How to win the war on terror

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

It’s been 14 years since Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush de­clared a “global war on terror.” To­day, af­ter spend­ing $1.6 trln on that war and killing 101 ter­ror­ist chief­tains, from Osama bin Laden to “Ji­hadi John,” the West re­mains just as vul­ner­a­ble, if not more so, to ex­trem­ists who can re­cruit fight­ers and strike any Western cap­i­tal vir­tu­ally at will. Now that an­other pres­i­dent – François Hol­lande of France – has also de­clared war on terror (as have other Euro­pean lead­ers), are the prospects for vic­tory really any bet­ter? I have my doubts.

It is time to con­sider that the strength of our op­po­nents de­rives, at least to some de­gree, from sen­ti­ments sim­i­lar to those that an­i­mated the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War and the French Revo­lu­tion: frus­tra­tion with and alien­ation from the pre­vail­ing sys­tem. In Bri­tain’s Amer­i­can colonies be­fore 1776, and through­out France in the years lead­ing up to 1789, or­di­nary peo­ple be­came con­vinced that their lives, as­sets, and busi­nesses had been sub­ject for too long to the pre­da­tions of ar­bi­trary rulers. That same es­trange­ment is felt nowa­days in the Mid­dle East and North Africa.

Af­ter all, the Arab Spring be­gan when a poor Tu­nisian en­tre­pre­neur, Mo­hamed Bouaz­izi, set him­self on fire in De­cem­ber 2010 to protest the mer­ci­less ex­pro­pri­a­tion of his busi­ness. He com­mit­ted sui­cide – as his brother Salem told me in an in­ter­view recorded for Amer­i­can pub­lic tele­vi­sion – for “the right of the poor to buy and sell.”

Within 60 days of Bouaz­izi’s death, his mes­sage gal­vanised the Arab world. Six­tythree more small en­trepreneurs across the greater Mid­dle East repli­cated his self­im­mo­la­tion, in­cit­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of Arabs to take to the streets and top­ple four gov­ern­ments. The force of their rage con­tin­ues to desta­bilise the en­tire re­gion.

The West didn’t grasp this mes­sage. As usual, it fo­cused on macroe­co­nomic ad­just­ment and tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance, fail­ing even to con­sider the property rights of the poor ma­jor­ity.

This is an old prob­lem: in­stead of re­mem­ber­ing that property rights are what eman­ci­pated their so­ci­eties from sov­er­eign bul­lies, left-lean­ing West­ern­ers think that pro­tect­ing property is right­ist dogma, con­ser­va­tives take le­gal property rights for granted, and econ­o­mists as­so­ciate them with real-es­tate deals and car­pen­try.

The West’s fail­ure to en­cour­age Arab gov­ern­ments to es­tab­lish, pro­tect, and en­hance their cit­i­zens’ property rights (and pro­vide them with the means) cre­ated a vac­uum, into which stepped the re­gion’s ro­man­tic na­tion­al­ists and their ter­ror­ist off­shoots, which are now send­ing their foot sol­diers to Europe. Of course, th­ese fa­nat­ics will not be able to boost liv­ing stan­dards for the poor – far from it, as the preda­tory rule of the so-called Is­lamic State in its self­pro­claimed caliphate proves. But in an at­mos­phere of de­pri­va­tion and frus­tra­tion, those who make false prom­ises eas­ily at­tract ad­her­ents.

How long will it take the West to re­mem­ber that demo­cratic cap­i­tal­ism re­quires strong property rights to set clear bound­aries be­yond which the state may not go? Like the en­tropic uni­verse and all open spa­ces, the global mar­ket is a tur­bu­lent place with lit­tle re­spect for life.

All liv­ing sys­tems, whether nat­u­ral or or­gan­ised by man, orig­i­nate and op­er­ate only in en­cap­su­lated spa­ces. Whether we are talk­ing about cells, mol­e­cules, body or­gans, com­put­ers, or so­cial groups, each and ev­ery one is con­tained and con­strained within a bound­ary: a mem­brane, an epi­der­mis, a wall, or a le­gal right.

Within the bound­aries of our bod­ies, com­plex multi-cel­lu­lar struc­tures are sus­tained by the pro­duc­tion of mol­e­cules that en­sure co­op­er­a­tion and the ex­change of in­for­ma­tion among cells – a process known as “sig­nal­ing.” Im­pair­ments in this process can lead to the on­set of disorders such as can­cer. If de­tached from other cells or the sur­round­ing ma­trix, cells usu­ally die within a short time, a process called “anoikis,” Greek for home­less­ness.

Who­ever ends “anoikis” in the greater Mid­dle East will win the war on terror. That is why the West and its al­lies must help the 80% of the pop­u­la­tion whose sur­vival de­pends on the bound­aries needed to pro­tect them and their as­sets (property rights and lim­ited li­a­bil­ity). They need the sig­nal­ing mech­a­nisms to de­tect dan­ger (records and track­ing sys­tems that come from record­ing as­sets and firms). They need the ad­he­sion mol­e­cules to con­nect with oth­ers and build in­creas­ingly com­plex and valu­able com­bi­na­tions (legally en­force­able con­tracts). And they need the abil­ity to use as­sets to guar­an­tee credit and cre­ate cap­i­tal (shares and stock to di­vide, ex­tend, and col­lat­er­alise property). Oth­er­wise, the com­bined mil­i­tary forces of Europe and the United States – and now Rus­sia – will win noth­ing.

If Hol­lande, the next US pres­i­dent, and their Arab al­lies are to stop ter­ror­ism, they must press (and help) Mid­dle East gov­ern­ments to pro­vide their peo­ple with the pro­tec­tions that will nur­ture their po­ten­tial to pros­per on equal terms in the global mar­ket. That is what the Amer­i­can and French rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies did. And it is the surest way to deny ex­trem­ists the at­trac­tive­ness that sus­tains their ex­is­tence.

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