Counter-terror Interventions: A Micro-context Strategy

Two very different events last week inspired me to do some theorizing about counter-terror. The first was the Panetta Institute presentation, “Can America Win the War on Terror?” The second was a presentation of The Hunger Project - a global, non-profit, strategic organization committed to the sustainable end of world hunger.

The Panetta Institute panel – General John Abizaid, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, and moderator Frank Sesno – spent some time debating whether the term “war” was the right word to describe what the United States has been doing since 9/11. Abizaid argued it was; Ignatius had his doubts. Neither of them said having an accurate description of U.S. counter terror offensives was important.

The “counterinsurgency war” label used to describe the U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan does not really fit offensives against al Qaeda, essentially a non-governmental terror organization (or NGTO) that moves from country to country. Al Qaeda is an occupier and effective offensives against it require a special kind collaboration among interveners like the United States, the governments, and the citizens of the countries that it occupies.

The primary targets of counter terror interventions should not be the current NGTO leaders. Rather, the targets should be the specific populations that might support them. The mission should be to change the economic, health, infrastructural, educational, and political condition of target populations so they will deny support to NGTO’s like al Qaeda.

How do you accomplish big missions like that?

Think small and long-term. After The Hunger Project Presentation I began to think in what I call “micro-contextual” terms. I began to think of multiple interventions at the grass roots level of villages, hamlets, districts, and towns inspired by the micro-contextual strategies for small communities like the local democracy, epicenter, and micro financing strategies of The Hunger Project. This organization consistently gets big empowerment pay offs in micro contexts for a small intervention price. The Hunger Project has reduced malnutrition, illiteracy, poverty, and disease by entrepreneurially, educationally, and politically empowering women in villages throughout India, Africa, and Latin America.

In India, a constitutional amendment requiring a fixed percentage of representation by women on village councils was a critical top-down reform. Once implemented, women were able to use their new political power to change themselves, their families, and their village communities. The modest intervention of the Hunger Project was to provide leadership training to equip these new village leaders to prudently exercise their judgment to allocate government resources.

In Africa, the Hunger Project’s epicenter strategy built community centers with all local labor to create gathering places for community action and links with government resources. The Hunger Project stimulated the formation of partnerships between small village populations and local governments that built the many epicenters that now provide teachers, health workers, literacy instructors, and agricultural extension workers - all of which support sustainable change at a micro-context level.

No doubt the leaders of the Hunger Project would insist that to be effective, interventions must be tailor made to fit each specific micro context whether in India, Africa, or Latin America. However, I think its strategy can be generalized: Stimulate sustainable micro context changes that empower people to self-improve their lives.

By revising that strategy somewhat you get a strategy for United States counter-terror interventions: Stimulate sustainable micro context changes that empower people to self-improve their lives to make them NGTO resistant.

How we can convince the Obama administration and other world leaders to implement micro-context strategies to counter terror? What about non-violent strategies that are rooted in the empowerment of women. What do you think?

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