Since al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and then attacked the World Trade Center three years later, the United States has dedicated billions of dollars and thousands of lives to addressing the threat of terrorism. Over time, policymakers converged on economic development as a key to ending terrorism, in the belief that poorer people are more susceptible to the appeals of violent groups or more likely to perpetrate violence themselves. If economic development aid raised incomes, the thinking went, support for militant groups would diminish.
This logic has taken hold at the highest levels of American policymaking. In 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama argued in favor of sending more development aid to poor countries, because “extremely poor societies” are “optimal breeding grounds for disease, terrorism, and conflict.” The same year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concurred, declaring economic development an “integral part of America’s national security policy.”