22 March 2016


Islamist terrorists have struck the United States on 9-11 and in San Bernadino.  They have struck Paris, they have struck London, they have struck Madrid.  And, today, they have struck Brussels, killing at least thirty-one, wounding hundreds and disrupting European air traffic, first with two coordinated bombings in an airport - one involving a suicide bomber, and then with a subway bombing.

It is hard to imagine a campaign better calculated to turn mere indifference towards the affairs of the Islamic world into an "all in" effort of a wide coalition to crush ISIS and its allies, and simultaneously to discourage political efforts in the West to accept refugees and other migrants from the Islamic world.

The West has vast military resources that it can deploy, if it has the will to do so and a strategy that appear that it might work. The resources of Islamists, meanwhile, derive predominantly from oil sales, in legitimate, gray and black markets, to the rest of the world.

These deliberate provocations may improve these organizations' global prestige in the short run, but it is hard to see how they do anything but invite disproportionate retaliation in the long run. In the long run, every life taken in a terrorist attack may reap vengeance ten-fold or a hundred-fold.

This is not to say that war and xenophobia are the best policy responses, but they are the most natural ones.

There are root causes that are much harder to address. Authoritarian dictatorships and monarchies that use brutal means with religious excuses to achieve their ends. Oil wealth that allows destructive ideologies to thrive because there is no economic imperative to keep other parts of the economy healthy. Unemployed religiously indoctrinated men in places like Saudi Arabia who want to be heroes. Hardship created by war and the unequal distribution of resources and a culture of honor in a world where success depends instead on trust and cooperation and forgiveness. Societies of clans of cousin married families who bear loyalty to the clan rather than to the rule of law or a moral code.

But, the crude instruments of foreign policy and war afford the rest of the world little room to intervene, and the non-democratic governments of states that have chosen the path of no taxation and no representation aren't easily reformed from the grass roots either.

The terrorist groups and the non-Islamic states that respond to their provocations are playing a dangerous game.  And, there will be blood, so much blood, before it is over.

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