Austin Bay

The Taliban's commanders know stability and wealth are their enemies. Last week's suicide bomber attack on a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) office in Kabul is another act of terrorist symbolism and a calculated operation in the Taliban's "counter-counter-insurgency" strategy.

That attack, however, is also a sign of terrorist fear. Stability and wealth secure peace -- which makes them the allies of the United States and everyone else in the constructive world.

It is reminiscent of the Aug. 19, 2003, terror bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. By destroying the U.N. building in Iraq, al-Qaida and Saddam Hussen's ancien regime sought to force a withdrawal of U.N. personnel. This would achieve two goals. Even if manned by a small staff, a U.N. office served as a political symbol of international involvement in the process of creating a post-Saddam Iraq. A U.N. withdrawal perceptually isolates the U.S. and anti-Saddam, pro-democracy Iraqis.

The second goal was to make certain U.N.-associated international aid and development teams -- some governmental, some private -- left, as well. A liberalizing, productive economy threatens terrorists and tyrants. Al-Qaida depends on chaos, poverty and hopelessness to advance its extremist ideology: See, nothing works, so accept our harsh theology and political domination and at least you'll be right with God.

Saddam and his cohorts lived to steal, but his tyrannical game was to keep Iraqis dependent on him. Saddam's regime damaged Iraq's agricultural sector with a purpose: Shia Arab farmers growing their own food represented a threat to his control. Better the people depend on a monthly food ration provided by The Big Man. Don't cross him, or your family will starve.

Both al-Qaida's and Saddam's economic and political policies contrast sharply with what USAID describes as its "twofold purpose of furthering America's foreign policy interests in expanding democracy and free markets while improving the lives of the citizens of the developing world."

USAID has roots in the post-World War II Marshal Plan, the economic and political effort to bolster Western Europe and defend it from domination by Stalinist Russia. The Truman administration knew guns were only one weapon in that geopolitical conflict. Strengthening democratic governance and fostering economic development were absolutely central to winning that long, debilitating struggle we call the Cold War.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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