Former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean and former Indiana Congressman Lee H. Hamilton were chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, of the 9/11 Commission. On Tuesday, they published an op-ed in USA Today calling for a bold new approach to the global problem of jihad terrorism. Their innovative new idea? More of the same tried, tested, and repeatedly failed policies that have gotten us into the fix we’re in today.
“Over a decade and a half ago, as chairs of the 9/11 Commission,” they write, “we called for a comprehensive strategy to prevent new generations of terrorists, in addition to safeguarding the homeland and defeating terrorist groups.” That is indeed what is needed, and has been for quite some time, but, say Kean and Hamilton, “that call remains largely unfulfilled.” And by the end of their article, it still is.
Kean and Hamilton have just “served as the chairs of the congressionally mandated Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States, which was convened by the United States Institute of Peace”; they note that “last year, Congress charged the U.S. Institute of Peace with developing a strategy to prevent the spread of extremist violence in the world’s most fragile states and asked us to lead a bipartisan group of 13 of America’s most senior foreign policy leaders to address this critical challenge.” The final report of this Task Force “calls for the United States to focus on the underlying causes of fragility, by helping to repair the broken social contract between citizens and their governments, rather than just respond to terrorist threats.”
This sounds great, but in the final analysis, it amounts to more of the same failed policies that the U.S. has been implementing for years, which primarily amount to throwing money at the problem. Not surprisingly, this wrongheaded initiative has the endorsement of numerous exponents of those failed policies; Kean and Hamilton call them “leaders on both sides of the aisle — Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del., Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Michael McCaul, R-Texas,” who are sponsoring their legislation.
Even worse, “in April, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concurred during a hearing that we must seize the moment and adopt this new approach.” Kean and Hamilton “applaud their leadership.”
Pardon me if I hold my applause. A new approach is indeed needed, but this isn’t it.
Kean and Hamilton emphasize that “we do not recommend nation building. We have learned that the United States cannot build other people’s nations. They have to do that for themselves.” Instead, “what we recommend is to focus on countries where the United States has committed partners and empower those leaders to create alternatives to violence and extremism. Their interest in peace and stability must be at least as great as our own.”
That is true. However, if this quest for “peace and stability” is not built on a firm foundation, it will come to nothing. The uncomfortable fact is that we are not going to be able to buy our way out of the problem of global jihad terrorism, which Kean and Hamilton of course do not dare to refer to as such. And that is a telling indication of why their new initiative is foredoomed: no amount of U.S. aid to help leaders “create alternatives to violence and extremism” is going to work unless the motivating ideology behind jihad terrorism is addressed.
While Kean and Hamilton present their plan as if it were something new, it is actually what the United States has been trying to do ever since 9/11, both domestically and internationally. Jobs programs for Somali Muslims in Minneapolis were supposed to provide “alternatives to violence and extremism,” but Somali Muslim communities in Minneapolis have been hotbeds of jihad recruitment. And the nation-building projects that Kean and Hamilton rightly decry were supposed to create stable republics that would provide their citizens with “alternatives to violence and extremism.”
This approach has been tried time and time again, and has never worked. The reason why not is just as clear as the wrongheadedness of mainstream terror analysts: jihad terrorists believe that by murdering infidels and working for the imposition of Sharia, they are doing the work of Allah, and earning a place in Paradise. The longer we continue to ignore it, the more they will continue to make recruits among peaceful Muslims, no matter how many jobs programs and other alternatives to violence and extremism we provide.
Nonetheless, one thing is certain: those who are in positions of power are much too afraid of being charged with “Islamophobia” to listen to or consider this critique of the establishment wisdom, and so one thing is certain: we will keep on making these same mistakes over and over again.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.