Rasmus Jorgensen | February 20, 2017
Why is there so much unrest in the Middle East? For some, the answer may seem obvious: religious tension — that Islamists will be Islamists, so to speak. Edward de Bono, who coined the term “lateral thinking,” has suggested the region’s lack of zinc as a nutritional explanation, while others point to the region’s abundance of oil. Then there are the unintended consequences of America’s 15-year-old war on terror.
“Well, we went into Iraq, we made things worse there. We went into Libya and made things worse. We didn’t go into Syria, and things got worse there. Whatever we do we can’t win,” political scientist Scott Hibbard said last week while explaining to a campus audience how difficult it is to make intervention decisions.
Hibbard has worked as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill and as a program director for the United States Institute for Peace. He has had several working spells in Egypt, has been a DePaul University professor since 2005 and is spending this spring at Notre Dame as a visiting research fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Understandably, room C103 in the Hesburgh Center was full for his lecture, “Political Islam and America’s Long War.”
“The U.S. has, particularly since 9/11, tended to view the challenge of Islamic militancy in a very narrow, militaristic frame — military problem, military solution,” he said, “and in doing so it has overlooked or ignored the larger strategic context in which many of these groups operate. And, perhaps more to the point, it has neglected to deal with the underlying issues, which have historically given rise to extremism in general and Islamic militancy in particular.”
To a large extent, according to Hibbard, those underlying issues are socioeconomic, and he suggests that the United States and the western coalitions that have waged war in the Middle East for years may be partly to blame. He recalled a conversation he had had in the 2000s with a former Egyptian ambassador to the United Nations, who told him, “You know, if America created a Middle East Marshall Fund and put $100 billion into the region it would just transform this place, and people would love you.”