Take a swing and see if you can hit it back. If I recall correctly, you’re one of the good people who has suggested we should be using the billions of dollars we spend on the war for humanitarian aid instead.

    If my statement above doesn’t accurately express your position, perhaps you can elucidate it better.

    Hint: Take a swing at the ball, not at me.

  3. “If I recall correctly, you’re one of the good people who has suggested we should be using the billions of dollars we spend on the war for humanitarian aid instead.”

    You recall incorrectly…as I pointed out above. How about we spend the *trillions* that we’ve spent on “defense” a little smarter and actually kill the people that have attacked us?

    BTW, I’ll swing at what I feel like swinging at…dodge if you can.

  4. Mr. Guy, if you weren’t one of the folks proposing that course of action, why did you assume I was referring to you? You did say, in a comment on this post “They blow themselves up because they are misguided or desperate…. If you take away the reasons for their desperation, they will stop getting people that are willing to blow themselves up.”

    However, on re-reading the comment, I note that you did not attribute their desperation to poverty, but rather to our “interference” in the Middle East. I find it interesting that you think 12-year-old kids and mentally retarded women are so concerned with political issues they’re willing to blow themselves up just to take out as many people on the other side as possible.

    Personally, I find the explanation put forth by the terrorists themselves much more plausible than yours. They proclaim that these acts are inspired by ideological extremism. Why do I believe them instead of you? Well, for one, they’re directly involved. (I presume you’re not.) Also, it is clear to me that these are not rational acts. They’re fanatical acts. Attributing rational reasoning to acts of fanaticism is pointless except, perhaps, as an attempted justification of some agenda.

  5. I simply asked “who said that” in response to your post. I thought in posting my comment here that you might realize for once that you are constantly beating strawmen instead of engaging in a real debate. This is your website, but I think that a lot of what you do here is childish whining because not everyone agrees with you. Get over it.

    If you think we haven’t been sticking our noses into Middle East affairs for decades and deacdes because of our dependence on oil, you haven’t been paying attention, period. I also said in that post “I don’t see Bin Laden and his buddies blowing themseleves up…because they know better.” They get other people to do their dirty work, period. Just like the chicken hawks that currently run our federal govt….it’s pathetic.

    You want to continue fall right into the traps that are enemies want us to fall into. Invade the Middle East, knock off it’s leaders (whether they are legitimate or not), rile up the masses against us, etc., etc.. I and others see a better way. We’ve tried it your way for quite some time now, and it hasn’t worked!

  6. First you say they hate us because we meddle in the Middle East, then you say meddling in the Middle East is falling right into their trap. Which is it? You can’t have it both ways.

    Just because the views I dissect on my blog are not particularly yours does not make them strawmen. These are things I hear constantly on forums, and from co-workers, and even from relatives of mine. You’re not the only liberal on the block.

    You say we’ve tried it “my way” for quite some time now, and it hasn’t worked. Let me assure you, we’ve never tried it my way. And maybe that’s because we’ve never had sufficient military intelligence to prosecute this war the way I think we should have. Or maybe we just don’t have the stones. But I’m curious, Mr. Guy. What would your way be?

  7. We shouldn’t have meddled in the Middle East in the past, and Bush has fallen right into a quagmire in Iraq that has only enraged more of the Middle East & spent a huge amount of our blood and treasure in vain.

    Who said “America Sucks”…you did. Who said that we should “Sacrifice Israel”…you did. No one is saying these things but you…knocking down these ridiculous notions is easy, which is the definition of beating a strawman.

    How many times do I need to say this to you before it sinks into your thick skull?

    -Bring the vast majority of our troops home from Iraq.
    -Put more troops into Afganistan to stop the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
    -Get Pakistan to be “with us or against us” in fighting Al-Qaeda in their own country.
    -Confront countries in the Middle East to stop funding terrorism and assist the U.S. and the rest of the West (and Russia if need be) to bring a two-state, peaceful solution to the Israel/Palestine problem.
    -Wean ourselves off foreign oil with a real alternative energy program for the USA.

    Soubnd familiar? Problem solved I think…you don’t have to agree with it, but don’t keep asking me to repeat myself over and over again.

