By Eamon Penland

As a follow-up to my first post, and in a response to a recent AIDemocracy tweet, I decided to address the issue of development with regards to our security.

Just the other night I had a conversation with a friend who tried to argue against our foreign aid budget. He argued that development should neither be an objective of U.S. foreign policy, nor an issue we should be concerned with.

I think the role that the United States plays in the development of other countries is still seen by many in the light of “liberal tree huggers that just want to save the world”. It should be seen in a light of the ultimate form of American protectionism.

We need to realize that terrorism is more than just an ideology. It is an economic system as well. In David Kilcullen’s book, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, Kilcullen argues that a majority of terrorists have no interest in what he calls “Takfiri Islam”. This is the radical form of Islam that we associate with terrorism. Takfiri believers infiltrate tribes by marrying into families, thus they are able to conceal themselves amongst the local more moderate believers. These radicals are small in numbers, and they become extremely difficult to pick out of local populations.

On the other hand, Kilcullen argues that many “other” Muslims who do not share this Takfiri view of Islam have gotten caught up in the war in Afghanistan. He points out that many have gone to fight because it’s the only thing to do, or because they feel loyalty to the Takfiri because of economic ties to the opium trade which provides a livelihood for many in the region. So, by providing them with an alternative livelihood to the opium trade, we can give them a reason not to side with the lifestyle that terrorism brings with it.

If we need to reinforce this concept of the need for development, we need not look any further than our own borders. Mexico is a perfect example of what happens when you have a large portion of the population living in substandard conditions with little to no opportunities and widespread government corruption. We get massive migrations out of the country, and others find different ways to make a living. This drug economy creates wealth for many, and it becomes an extremely hard cycle to break. Some major changes will need to be made before we see any real success in the Mexican Drug War.

It sounds easy enough. Give people in Afghanistan jobs and they will be against the Taliban and Islamic extremists and for us, right? Well, it takes a little more than that. They need schools. They need infrastructure. They need sustainability. We might disagree on the way to go creating this sustainable development, but we first need to agree that this sustainable development needs to occur.

The most important thing to remember here is that there is still hope for success in places like Afghanistan. We must commit as a government and as a society as a whole. This administration seems to have committed to the idea of development, but development isn’t something that just happens overnight. It will take years, and we must make a long term commitment as a people or not commit at all.

Eamon is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Student Issue Analysts. He is a senior Foreign Affairs Major at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. After taking classes regarding US foreign policy and learning about the Middle East, he realized the importance of staying up to date with what is going on in that region in order to make accurate and well thought out responses regarding issues taking place there. As we try to pull troops out of the region, he believes we must remember and learn from past mistakes so that we don’t create problems for ourselves in the future.