Opening Arabia to business and peace

Middle East
by D.C. Innes

Posted on Monday, February 23, 2015, at 4:45 pm

President Obama wants to fight ISIS with a jobs program, perhaps a New Deal for the Middle East. U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that it is the Obama administration’s strategy not to “kill our way out of this war” but to address the “root causes” of jihadism by providing “opportunity for jobs.”

The irony is that President Obama has found it difficult to create jobs here in the United States where his government is sovereign. And it hasn’t been his government creating conditions for job growth but Rick Perry’s business-friendly regime in Texas. Unlike the Middle East, America has an industrial infrastructure and a culture of work and innovation to support a sudden job surge. Nonetheless, a key element of Obama’s plan to degrade and destroy ISIS is initiating economic expansion in the Middle East so dramatic that it will draw the hordes of young men who have gone off in search of adventure and glory away from the battlefields and into factories, customer checkout lines, and office cubicles.

But others are speaking more convincingly about peace through commerce. Much of 2016 Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush’s speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs claimed that vigorous and sustained economic growth at home would provide the national strength needed to address foreign threats and the inspiration for people in the developing world to follow our example of prosperity and peace.

This idea has a long history. John Locke in 1689 wrote that a “prince who shall be so wise and godlike as by established laws of liberty to secure protection and encouragement to the honest industry of mankind against the oppression of power and narrowness of party will quickly be too hard for his neighbours.” In other words, good advice to the tyrants of the earth: If you secure your people in their property and the fruits of their labor under the rule of law, your government will be so popular and your country so wealthy that you will have nothing to fear at home or abroad.

Montesquieu in 1748 spoke of international commerce as the key to world peace: “The natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace. Two nations that trade with each other become reciprocally dependent.” 

Following the prompt from men such as these, we largely lost our religion but gained an unprecedented earthly concord.

Some find hope for the Middle East in a reformation within Islam. But arguably that is precisely what ISIS has been effecting, a return to the words and ways of Muhammad and his earliest followers, as Graeme Wood demonstrated in his account of what ISIS really wants

No, what the Middle East needs is an enlightenment along the lines of what the West embraced after the devastation of our 17th century wars of religion. The surest way out of such heavenly directed bloodshed as is presently disturbing the earth is to release the wealth of nations to water the Arab deserts and intoxicate the minds there with a different spirit. Dubai, a peaceful international community of business on the Persian Gulf, has set the example, but its earthly oasis has thus far failed to distract the Arab youth who are occupied with Allah’s caliphate.

D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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