Are we winning the war on terror? The Cultural Strategies Institute hosted a panel addressing this question at the National Press Club on October 11th. Host Lowell Christy said that the military is over-professionalized, and thus the only real solution is concrete actions focusing on the “invisible dynamics” of terrorism.
Panelist Dr. Dominick Donald, who works with the Aegis U.S. Liaison Teams in Iraq to “establish ground truth,” discussed the work being done by the Department of Defense to understand and maintain order at a grassroots level in conflict zones. The Department of Defense Task Force to Improve Business and Stability Operations in Iraq (TFBSO) has two main purposes, explained Donald: to encourage foreign investment in Iraq and to identify dying industrial enterprises in Iraq whose closure would have security implications. Bolstering these industries, argued Donald, prevents the danger panelist Robert Leitch warned against: unemployed young men.
Leitch, who has worked with Project Hope and other grassroots organizations, proclaimed that the common denominator of terrorism, the “most dangerous creature on the planet earth, is a young man without a job.” This is why it is so important to maintain the economy of developing and unstable countries.
Unfortunately for Americans, the media misrepresents these problems, he claimed, adding that the first casualty of war is truth, because “the media dictates, it dictates everything.”
The media helps to shape societies paradigm. Yet, he argued that most people tend to view the world through the prism of their time and culture. He defined the American prism as a preoccupation with education and technology— a desire to proliferate schools and modern gadgets. Consequently, Leitch warned that Americans not become blinded by their “own cultural prism.” Rather, it is absolutely necessary, in order to provide the right kind of help, to pay attention to a region’s particular needs.
When Leitch was in Uganda, he asked the nomadic tribe with which he was working what they most wanted. They responded that they desired for their wives not to die in childbirth and for their animals to be healthy. Cows are a really big deal—economically they are everything—in the particular nomadic culture with which he was working. So he found people to help their women through childbirth and to help care for their cows.
Leitch’s second anecdote of how to fight terror on the ground was based in Nicaragua. While administering vaccinations to a small Nicaraguan village, he discovered that there was a higher demand for veterinarian work than for human health care. Leitch spoke with a man who admitted that if his horse dies he would be a very poor man because he cannot afford a new one, but if his baby dies, well, he can make a new one. That is the sad reality of the situation, lamented Leitch. The motivating factors of terrorism, he said, are far more complex than “the hearts and minds of the local village.”