Let’s review the record. The United States’ non-intervention in Bosnia in the early 1990s is said to have spawned Islamic radicalism, as did the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s, as did the partnership with Pakistan’s military, as did drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, as did the surge in Afghanistan, as did the withdrawal of troops from that country. When the United States intervenes, it is said to provoke terrorists; when it doesn’t, it is said to show that Washington is weak. No matter what the United States has done over the past two decades, Islamic radicalism has been on the rise, often directed against the United States and its Western allies, and it always finds a few alienated young men who act on its perverse ideology.
If both intervention and non-intervention increases terrorism, then our actions if not irrelevant are not dispositive. There are other factors at work.
In my view jihadism is just the successor to Pan-Arabism, clothed in a religious pretext. Behind it is a complicated stew of nationalism, post-colonialism, religion, and societal dysfunction, most of which is beyond our ability to change. It is not really about us and there’s not much we can do to stop it so our efforts would be better focused on protecting ourselves from it.
Those who favor strong intervention at least have clarity of vision on their side in the sense that if you have eight suspects for a crime and you execute all eight of them you’re bound to execute one criminal. I just don’t want us to be the kind of people who would intentionally engage in such a program.