- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2001

America is moving into a war with a shadowy enemy, determined to find the evildoers and make them pay,

using the full range of military force. Diplomats are working to persuade other governments to cooperate with, or at least condone, this military campaign.

Official statements do not, however, give much of a hint that the administration conceives of Operation Enduring Freedom as a campaign not only to rid the world of global terrorist movements, but also an opportunity to significantly improve America’s relations with the nations and people of the Middle East.

The Afghans know America’s prime targets are the thousands of terrorists from mostly 13 Arab countries assembled in their country by Osama bin Laden. The Afghans do not want to become collateral damage when the United States zeroes in on the bin Laden bases.

The sensible thing for the Afghans to do is get the unwelcome foreigners out of their country. President Bush noted this in his Sept. 25 news conference, when he observed that the best way to rout out terrorists “is to ask for the cooperation of citizens within Afghanistan who may be tired of having the Taliban in place, or tired of having Osama bin Laden people from foreign soils in their own land .”

To put this thought into practice, the United States should make use of a popular American practice, the recycling center. For each bin Laden foreigner brought across the Afghan border in good condition, the Afghan turning him in will earn $2,000, a handsome annual income in that country. (The benefit would be reduced if the goods are in damaged condition.) The terrorists would then be interned and dealt with in some distant country that can use the business, like Mauritania or Niger.

Now add to the recycling concept two other favorite Bush ideas: compassionate conservatism and vouchers. In addition to the cash bonus, the recycler will earn for his village a $10,000 voucher toward badly needed community improvements. The voucher would be redeemed directly by the village leadership, beyond the control of whatever government may emerge in that country.

Many voucher-financed community renewal projects would be eagerly undertaken by governments wishing to take a stand with the U.S. against terrorism, but not comfortable taking part in or abetting military missions that might kill innocent civilians.

For instance, village leaders might apply their vouchers to pay for a team from Australia to rebuild its irrigation system, or a Swiss team to create and staff a health clinic, or a Norwegian team to open a school, or an Omani team to build a mosque. Non-Governmental Organizations from many counties would undoubtedly offer their services.

Among the latter are a number of Muslim relief organizations, including Red Crescent, Helping Hand, Mercy International, and Islamic Relief Worldwide. Mosques all across the world would be likely to participate as a way of fulfilling their holy obligation of zakat (charity).

This combined effect would be the enlisting of Afghans in removing unwanted foreigners from their country, as part of an internationally assisted rebuilding of its shattered towns and villages. The recycling operation would give the U.S. what it wants suspected terrorists. The program would appeal to the idealism of millions around the world. It would be cheap compared to what the U.S. will necessarly spend on its military campaign. It could proceed through Ramadan, a month when Western military action against Muslims is likely to provoke criticism among our Muslim allies. It is only part of the solution, but it can work along with necessary military action and humanitarian relief programs.

Even if the market incentive feature for getting Afghans to recycle alien terrorists is dropped, such a multinational low-budget grass-roots aid program for the long-suffering Afghan people would weigh heavily in humanity’s ethical scale. It would avoid the costly mistakes of government-to-government foreign aid, and reflect most favorably on President Bush and the United States.

A similar program (minus the terrorist recycling incentive) for assisting village-level agriculture and development in Poland was developed (by me) in the early Reagan White House. The concept was enthusiastically received by representatives of Solidarity, the Polish American National Congress, and the Catholic Church. The proposal worked its way up to a National Security Council meeting.

Unfortunately, staunch opposition from the State Department, invariably hostile to people-to-people initiatives not controlled by its bureaucrats, eventually persuaded President Reagan to choose not to go ahead. Sometimes history gives a good idea a second chance.

John McClaughry is president of the free-market Ethan Allen Institute in Concord, Vt. In 1981-2, he was senior policy adviser and executive secretary of the Cabinet Council on Food and Agriculture in the Reagan White House.

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