  8. Take a deep breath and relax, Mr. Guy. There’s no need to get your blood pressure elevated. We’re just having a friendly discussion.

    -I don’t think we can abandon Irag now. We have a responsibility to them to help keep the peace until they can do it themselves.

    -I agree we should have left more troops in Afghanistan, and we should have hunted down bin Laden and every Al Qaeda operative we could find, and dealt with them summarily the way Israel deals with terrorists who attack them.

    -Perhaps we should make you the ambassador to Pakistan, since you know how to get them to be “with us or against us.” Nobody else seems to realize how easy it is. What are the magic words?

    -Getting countries in the Middle East to stop funding terrorism, — now there’s a solution I can really get behind! You go for it, Mr. Guy! I’ll cheer you on. But, again, how are you going to accomplish that? You seem to be the only person in the world who knows how to do it. As for your two-state peaceful solution, the terrorists will never allow that to happen. Your beloved Hezbollah has sworn to obliterate Israel, and considers anyone who tries to negotiate a peaceful settlement their enemy. That’s the reason for Hezbolla’s existence, according to their own mission statement. (I realize you think they’re just kidding, but Israel doesn’t, and neither do I.)

    -I’m all for alternative energy sources. But migrating our entire infrastructure to producing and using them is going to take a very long time, even assuming we’re able to figure out a way to produce enough alternative energy to sustain more than a fraction of our current energy needs. In the meantime, we are still dependent on oil.

    The problem with your “solutions” is that, while they’re as easy to say as any other words, they’ve so far proven impossible to accomplish. It’s kind of like saying we can solve world hunger by eliminating poverty. Problem solved. — It’s hard to disagree that eliminating poverty would solve hunger, but how do you go about doing it?

  9. “with us or against us”…those are your buddy Bush’s words…not mine. You tell Pakistan in no uncertain terms that we know that Al-Qaeda is in their country & we’re going to help root them all out. They’ve had plenty of time to do it themselves and they haven’t yet. The recent vote to unseat Musharraf’s party will help out in that regard. It’s in that country’s best interest to get rid of Al-Qaeda if there’re ever going to have a functioning democracy.

    We say the same thing to the countries that we know are funding terrorist organizations…the gig is up…destabilizing your own region of the world is not working out well for anyone.

    The two-state solution between Israel and Palestine has nothing to do with Hezbollah, period. They and anyone else can root for Israel’s demise, and it still will never happen. Less fear-mongering…more confidence in your buddy Israel there Mr. Daddy.

    We’re the most powerful country in the world, and we have many allies that are almost as powerful as we are. We can get the hard things done if we truly want to. We went to the moon in basically a 10-year timeframe…almost 40 freakin’ years ago! Give me a break…

    Like I said before…we’ve tried your failed neo-con policies…now it’s time to try ours.

  10. Wow, cool, Mr. Guy! I think you’ve got something there. Just point out to them, calmly and rationally, that their terrorism is destablizing their region and it’s better for everyone if they stop. I wonder why nobody else has thought of that? Once we point that out, they’re sure to see reason and abandon their radical extremist ideology and make nice with all their neighbors.

    I think you deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for coming up with that. (After all, Al Gore got one… )

  11. Like I’ve said before…this blog our yours tends to sway towards the childish at times when you start to lose…and this is one of those times. It’s sad to see it again and again…because the reason that I first started coming here was because it seemed like you were intelligent enough to have a debate with.

  12. I apologize for my sarcasm. Nevertheless, your solutions do not seem grounded in the reality of the situation.

    Do you not think the Middle Eastern oountries that fund terrorism realize it destabilizes the region? Do you not think that’s their intention? Do you seriously believe that pointing that out to them will cause them to change their behavior?

    I’m not sure what you mean by “the gig is up,” especially when the fist element of your solution is to bring the troops back home. If you mean using our military power to go after any country that funds or harbors terrorists, then I agree with you and have been saying that all along. If that is not what you mean, then it isn’t clear to me what you do mean.

  13. “Certain enlightened people keep trying to convince me that we can only solve the problem of terrorism by humanitarian, rather than military, efforts.”

