Let's Not Feed Our Enemies

A current article on Strategy Page has some useful statistics.  There are now four million Syrian refugees outside Syria and those people cost over $8 billion per annum to be kept alive.  That works out at about $2,000 per capita or $5.50 per day.  That is a useful metric to apply to other situations.  For example, control of Yemen recently passed from groups friendly to Saudi Arabia to a group backed by Iran.  Saudi Arabia used to pay for its southern neighbour to be kept fed.  Now that has become Iran’s responsibility.

There are 24.4 million Yemenis living on a patch of mostly desert that could support perhaps 10% of that number from its own agriculture.  At $5.50 per day, Yemen may take of the order of $100 million each and every day to be kept fed.  That cost has been added to all the other fights that Iran has taken on.  Saudi Arabia has built a big fence to keep the Yemenis out.  It looks like it will be completed just in time.  Saudi Arabia is also building a big fence on its northern border to keep ISIL out.

And that is where the Strategy Page article gets really interesting.  From it:

The UN is criticizing ISIL for marking foreign (mostly UN and mostly paid for by the U.S.) food aid as coming from ISIL. Before ISIL allows food aid to be distributed the boxes and sacks must be marked as a “gift from ISIL”. The UN also criticizes ISIL for selling some food on the market to raise cash. ISIL tells the UN to shut up and be grateful that ISIL allows the food aid in and generally does not abuse UN staff. Currently the UN food aid program feeds about four million Syrians, which is nearly a third of the population still in Syria. Nearly half of those aid recipients are either in ISIL controlled territory or the food must pass through ISIL controlled areas (in which case the food must be marked as from ISIL before allowed to pass). 

On one hand the US and its allies are spending a fortune on troops and aircraft to defeat ISIL.  The other hand is feeding ISIL, literally.  If we stopped sending food into ISIL-controlled areas, ISIL would disappear pretty quickly.  Is this too peculiar an idea?  Perhaps we are so rich that we can afford to feed people whose most fervent desire is to kill us.  But then don’t the lives of our pilots and other military count for anything?  Yes, civilians in ISIL-controlled areas would suffer some discomfort.  They may also turn on ISIL themselves and save us a lot of trouble.

At the start of the air campaign against ISIL, a lot of effort was put into attacking trucks carrying oil out of ISIL-controlled areas in order to reduce their cash flow.  That was sound logic on our part.  It would be bizarrely logical to extend that a little bit to conclude that we should also be attacking our own trucks carrying food into the ISIL areas as that is aid to the enemy.  That is if we insist on feeding this monster.

Perhaps there is no hope of sanity being applied to our policy in this region and we will run out of money first.  Then the Syrians we are feeding now will starve to death anyway unless someone else picks up the tab.  The Saudis might do it.  ISIL was their creation in the first place. 

David Archibald, a visiting fellow at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., is the author of Twilight of Abundance (Regnery, 2014)    

A current article on Strategy Page has some useful statistics.  There are now four million Syrian refugees outside Syria and those people cost over $8 billion per annum to be kept alive.  That works out at about $2,000 per capita or $5.50 per day.  That is a useful metric to apply to other situations.  For example, control of Yemen recently passed from groups friendly to Saudi Arabia to a group backed by Iran.  Saudi Arabia used to pay for its southern neighbour to be kept fed.  Now that has become Iran’s responsibility.

There are 24.4 million Yemenis living on a patch of mostly desert that could support perhaps 10% of that number from its own agriculture.  At $5.50 per day, Yemen may take of the order of $100 million each and every day to be kept fed.  That cost has been added to all the other fights that Iran has taken on.  Saudi Arabia has built a big fence to keep the Yemenis out.  It looks like it will be completed just in time.  Saudi Arabia is also building a big fence on its northern border to keep ISIL out.

And that is where the Strategy Page article gets really interesting.  From it:

The UN is criticizing ISIL for marking foreign (mostly UN and mostly paid for by the U.S.) food aid as coming from ISIL. Before ISIL allows food aid to be distributed the boxes and sacks must be marked as a “gift from ISIL”. The UN also criticizes ISIL for selling some food on the market to raise cash. ISIL tells the UN to shut up and be grateful that ISIL allows the food aid in and generally does not abuse UN staff. Currently the UN food aid program feeds about four million Syrians, which is nearly a third of the population still in Syria. Nearly half of those aid recipients are either in ISIL controlled territory or the food must pass through ISIL controlled areas (in which case the food must be marked as from ISIL before allowed to pass). 

On one hand the US and its allies are spending a fortune on troops and aircraft to defeat ISIL.  The other hand is feeding ISIL, literally.  If we stopped sending food into ISIL-controlled areas, ISIL would disappear pretty quickly.  Is this too peculiar an idea?  Perhaps we are so rich that we can afford to feed people whose most fervent desire is to kill us.  But then don’t the lives of our pilots and other military count for anything?  Yes, civilians in ISIL-controlled areas would suffer some discomfort.  They may also turn on ISIL themselves and save us a lot of trouble.

At the start of the air campaign against ISIL, a lot of effort was put into attacking trucks carrying oil out of ISIL-controlled areas in order to reduce their cash flow.  That was sound logic on our part.  It would be bizarrely logical to extend that a little bit to conclude that we should also be attacking our own trucks carrying food into the ISIL areas as that is aid to the enemy.  That is if we insist on feeding this monster.

Perhaps there is no hope of sanity being applied to our policy in this region and we will run out of money first.  Then the Syrians we are feeding now will starve to death anyway unless someone else picks up the tab.  The Saudis might do it.  ISIL was their creation in the first place. 

David Archibald, a visiting fellow at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., is the author of Twilight of Abundance (Regnery, 2014)