About the Author
Opinion Archives
E-mail Scott
Scott's Links

Like it or not, Marie Harf has a point

By Scott Tibbs, February 23, 2015

One of the things I dislike about social media (and especially Twitter) is how things tend to be dumbed down and stripped of context, for the sole purpose of creating a silly meme that misses the entire point of what it is (poorly) mocking. One example of this is the case of Marie Harf, who has practically been painted as a sympathizer of the Islamic State for a comment she made on Hardball. First, let's take a look at what she said:

"We're killing a lot of them, and we're going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians, so are the Jordanians they're in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it's a lack of opportunity for jobs."


"We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people."

You will notice that nowhere does she say that we should not kill ISIS terrorists. She said we and our allies will continue to kill them. What she is doing is pointing out that we need a holistic approach to dealing with Islamic terrorism. I fail to see why this is controversial, or why what she said is "stupid."

It is well known that in times of desperation, it is easier for demagogues to whip up popular support and make a grab for power. One example of this is the rise of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany. There were a number of factors that contributed to Hitler's rise to power, but one of the big ones was the severe economic depression and hyperinflation in postwar Germany. Hitler offered a way out of the depression and a scapegoat for it.

Yes, of course some Muslim terrorists were wealthy before they became terrorists. Yes, of course some of the people fighting for ISIS are just plain evil sadists. But people who lack economic opportunity, people who are dealing with a corrupt and oppressive government, and people who do not see a lot of hope for improving their lives are vulnerable to the pull of persuasive demagogues to fight for them, especially if they are fighting for some sort of "greater cause."

Harf was right to argue that we need a more holistic strategy. It is a longstanding theory in political science that democracies do not fight each other. (This is not entirely true, as a quick Google search will show.) One big reason we rebuilt Germany and Japan with democratic traditions was to turn them into allies instead of enemies. Building bridges with the Muslim world and fostering economic opportunity is a similar (though obviously not identical) strategy - using our soft power as a way to blunt extremism.

There are many legitimate objections to President Obama's strategy in dealing with the Islamic State. The silly #JobsForISIS meme is not one of them. It makes conservatives look simple-minded and does a disservice to legitimate discourse about public policy. Serious issues (especially life-or-death issues like the War on Terror) need serious people and serious ideas. Mocking a legitimate and historically proven strategy is not serious by any means.