When the candidate Obama said, “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” his rivals called him elitist. The political experts considered it the biggest blunder of his candidacy, and wondered if he would survive the controversy. As president-elect Obama announces his national security team, and leads the world in the challenging struggle against terrorism, he needs to remember his own words, and keep it as THE guiding principle in the fight of our life. Because despite the raw politics, it is true that people without future are the most dangerous type.
In early 2008, when I read an extensive article about real pirates throwing hooks climbing robes, and taking over ships in the gulf of Eden, I thought that was crazy. Putting aside the irony of the act verses the name of the place, it still sounded like an image from a children book, or an eighteenth century maritime fantasy tale. Regrettably, it was not a work of fiction.
How did this happen? Did these ships use their advanced communication equipments to call for help? Did the navy destroyers and aircraft carriers roaming -day and night- the high seas lend a hand? What happened to international law, civil society, and common decency?
My basic questions had a single simple answer. The powerful warships raising the flags of the most prosperous nations failed to stop the new pirates.
The twenty-first century terrorists using cheap machine guns and commercially available boats could pirate the largest tanker in the world. They could use carpet cutters to hijack planes and crash them into symbols of power. They are the same terrorists that used IEDs, and explosive belts filled with nails to fight the well-equipped and extensively trained NATO and American forces. They inhabited caves in Afghanistan and farms in Iraq. They expanded the field of operations to Bali, London, Madrid, Mumbai, Amman and Sharm El-Sheik among many other places.
The picture is grim, but not hopeless. Terrorism is like a humongous onion with a tiny core and many layers. While the core is beyond saving, it is impossible to crush it without pealing the outside. The young men and boys climbing aboard ships in the gulf of Eden, pushing the buttons to explode in the markets of Baghdad, carrying arms in the mountains of Kandahar, and taking hostages in the fancy hotels of Mumbai are the outer layers.
They are the people living in lawless Somalia, terrified by the Taliban laws in Afghanistan, and starved behind concrete walls in Gaza. Every time our forces miss a value target and kill civilians, every day our intelligence maintains a Guantanamo, or expands an Abu-Ghraib prison; we enlarge the onion’s outer layer and make the hard-core extremists stronger.
It is only through stable environments, decent living conditions, and a hope in a better future that the developed world will be able to peel the many foot soldiers and hit the extremists in the core. Our candidate Obama understood that people cling to religion and weapons in desperation, and he was right. Would our president Obama have the courage to live up to his calling?
Although it might sound unreasonable to demand from the western world during these tough economic times to feed the hungry, cure the sick, and create jobs for the unemployed as a way to fight terrorism. In reality, it is cheaper than the tried and failed approach of the last seven years.
In 2008 the United States defense budget was, $623.1 Billions (source Department of Defense web site) http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2008/defense.html.
I call on our incoming president to declare that 5% of the 2009 defense budget will be used to support none governmental organizations working to improve living conditions across the globe. Such announcement will not cost the American taxpayers an extra penny, while the amount of good well generated by the $30.2 billion dollars would amount to a great blow to the extremists fighting civilization in the name of the poor.
The stick didn’t work; can we please use the carrot?