State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf was widely ridiculed in February for saying of the Islamic State (ISIS):
We cannot win this war by killing them, we cannot kill our way out of this war. We need, in the longer term, medium and longer term, to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs.
On Wednesday, Barack Obama made it clear that Harf’s ridiculous analysis did not originate with her; rather, she was reflecting the company line. Said Obama:
Climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate threat to our national security. It will impact how our military defends our country. We need to act and we need to act now. Denying it or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces.
This was just a slightly more sophisticated restatement of Harf’s argument, for Obama went on to explain exactly how climate change threatened America’s national security:
I understand climate change did not cause the conflicts we see around the world, yet what we also know is that severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
And not just in Nigeria:
It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East.
Obama’s claims here are based on his fundamental assumption that poverty causes terrorism. Drought led to jihad in Nigeria, and drought, crop failures, and high food prices led to jihad in Syria. These claims are entirely in keeping with his steadfast refusal to acknowledge that jihad terror has anything to do with Islam.
He has to fill the vacuum created by his denial with something, and he has chosen what he (and Harf) no doubt believe is a nuanced and complex analysis: global warming causes poverty, poverty causes terrorism.
The problem with this is not simply that climate change is politically correct junk science in the service of authoritarianism and forcible income redistribution: Obama is wrong because poverty doesn’t really cause terrorism at all. The Economist reported in 2010:
Social scientists have collected a large amount of data on the socioeconomic background of terrorists. According to a 2008 survey of such studies by Alan Krueger of Princeton University, they have found little evidence that the typical terrorist is unusually poor or badly schooled.
In the same vein, CNS News noted in September 2013:
According to a Rand Corporation report on counterterrorism, prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 2009, “Terrorists are not particularly impoverished, uneducated, or afflicted by mental disease. Demographically, their most important characteristic is normalcy (within their environment). Terrorist leaders actually tend to come from relatively privileged backgrounds.” One of the authors of the RAND report, Darcy Noricks, also found that according to a number of academic studies, “Terrorists turn out to be more rather than less educated than the general population.”
The Times Online reported the following as far back as April 2005:
Three-quarters of the Al-Qaeda members were from upper middle-class homes and many were married with children; 60% were college educated, often in Europe or the United States.
There are innumerable examples of affluent Muslims becoming jihad terrorists. One was Maher “Mike” Hawash of Portland, Oregon, a well-regarded Intel executive who made $360,000 a year at the crest of a highly successful career. Around the year 2000, Hawash began to become more religious, growing his beard long, rejecting the nickname “Mike,” and attending the supremacist Islamic Center of Portland. Ultimately he served a seven-year prison term for conspiring to aid the Taliban.
More recently there was Sabirhan Hasanoff, a graduate of Baruch College who was a senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers and then CFO of a large company in Dubai. Hasanoff was sentenced last Monday to eighteen years in prison for aiding al-Qaeda. Contrite at his sentencing, Hasanoff didn’t say anything about lacking economic opportunities. On the contrary, he said:
I made a good living and my family and I enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle. And then, for reasons that I still have trouble confronting, I threw that all away.
Those reasons that he had trouble confronting, according to AP, were rooted in Islam:
Inspired by radical clerics, he said his desire to strengthen his Muslim faith and fight atrocities committed against Muslims around the world mixed with guilt about his comfortable life.
Nonetheless, Obama’s risible analysis is not, unfortunately, just empty words. It will result in hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars being showered upon the Nigerian government and factions deemed “moderate” in Syria, whatever the evidence to the contrary. Those millions will become villas and BMWs for corrupt officials, while the forces of the global jihad continue to advance.