Easier to destroy than create

In response to the terrorist attacks against the United States, our foreign policy has been to “drain the swamp” that breeds people who would carry out such attacks. This indelicate phrase can mean many things, including war. It can also mean opportunity, a unique opportunity for the world.

The idea of “draining a swamp” suggests a desire to rid the environment of undesirables. But the world will always contain those who hate and kill. The question is: How many will this minority bring with them?

Terrorists, no matter what their cause, find support where they can feed off desperation. When people anywhere in the world feel they have nothing to lose, they are inclined to join forces with anyone who promises change. Sometimes this means terrorists grow in strength and number. But we can turn that on its head.

Imagine that the dispossessed of the world found solace and options in dealing with more developed countries. Imagine they could participate in the world economy and global village with all that implies: improving living standards, having their voices heard, being treated as human partners instead of aid recipients. In such a configuration, terrorists could gain no purchase because those on whose energy they feed would have a better choice available. Why would they want to abandon a real chance at peace and prosperity for a life of violence and fear?

There are bright, creative, industrious people all over the world, especially in developing countries where they must be highly adaptive to survive. If the United States would work to embrace that genius constructively, we’d have a more productive global relationship. This doesn’t require elaborate programs of donation and charity.

Of the world’s population, probably 5 billion are considered poor by Western standards. But these people still work and buy. They have needs unmet by their immediate surroundings and unmet by often uncaring governments, which are equally often less-than-legitimate elites supported by the United States The end result is that vast portions of the would-be “swamp” are of our own making.

If the United States were to practice what it preaches in terms of supporting democracy and free markets, opportunities would arise automatically for this majority population because their leaders would become either legitimate or history. And then the creative energy of the people could take root, allowing them to build societies and economies just as the United States and other countries have, without interference or hindrance, never mind aid. And in the process, the United States would be a richer place itself, as well as more secure.

The United States is fighting a war on terrorism. A violent war cannot, however, be the only solution because it begets more anger. If we can successfully include the majority of the world in the promise and opportunity of wealth and freedom, they will become our allies against terrorism. A world with 5 billion people united is the only way to truly eliminate terror.