    “Not I,” said the little red hen. :) You seem to be painting a very broad binary picture here. The truth is that there is a lot of stuff that falls between “humanitarian” solutions and the other extreme – declaring “war” on a word.

    For example, the traditional approach was to hunt down and attempt to arrest terrorists and bring them to justice. This often resulted in the death of suspected terrorists before arrest, and possible execution or long prison terms for those found guilty.

    I strongly believe that you cannot “win” a war on terrorism. Therefore, I remain unconvinced that either tactic – traditional or war – will ever be completely successful.

    In the end, I think all we can do is protect ourselves, remain vigilant, determined and do what we can to catch those who harm us. I just don’t think it takes a “war” to do that.

  14. Look, I’m sure that you think that countries in the Middle East that do things like fund suicide bombers families, madrasahs, foreign fighters in other countries, etc. are doing it because we’re in this epic struggle of us vs. them in the Muslim world. I think a lot of it is them just playing both sides of the coin to make sure that they come out top no matter what and to placate portions of their own societies that want these kind of bad things to happen. A lot of the regimes that we support in the Middle East are a house of cards that could fall apart at any minute…it must be a rough job to try and balance all that out (and my heart’s not bleeding for any of them).

    If we make it clear that the gravy train is over unless they get on our side of thinking totally…be *real* allies and not just in name only so they can be our pimps so we can get our oil fix from them, then I think things can change. Especially if we make it clear that we’re going to take the necessary steps to wean ourselves off their oil and make real progress on the Palestinian issue. Imagine what our situation would have been like if we really followed up on all the progress that Carter made (almost 30 years ago) on both Middle East peace and developing alternative energy sources. It’s too bad we chose to side with the oil companies that still had trillions of dollars of oil to pump out of the Earth.

    We should use our military to defend our interests, and I think our primary interest in the region is to wipe out Al-Qaeda where they actually reside…not where they aren’t there. It’s about being strong and smart IMO.

    I’d still like to know who the idiot was that said this:
    “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.”
    Tell them I said to stuff it…

  15. The idiot who said that was me, responding sarcastically to the assertion that the real solution to terrorism is to raise the standard of living of the Palestinians (and other indigent Arabs), so they wouldn’t be easy marks to recruit for suicide missions. I took it one step further and suggested that, if the way to end terrorism is to spend less on the military and more on humanitarian aid, why not just hand over our entire military budget?

    Discounting my sarcastic escalation of the stakes, have you really never heard the argument that people who have nothing have nothing to lose, so they’re more vulnerable to being manipulated by radical extremists? That seems like a pretty common argument. I hear it all the time.

  16. Did I just hear McCain say something like Clinton and Obama would both “surrender” to the terrorists? Jesus. Where is the sanity here? What a bald-faced exaggerated lie.

    :@

  17. This is something the really annoys me about “conservatives” in this country. They take positions and try & wildy extrapolate them out to the point of being ridiculous. I love it when they bring up the issue of a minimum wage and then say, “how about $100/hour??” Well, no one is mentioning that but them, and they’re not even in favor of a minimum wage in the first place. It’s disingenuous IMO.

    No one that I know of is advocating that we just “give up” to the terrorists or give all our money to them in an attempt to bribe them into submission. Attacking that argument is beating a strawman, again.

    “have you really never heard the argument that people who have nothing have nothing to lose, so they’re more vulnerable to being manipulated by radical extremists?”

    What do you think that terrorists of all types, even Timothy McVeigh, have to lose? We’re never going to be able to satify everyone’s crazy dreams and ideas. Those issues aren’t even on the table as far as I’m concerned.

  18. Wigglesworth said, “For example, the traditional approach was to hunt down and attempt to arrest terrorists and bring them to justice. This often resulted in the death of suspected terrorists before arrest, and possible execution or long prison terms for those found guilty.”

    This was the approach undertaken by every administration following Carter. Treat the terrorists as criminals and terrorist acts as crimes rather than acts of war. Catch them if you can. Mirandize them. Try them and convict them if you can.

    Shall we repeat the litany of attacks (acts of war) we suffered under that strategy and their escalating ferocity?

