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Policy Digest: Foreign Policy Edition

  • Hernando de Soto’s
    essay, “The Capitalist Cure for Terrorism,” is worth reading chiefly because of the data it surfaces on the scale of systemic political-economic corruption in the Arab world. One illustrative example is the 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who immolated himself, after the umpteenth shakedown by government inspectors. Bouazizi’s suicide is regarded as marking the start of the so-called Arab Spring. De Soto goes on to claim that “economic empowerment” — legal and constitutional reforms that enable people actually to trade and do business — will foster hope and thus diminish the recruitment pool for terrorism. Would even modest steps toward a market economy and the semblance of property rights enable people in the region to lift themselves out of stagnation? Of course it would help. But I find de Soto’s broader argument implausible. One of several reasons: de Soto emphasizes economic-legal institutional factors but plays down the wider ideological context giving rise to dictatorial regimes that prey upon and enslave their own citizens. Also: the parallel he draws between Peruvian Marxist terrorists and jihadists is implausible. While I disagree with substantial elements of the article, it gives much needed visibility to the deplorable economic and political climate in the region.
  • How serious a threat do we face from Western jihadists returning from Iraq and Syria? In a piece at Foreign Affairs, the scholars Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro argue that the threat has been overhyped. The article lays out the contours of the problem: so far, some 2,500 people bearing passports from European countries, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States have flocked to the war in Syria. But in its bottom-line risk assessment, the article is unsatisfying. Although it presents reasons for questioning the hype, the evidence also indicates that the problem is far from negligible. What the article does particularly well is spotlight the difficulty of judging such risks. To me, the fact that the Islamist movement still draws new recruits and that we still face a significant menace of from jihadists, after so many years of a “war on terror,” is another reminder of the disastrous failure of America’s post-9/11 foreign policy.