Foreign aid and fighting extremism

After decades of devastating military campaigns, the jihadist narrative still draws recruits in the MENA region and beyond.
Sunday 03/03/2019
Former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, co-leader of the US Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States. (AFP)
Former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, co-leader of the US Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States. (AFP)

The new preventive approach to fighting terrorism and extremism advocated by the US Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States has generated an interesting debate in Washington.

The task force, led by former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean and former US Representative Lee Hamilton, sees US foreign aid as a “long-term investment” to promote economic development, job creation and fighting corruption that can destabilise countries of the Middle East and Africa and make them vulnerable to terrorism and radicalisation.

“Terrorism is a symptom but extremism — an ideology calling for the imposition of a totalitarian order intent on destroying free societies like ours — is the disease,” the task force’s report warned. It cautioned the United States against being “trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of crisis response.”

After decades of devastating military campaigns, the jihadist narrative still draws recruits in the MENA region and beyond. Countries of the region are even more unstable. Social and economic woes in many Middle Eastern and African countries provide fertile ground for terrorist recruitment and illegal migration.

“The hope is that if we do this right, the military will always be the last resort, rather than the first resort,” Kean said.

New versions of the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act, currently before the US Congress, will buttress the task force’s report. This new momentum on Capitol Hill for foreign aid could balance out the White House’s propensity to cut overseas assistance.

“Bullets and bombs alone cannot defeat an ideology,” said US Representative Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “We need to deal with it at its core root problem — and that is despair.”

The benefit of any outside help to countries in Africa and the Middle East will depend on the pertinent reforms they themselves are able and willing to introduce. Foreign assistance alone is not the solution.

6