Fighting Terrorism Without Drones?

The New York Times is reporting this morning that the United States and Turkey are planning to launch “a $200 million fund to combat violent extremism by undercutting the ideological and recruiting appeal of jihadists in places like Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan.”

The effort will be called the “Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resistance,” which sounds like the kind of name the U.N. would give to, say, an anti-malaria effort, or a campaign against STIs. But that’s the point. “The initiative,” reports the Times, is “based on other global funds to combat AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.”

So, yes, the United States is initially expected to spend only $2 to $3 million on the fund—less than the cost of a single Predator drone. But it’s nonetheless refreshing to see the government approach terrorism in a way that doesn’t involve drones, tanks, or axes of evil, but that does recognize that terrorism might, just might, have some sociological roots that we can address.

That concept hasn’t always been easy for us to grasp. Take the 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, which opens its arguments by stating, “From the beginning, [the War on Terror] has been both a battle of arms and a battle of ideas.”

What’s missing from this kind of pronouncement, of course, is a recognition that these battles, and these ideas, arise in some kind of context—that the War on Terror could also be construed as a battle of marginalized people targeting global economic powers, or a battle of certain insular fundamentalist communities targeting the more open societies around them.

Terrorism doesn’t have a single cause, of course. But it might not be the worst idea to address terrorism with vocational training and other schooling, as the new American-Turkish initiative aims to do, and not just build more aerial robots.