Unfortunately, we’re not playing the long game, as the extremists are. We are vastly overrelying on the military toolbox and underemploying the education toolbox, the women’s empowerment toolbox, the communications toolbox. We’re tacticians; alas, the extremists may be better strategists.
It’s not a question of resources, because bombs are more expensive than books. The U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State will cost at least $2.4 billion a year and perhaps many times that, according to an estimate from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.
In contrast, Obama seems to have dropped his 2008 campaign promise to establish a $2 billion global fund for education. And the United States gives the Global Partnership for Education, a major multilateral effort, less in a year than what we spend weekly in Syria and Iraq.
This is an area where Congress seems more forward-looking than the president because Congress regularly appropriates substantially more for basic education overseas than Obama requests. Bipartisan legislation, the Education for All Act, would elevate the issue; let’s hope that Obama gets behind it.
I support judicious airstrikes in the short term against the Islamic State, but that should be only one part of a policy combating extremism. And a starting point should be to ensure that the 3 million Syrian refugees — especially girls — can get schooling.
Let’s learn from the extremists — and from those brave girls themselves who are willing to risk their lives in order to get an education. They all understand the power of education, and we should, too.