    Much as I dislike Bush, (I’m ready to impeach him, if you are) I have to credit him with enough common sense to recognize the 9/11 attacks as acts of war and has treated them as such. In the best possible way? Certainly not. In fact? Yes, indeed and I’m grateful.

    The truth of the matter is that the enemy is at war with no holds barred. Like it or not, justified or not, he is at war with us. He repeatedly states there is no negotiation. He says there is no compromise. He says the only terms are conversion or death. These are his words, not mine.

    We ignore him or rationalize his motivations at our peril. He intends to end us, our culture, and our influence. Period. End of story.

  19. I’m not sure that all poor Muslims hate us. They probably seldom think about us and most of the terrorists are educated and middle-class or even wealthier like Osama.

  20. Man, I’m getting tired of the mideast, let’s find the win-win solution:
    1.) get off oil
    2.) sell weapons to both sides and let them fight it out
    3.) annihilate any side that attacks us
    4.) plant a forest over the ruins to help combat global warming, and hire whoever is left to take care of it while we build some cool high-tech fusion-powered desalinization plants to water the forest.

  21. Jackson, I ran your post through the interpreter and got this back:

    Interpreter says: “Two wrongs make a right.”

    Is that REALLY what you mean? The interpreter can be flaky so I thought I’d ask to be sure. :)

    The 9/11 attacks were not an “act of war.” They were a terrorist attack conducted by a group of individuals. I honestly don’t understand the ongoing confusion with this. I guess the magnitude of the attacks must be the reason and I guess that’s understandable. All I can say is don’t let the size of the act confuse things. Whether it is a car bomb, a suicide bomber or two big buildings, it is still terrorism.

    Since terrorism (and crime, by the way) can’t ever be prevented, that is how we deal with it. By trying to bring those responsible to justice. To borrow a phrase from the very top of this particular web page: “What’s so hard to understand about that?”

  22. “Wiggles:I strongly believe that you cannot “win” a war on terrorism. Therefore, I remain unconvinced that either tactic – traditional or war – will ever be completely successful.”

    While I agree we probably can never “win”, we must prosecute this war to the best of our ability, which we are not doing.

    “Wiggles:In the end, I think all we can do is protect ourselves, remain vigilant, determined and do what we can to catch those who harm us. I just don’t think it takes a “war” to do that.”

    Again, I agree with the sentiment, but war is the only way now. And while I disagree with GWB on many of his ideas and policies, prosecuting this war is high on my list of his positives. Just take off the gloves.

  23. The liberals will probably gain power soon enough, and we’ll see if they will have strength in their political conviction’s to carry out their peace and love doctrine, and how effective it’ll be. But I doubt they are serious about it and they’ll not pull us out of Iraq any time soon. Like it or not oil is this worlds blood, and China is going to need vastly greater quantities of it…bad vibes….

  24. Wow. It’s almost like some people believe that if you make up a lie and repeat it often enough, it will magically come true. (I guess that means if liberals suffer from “political madness” then conservatives must be from the land of Oz.)

    You just agreed with me that a “war” on terror can’t be won. I’m curious. Just what do you call someone who repeatedly does something that won’t work? (Hint: Madness?)

    You imply that the Democratic candidates for president have an agenda of “peace and love.” What specifically do you see in their platforms to support that conclusion? Have they said they’ll let terrorists go unpunished? Do they want to eliminate national defense? Do they propose closing down homeland security?

    We need to be wary of snake oil salesmen, even in this modern era.

    Lastly, you think it likely that liberals will win the presidency. Why would that possibly happen if conservatism is the best thing since sliced bread? If a Democrat is elected president the conclusion must be that the citizens of this country WON’T be equating their votes as “surrender” and a “peace and love doctrine.” Even if that is what their political enemies are repeatedly telling us.

  25. “While I agree we probably can never ‘win’, we must prosecute this war to the best of our ability, which we are not doing.”

    This is ridiculous! If we can’t win it, why do think that we are doing it? We can and will wipe out Al-Qaeda, once we get smart about doing it. No one is professing a “peace and love doctrine”, period.

    BTW, I think we’re getting *less* oil out of Iraq now than we were before we invaded (for no reason).


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