In Stephanie's answer to the second prompt, she writes: "It is time to put the myth of the pre-9/11 mindset to rest" with which I think I mostly concur--save with some reservations about the level of attention both the Clinton and early Bush Administration paid to the growing al-Qaeda threat, but she then nonetheless writes: "For other segments, namely the vanguard in Afghanistan/Pakistan, the military has and will continue to play a leading role in containing and reducing the jihadist threat". I was curious who the "vanguard" is? Are we speaking of UBL and Zawahiri? If so, why would the military necessarily be best positioned to deal with them? I suspect many of the most precious high-value targets (think [9-11 mastermind] Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was apprehended in Rawalpindi by the [Pakistani Intelligence Service], I believe with some CIA involvement) could well be hiding in major cities like Karachi or Peshawar (perhaps in even more fantastical disguises than Radovan Karadzic's!), rather than the badlands of South Waziristan. And even if there, wouldn't highly focused counter-intelligence efforts--backed up by discrete military action as/if necessary--be the best way to locate and capture these terrorists?
I agree with Matt that the notion that U.S. counterterrorism policy is largely under the purview of the military is a false one. It relates, I think, to the partisan charge that the Democrats possess a "pre-9/11 mindset" when it comes to counterterrorism. Throughout the past seven years, the military has been the public face of U.S. counterterrorism efforts (the consequences of which merit their own discussion thread). But behind the scenes the same-old, pre-9/11 intelligence and law enforcement efforts have been crucial to foiling plots at home and across the globe. The twenty-or-so jihadist plots that have been rolled up since 9/11 came as a result of time-honored police and intelligence work, the success of which was sometimes predicated upon strong international cooperation. It is time to put the myth of the pre-9/11 mindset to rest.
The question is not whether our counter-terrorism strategy should be military or law enforcement centric, but rather how to develop and deploy a truly inter-agency strategy that employs all elements of national power to defeat a transnational adversary operating in an era of globalization. The military is actively engaged in counter-terrorism, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq where it is fighting wars against asymmetric enemies, but I would dispute the assumption that counter-terrorism responsibility has fallen mainly under the purview of the military. At the same time, while acts of terrorism are themselves criminal activities, employing a counter-terrorism strategy that sees terrorism as more of a law enforcement issue is also off the mark. Both the military and law enforcement communities plays critical roles in counter-terrorism, but a truly effective counter-terrorism strategy is one that is intelligence-heavy and leverages that intelligence to inform a plan than employs all elements of national power, with a focus on non-kinetic tools and authorities.
The second part of our discussion on terrorism issues rolls on today with two On Day One user generated ideas suggesting that the next president treat counter-terrorism more as a challenge for law enforcement than a military objective. It would seem that counter-terrorism responsibility has fallen mainly under the purview of the military. Are there advantages, though, of limiting the military's role in counter-terrorism and treating it more as a law enforcement issue? Are our laws--or international law--capable of meeting the challenges posed by international terrorism? Are there specific legal reforms that might benefit law enforcement without sacrificing on civil liberties? And if the military is going to take the lead, how should our service branches reform to meet these new challenges?
We seem to have reached the consensus that poverty--along with other grievances such as political oppression and cultural alienation--are not reliable indicators of future terrorist activity. Given the prevalence of these conditions throughout the Muslim world, the "root causes" approach overpredicts the level of terrorist activity that we should expect to observe. As Quintan Wiktorowicz notes in Islamic Activism, "[w]hile grievances are ubiquitous, movements are not." The question remains, then, why almost seven years after 9/11, does the root causes debate still shape the counterterrorism discourse? From a policy perspective, the approach is a seductive one: if we can identify the causes of terrorism, then we can eradicate the conditions that allow terror to take root. At one time or the other, policymakers on both sides of the aisle have found comfort in this formulation. As Peter mentions, this does not mean that global poverty reduction or similar measures shouldn't be a goal of U.S. foreign policy, but the expectation that they will reduce terrorism may be misplaced.
I agree with the other panelists that no link can be demonstrated between poverty and terrorism. This is not to say that socio-economic conditions have no relevance whatsoever. The economic success of the American Muslim community (two thirds earn over $50,000) is one of the reasons why American Muslims have become so well integrated into American society. The fact that 22% of young British Muslims are unemployed does contribute towards feelings of alienation. I'm currently in London looking into violent extremism in the UK. The dynamics over here have direct implications for the national security of the United States. In 2006 authorities thwarted an Al Qaeda plot by British-born Muslims to bring down up to seven airliners leaving Heathrow for North America. The threat has not gone away. Britain probably has more Al Qaeda supporters than any other western country, two thousand of which now pose a security threat according to MI5.
Any serious study of the facts has found that the more relatively educated people are the more likely they are to engage in terrorism, and the more money people have, relative to their peers, the more likely they are to engage in terrorism, defined as violence against civilians by non-state actors. And so, projects to increase levels of education and income around the world are likely, on average, to create more terrorists, which is not an argument against education or poverty alleviation, but simply one of the rare cases where social "science" can make something of an accurate prediction about future outcomes.
I am not aware of any empirical data that shows a causal link between poverty and terrorism. If there was such a link then we would see poor people and communities more involved in committing/planning terrorist attacks than the current data shows. Poverty by itself simply does not have the direct radicalizing effect on individuals. In fact, the majority of empirical studies on terrorism provides little indication of correlations between socioeconomic factors such as poverty, inequality, and unemployment and the incidence of terrorism. For example, the data in Alan Kruger and David Latin's global study of the origins and targets of terrorism lend little support to the notion that poverty leads to terrorism, instead suggesting that limited political rights and civil liberties tend to be the most influential in inciting people to terrorism and country-level economic factors such as poverty and high unemployment, tend to be most relevant in determining the targets of terrorism [see here (pdf)]
Poverty, in and of itself, does not lead to terrorism. But it can be part of the problem, as the case of disenfranchised Muslim communities in Europe make clear. In the words of one European official I recently interviewed on this issue, "poverty is rarely one of the key radicalizers, but unemployment can be, especially when combined with engaging in criminal activity and being exposed to a radical narrative." Radical ideologies are better able to take root when discrimination and the lack of opportunity for economic growth are put in terms of a global narrative that weave personal experiences in the suburbs north of Paris together with the plight of fellow Muslims in Bosnia, Chechnya, Palestine or Iraq to personalize far away conflicts and paint a global, ideological struggle. That global narrative is where foreign policy becomes one part of this larger tapestry as well, especially when presented through a radical ideological lens. To my mind the ideological component is the most critical and overlooked component here.