There’s More to the War on Terror Than Guns and Bombs

The next president needs to start by thinking beyond boots on the ground.

Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) gave a speech on Friday about foreign policy — specifically the threats faced by radical Islamic terrorism as embodied by, among others, the Islamic State and the Iranian regime. On the campaign trail voters have been asking Walker the same questions they’ve asked other candidates about their foreign policy plans: Do you have a strategy to confront and defeat radical extremism, and will you take the steps necessary to keep us safe?

(Note: In a voluntary capacity, I am serving as a foreign policy advisor to the Walker campaign and I am serving on his finance committee.)

Nearly 15 years after 9/11, the United States still lacks an overarching strategy for this existential threat. Voices from the military, the world of politics, and academia have risen to suggest ways to tackle this threat, but the United States still lack a clear road map that uses all forms of American power to meet this 50 year challenge.

In the speech on Friday, Walker spoke at length about the need for a strengthened military component to meet this challenge, but he also mentioned “using the full range of statecraft options and “economic instruments.” Let me speculate as to what “full range of statecraft options” could mean.

In the short run, the United States will need to work with its allies and in some cases use military power to defeat these direct threats to our national security. It will also need non-military tools to choke off money to terrorist groups whether through banks or informal networks, and use sanctions such as those used against Iran which forced them to the bargaining table.

Terrorists thrive in failed states like Afghanistan under the Taliban. Terrorism is enabled or empowered by a series of non-military factors that we also have the ability to influence.

Those factors include:

  • Weak or nonexistent states where terrorist groups can operate with impunity.
  • A widespread lack of political freedom and a pervasive sense of corruption.
  • The treatment and status of women and girls ranging from the unacceptable to (in some cases) the barbaric.
  • Outrageous treatment of minorities including and especially Christian minorities which (in some cases) border on genocide.
  • A youth bulge that is unemployed and available as terrorist cannon fodder requiring a major response.

In the long term, the United States is going to need a much more ambitious approach to supporting economic, political, and religious freedom in parts of the world that export terrorism. This includes encouraging a velvet revolution in Iran. America should directly or indirectly support reformers in the Islamic World. It should more proactively support Gen. Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt. It must ensure that Tunisia’s Arab democracy succeeds.

How women and girls are treated in these societies also matters. Practices like female genital mutilation, child marriage, and the systemic rape of women by the Islamic State and other terror groups are massive human rights violations. It is outrageous for us to look the other way while thousands of Christians are being killed in the Middle East. Even Pope Francis has called for military action to protect Christians in the Middle East.

There is a massive youth bulge in countries that suffer from and export terrorism. The United States must support governments and policies that allow for private enterprise to flourish, because unemployed young people are not only a tragedy but also a national security danger.

Terrorism does not happen because of hopelessness, but it feeds on hopelessness and we need these societies to grow and to gainfully employ their people. The United States and a wide range of partners need to make it harder for terrorists to operate and harder to recruit. We need to support changes in these societies to encourage democratic and economic reforms. We will also support changes in these societies that respect the human rights of women and religious minorities.

America took on communism and defeated it. In the Cold War, many of its most effective tools and approaches were not military in nature and included foreign assistance, public diplomacy, and other tools. Similarly, the United States will confront and defeat this evil by using a wide range of tools — in many cases not military tools.\

article published in on Auguts 31, 2015.

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