Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi Image Credit: AP

What were we thinking! You do not get rid of misguided young men with nothing better to do in life than burning people alive or chopping off heads with bombs; they rather require our sympathetic understanding. Instead of lethal air strikes, the US-led coalition against Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) should be dropping in therapists to walk them through their troubled childhoods. They should be weaned away from their bloodlust with P.G. Wodehouse novels translated in Arabic or, better still, “Eat, pray, love” accompanied by CDs of birdsong or tinkling waterfalls, the kind of relaxing background sounds favoured by spas. And when they have finally seen the error of their ways and said their mea culpas, they should be provided with worthwhile careers; nothing too cutthroat like Wall Street.

Unfortunately, I cannot in all fairness take credit for this innovative approach to tackling terrorism; that must go to the Obama administration, which gets full marks for thinking out of the box and coming up with a revolutionary solution; one that most ordinary mortals might perceive as weirdly bizarre.

Bravo to the Gandhian State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, who recently announced on MSNBC, following Daesh’s Libyan branch’s beheading of 21 Egyptians, that “We cannot win this war [against Daesh] by killing them; we cannot kill our way out of this war”. The US should instead “go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups”, such as, “lack of opportunity for jobs”. No ‘eye-for-an-eye philosophy here.

Instead, this paragon of puff appeared to lay blame at the feet of poor governance. “We can work with countries around the world to improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people.” Exactly! It was joblessness that drove Osama Bin Laden into his Afghan cave, never mind his millions in the bank. And if the self-appointed caliph, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi had succeeded in finding gainful employment armed with his Masters degree, the thought of creating rivers of blood to form his own state would never have crossed his mind.

Sadly, Harf’s insightful understanding of the terrorist mind has ignited a firestorm of criticism, much of it targeting her personally. Roving correspondent at the National Review, Kevin D. Williamson, was particularly hurtful. “Marie Harf, the cretinous propagandist and campaign veteran installed by the Obama administration at the State Department ... has called down upon herself a Malibu mudslide of mockery and derision for suggesting that what’s really needed in the war against [Daesh] et al is better employment opportunities — ‘Jobs for [terrorists],’ as her critics put it. She later explained that her observations unfortunately were ‘too nuanced’ for the simple minds of the dunderheads who twice elected her boss president of these United States.”

Sarcasm aside, Harf was merely reflecting the views of the Oval Office. Last Thursday, Obama argued that the use of force was not enough to eradicate terrorism and asked nations to “put an end to the cycle of hate” with increased human rights, peaceful dialogue and religious tolerance. That is a nice sound bite, but does it hold true when thousands of new recruits are flooding into Iraq and Syria from wealthy western democracies?

President Obama’s wishy-washy rhetoric and so-called targeted bombing campaign have hardly instilled fear in the hearts of Daesh fighters to date. Hopes are that a State Department plan to counter Daesh propaganda and its recruitment drive on social media will do the trick.

But even on the propaganda front, the US is being bested. “We’re getting beaten on volume,” admitted the Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Richard Stengel, adding, “So, the only way to compete is by aggregating, curating and amplifying existing content”. It is an understatement to say that the message from the US administration is one of defeatism, which is not going down very well with the American public. According to a recent CNN/ORC poll, 57 per cent of Americans are disapproving of the way their president is handling threats from Daesh.

President Obama’s lack of will (or something more sinister) is evident from his failure to support Egypt’s successful retaliatory air strikes and attacks by Special Forces on Daesh targets in the Libyan city of Derna. “We are neither condemning nor condoning,” the Egyptian strikes tends to be the US official line. The US is instead urging dialogue to bring about a political solution and is against any outside interference despite the fact that the US, France and Britain were instrumental in breaking Libya in the first place and have no qualms about intervening in Iraq and Syria. Apart from the glaring double standards, those sentiments are all very well for a superpower with over 7,400 kilometres distance between it and the danger. But, for Egypt that shares a long, porous border with Libya, his words are nothing more than impractical mumbo jumbo.

It is no use blaming Marie Harf for babbling derisible nonsense. The US president’s convoluted anti-terrorism policies replete with double standards require a silky-tongued Tokyo Rose.

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at lheard@gulfnews.com