Restoring the devastated regions of Iraq and Syria will require a new, bottom-up approach to post-conflict reconstruction, focusing on local security and entrepreneurship rather than the traditional approach of central planning. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
History will not look kindly on the failure of the United States and its allies to intervene early against the Islamic State and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Hundreds of thousands have been killed in Iraq and Syria since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, and the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament have officially declared the Islamic State's slaughter of Yazidis, Christians, and other minorities in the region a genocide.
America's allies in Europe are faced with an unprecedented refugee crisis that has shaken the continent's political foundations to the core. The terror threat in both Europe and the U.S. is higher than ever.
It is now up to the Trump administration to get things right in Iraq and Syria. President Trump's missile strike against the Assad regime in April was a welcome sign that the U.S. has found its moral resolve after years of passivity. The recent liberation of Mosul is another step in the right direction.
However, to succeed in the long term, the U.S. and its allies will have to bring more to the table than the will to act militarily. The refugee crisis makes it paramount to restore the ability of Iraqis and Syrians to build a safe and prosperous future for themselves. Without security and economic opportunity, refugees will be unable to return home, and their host countries will have to carry an enormous economic and social burden until refugees are fully integrated.
Restoring the devastated regions of Iraq and Syria will require a new, bottom-up approach to post-conflict reconstruction, focusing on local security and entrepreneurship rather than the traditional approach of central planning by national governments and international organizations. Economist Carl Schramm made the case for this new kind of "expeditionary economics" in a Foreign Affairs article in 2010. It is high time to implement Schramm's vision.
What would expeditionary economics look like in Iraq and Syria?
First, security should be locally driven and encompass all segments of society, including minority groups. This is a time-honored principle of policing in the Western world. Many of America's European allies have built great expertise in training police forces and could add tremendous value by taking on the task of enabling local Iraqi and Syrian communities, including Yazidis, Christians, and other minorities, to police themselves. The Christian communities on the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq, who are currently excluded from policing their own areas by the majority groups in power, would be an excellent place to start such a local policing effort.
Second, the rule of law should be locally driven and focused on defining and securing property rights. International aid and development organizations rarely pay much attention to property rights, perhaps because we in the West have come to take such institutions as the local county clerk for granted. But ill-defined and insecure property rights are a constant source of conflict that often undermine social stability and economic growth in developing countries. This has been documented in the groundbreaking work of economist Hernando de Soto.
Third, economic redevelopment in the region should focus on local entrepreneurs, local workers, and the development of indigenous growth businesses. Returning refugees can play a key role in this process, serving as a link between investors and customers in the West and local businesses in Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. and the European Union can help by removing barriers to trade and facilitating a mapping of microeconomic assets in the region and in the refugee communities. Right now, asylum centers and refugee camps should be busy collecting information on the skills of the refugees they are housing, matching these enormous human resources up with entrepreneurial leaders who can put them to work.
The U.S. has a long track record of welcoming the world's "huddled masses, yearning to breathe free" and turning them into successful citizens and entrepreneurs. It is perhaps this history as a better, future-oriented place that sometimes tempts America to turn its back on the Old World, even when it is on fire. The challenge now is to harness America's exceptional entrepreneurial expertise to deny genocidal tyrants and terrorists the social chaos and economic misery they thrive on.
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