Alex de Waal has a new essay published today with the Boston Review, accessible on their website. Below is an excerpt:

Almost without exception, rulers in countries affected by Islamist insurgency tend to run their governments as secretive, militarized kleptocracies. (Or, as Sarah Chayes argues, “Every country that harbors an extremist insurgency today suffers from kleptocratic governance, including long-established U.S. allies.”) If the United States provides black-budget money, and trains and equips special forces, it supports the government in power—its bribery and coercion. During the Cold War, the United States and U.S.S.R. each supported client states in Africa and the Middle East, in a zero-sum geo-strategic game that denied citizens’ the right to change their own governments. This is still how a security cooperation relationship works, and we should have no illusions. And in turn, that kind of government generates popular resistance, including extremism.

The central lessons are well worn but nonetheless worth re-stating. First, the main effort in counter-terrorism should be social and political reform in affected countries, and second—for the United States—a national security strategy cannot substitute for a foreign policy that is aimed at finding political solutions to political problems.

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