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Eliminating ISIS: Jobs vs. Guns

Eliminating ISIS: Jobs vs. Guns

Speaking about the ISIS threat recently, the White House made news when it said, "We have to address grievances terrorists exploit, including economic grievances." Basically, they identified the ISIS problem as a jobs problem.

My research agrees with that 100%.

Throughout the Middle East, and definitely in Syria and Iraq -- where ISIS has established its "caliphate" -- young men without good jobs get up each morning with zero hope for a great life, zero dream of a family, zero dignity and zero self-respect. These men experience daily humiliation, indignation, desperation and a dangerous form of boredom, regardless of how much education they have received. This is, of course, true for young, out-of-work men around the globe, from Damascus to Detroit; from Fallujah to Ferguson.

But the problem in Muslim societies gets trickier. When you are a hopelessly unemployed young male in a Middle Eastern Muslim culture, you can't get married without a job, so you can't have a family and children. To make matters worse, everyone in your community knows that your life has crashed. You are a loser, a dead-ender. The humiliation is unbearable. To many young men, becoming a radical fighter for the caliphate may be a compelling and liberating temptation.

But Gallup Analytics has found that good jobs and a growing economy -- which is what the whole Middle East and North Africa region are most desperate for -- never happen until the surrounding society feels safe. If people in a city or community cannot say with confidence, "I feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where I live" (as a Gallup World Poll item puts it), then that community will not produce good jobs or ideas for new businesses. An economy cannot develop or thrive in an environment where families spend most of their time worried about danger and how to stay alive.

Gallup has discovered that there's an order to fixing a failed society -- the steps every society must take to create good jobs, GDP growth and ultimately well-being for its citizens. These steps must be taken in the following order or the situation is likely to get worse:


As you can see, establishing law and order is No. 1. None of the highly desired conditions later in the path can be achieved until No. 1 is achieved.

So, Gallup Analytics finds that the White House is right -- up to a point. The increasing number of young, unemployed men who are growing more dangerously hopeless and who feel they have failed in life are ripe to become ISIS fighters. But what the White House needs to understand more than anything is that the region won't produce the desperately needed good jobs until there is law and order. That means doing whatever it takes militarily to crush the destabilizing scourge of ISIS -- to root it out and destroy it. Law and order and safety must be established first. Then focus on creating the conditions for good jobs.

Attacking this problem in the wrong order would be a serious and probably historic leadership mistake.


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