Dear President Trump:
Today’s Daily Lectionary readings are about idolatry and security.
In the Old Testament reading, God declares that false gods are momentary, incapable of creating and unworthy of our trust. Indeed, “goldsmiths are all put to shame by their idols; for their images are false, and there is no breath in them. They are worthless, a work of delusion.” (Jeremiah 10:11,14-15) To the contrary, the psalmist testifies that God is worthy of our trust. “The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1); “The children of your servants shall live secure.” (Psalm 102:28); God “grants peace within your borders.” (Psalm 147:14)
Mr. President, your budget tilts heavily toward hard power. Your proposed $52 billion Department of Defense increase alone “exceeds the entire defense budget of most countries, and would be one of the largest one-year DOD increases in American history.”
In reading your book, Trump: The Art of the Deal, one of the things I like is your outside-the-box thinking. But your defense budget is pure and simple inside-the-box Washington.
According to Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, the U.S. has spent $3.7 trillion to conduct its “War on Terror” since it was first announced by then President George W. Bush, Sept. 20, 2001.
But the hard power approach to terrorism isn’t working. According the Global Terrorism Index, the number of incidents of terrorism quadrupled in the decade following Sept. 11, 2001. And 2014 was the worst single year with 93 countries experiencing an attack and 32,765 people killed.
ISIS isn’t going to be defeated militarily. The Mexican proverb seems fitting: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
There are no simple or quick solutions. But a more hopeful strategy would be to reduce support for ISIS by strengthening good governance and offering challenging opportunities to youth.
In late 2015, Mercy Corps released a report, Investing in Iraq’s Peace: How Good Governance Can Diminish Support for Violent Extremism. Based on extensive interviews with Iraqis, it concludes: “When people who feel marginalized begin to believe the government is going to be more responsive, accountable, and fair, support for armed violence and the sectarian groups that perpetuate it decreases.” Terrorism sprouts and flourishes in failed states.
In an April 2015 Huffpost Science Blog entry, “Here’s What the Social Science Says About Countering Violent Extremism,” Scott Atran says we need to offer youth three things:
- Something that makes them dream of a life of significance through struggle and sacrifice and comradeship.
- A positive personal dream, with a concrete chance of realization.
- The chance to create their own local initiatives.
I fear that placing so much trust in military strength is idolatrous and “a work of delusion.” Loving neighbor as self is God’s strategy for building human security. Be bold, Mr. President. Try something new. Invest heavily in strengthening good governance. Invest in youth. Strategic foreign aid is not just good for others. It is good for America.
J. Daryl Byler