Another top economist (Sachs) disserves his readers

Jeffrey Sachs writes in an opinion piece (The War with Radical Islam by Jeffrey D. Sachs – Project Syndicate)

To be clear, Western actions do not provide Islamist terrorism with a scintilla of justification. The reason to point out these actions is to make clear what Islamist terrorism in the West represents to the terrorists: Middle East violence on an expanded front. The West has done much to create that front, arming favored actors, launching proxy wars, and taking the lives of civilians in unconscionable numbers.

Wait, let me understand. Being in a war, traditionally, is a justification for violence (what else is the justification for dropping the atomic bomb?).  Sachs says Islamic terrorists are in a war. He says “the West” is also waging that war (and indeed started it!).  So…. that’s a justification, then, is it not? But no, it is not a “scintilla” of justification.  Why write an article that appears, to any reasonable reader, to be offering a justification (that is, a reasonable explanation for why some people resort to violence in their interactions with other people), and then deny that it is indeed such a justification?

Maybe Sachs argument is: What to some people seem like reasonable justifications (they bombed a lot of civilians so we are in a war and are retaliating) are not really justifications at all.  War and violence are never justified.  Ever (scintilla, after all, is very small).  In that case, why claim that the war is not a scintilla of justification for the Islamic terrorists, and not also claim that Islamic terrorism (9-11 and human rights violations of Asad and helping anti-Asad rebel groups etc) is “not a scintilla” of justification for “the West’s” war?  In Sach’s world, the United States would just unilaterally withdraw involvement and disarm right away?  There is no “scintilla” of justification it seems for having any military at all.  Why even talk about “Islamic terrorism”?

Wow, glad I spent time reading such a carefully thought out and insightful op-ed.  Oh wait… maybe it was satire? That opens a whole new dimension of interpretation.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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