Now that the military portion of the anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan is passing its peak it's time to start thinking about the much more important parts left to do.
I'm not talking about the mopping up - that will be a delicate and dangerous operation that may take years. I'm talking about the rebuilding.
Many people have asked just where the terrorist groups get people willing to kill themselves for a cause. What could drive someone to strap explosives to themselves and get on a bus full of smiling, happy people and hit the button? An opposition leader was quoted as saying that the Muslim world has people who look to death as Americans look to life. Once again, how can that be?
Well, my simple explanation is that a large part of it is because of the life they have to look forward to: starving in conditions barely changed from the 12th century while watching their neighbors get fat in the 21st.
I'm really against cultural imperialism - if people don't want Wal-Mart and McDonalds in their town I don't think we should stuff them down their throats. But I'm at a loss as to what else we can do to help raise the standard of living in these areas. I'm hoping it's just my own ignorance but I'm unaware of a Middle-Eastern culture that's suitable for modern times with their higher populations and a feeling that there should be a basic respect for the lives and property of others. All of the Middle-Eastern people I know of living 'modern' lifestyles are essentially living 'Western' lifestyles.
Regardless, we need to put a lot of effort into bringing the poorer parts of the world into at least the neighborhood of the rest of us. As I've said elsewhere, the world today is like one big apartment building and if you let one apartment fall apart it's going to cause problems in every other unit.
If you're living in a tent on the shattered remains of your mud-walled home, squatting in the dirt waiting to see if there'll be something for your family to eat this week then doing something -- anything -- to those bastards holding you down starts to sound like a good idea. But if you're working the register down at Taco Bell to keep up the insurance payments on your new (to you at least) car, well... maybe you'll spit in their taco instead of blowing the place up.
Refugee camps and aid packages are good and necessary things. But only for so long. At some point they become more like holding cells and boxes of shame. There are architects and engineers standing behind those fences, artists and entrepreneurs in those tents. They're all waiting for their chance to do something. Their children are hungry for training. We can let their fathers rot in wire cages while the crazed demagogues train the children in hatred, or we can open the gates, put their families back to work on their lives, and let the chain stores and fast-food joints do the training. It's all up to us. Personally, I'd rather have a taco than a truck bomb. How about you?