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America’s time bomb

Ken Fowler | Tuesday, October 10, 2006

At a time when the United States should be working at a fever-pitch rate to help Lebanon rebuild in the wake of Israel’s war against Hezbollah, Washington is losing its best chance to convince thousands of young Arabs that America does not blindly support Israel at the expense of all other nations. The United States gives more foreign aid to Israel than any other country. That much is not lost on terrorists as they try to recruit young men and women to join their movement. But the United States now has the opportunity to put another foot forward and visibly demonstrate its commitment to decent living conditions in the entire Middle East, not just Israel.

Three months after the start of Israel’s incursion into Lebanon, 295 Lebanese cities have “substantial damage,” some with as many as 500 homes destroyed. The United States has pledged $20 million for one bridge reconstruction project and $230 million overall. Neither figure is nearly enough. Only a firm commitment from Washington to avert oncoming desperate poverty will keep young Lebanese boys off the track to terrorism. But the only social services in southern Lebanon come from Hezbollah. So an organization the United States calls “terrorist” is offering the most significant assistant to poor and war-torn villages.

America’s problem may be an argument that is finding supporters inside the White House. In the recently updated “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism,” the White House says that “terrorism is not the inevitable byproduct of poverty” because “many terrorist leaders … are from privileged backgrounds.” But that salvo misses the enemy boat. Whether or not all terrorists are poor is a much separate question from whether poverty increases the rates of terrorism. A closer, more rational examination shows a much different scenario – and the White House need not look any further than the Oval Office for a better understanding.

In 2002, President Bush addressed an international development summit in Mexico focusing on the correlation between poverty and terrorism. “Poverty … is a time bomb lodged against the heart of liberty,” former World Trade Organization President Michael Moore told the delegation. Now the wick on that bomb has run short.

Allowing Hezbollah the political fortune of existing as the only organization willing to rebuild the southern cities decimated by Israel’s warplanes will only stymie Washington’s chances at a successful, Lebanese-led protection of the border. When the people there are hungry, they will see who feeds them. When their young go to schools, they will see who funds the teachers and the buildings. And when they need shelter, they will see whose money supports the beams that support the walls that support the roof that support the family. They will see all that. And right now, they see Hezbollah. Unless the United States acts soon in Lebanon, it may be allowing a new breeding ground of extremists to come to fruition just as it claims to be on the offensive against the terrorists.