One reason I tend to be been skeptical of the view that the problems associated with violent Islamism require some kind of grand ideological battle is that Arab countries, in particular, seem to feature a lot of really banal things that might cause a lot of violence. For example, in the Middle East sixty percent of the population is under thirty. When the West had a similar age structure, in the late 1960s, we, too had a big spike in political extremism.
Add to that youth bulge Gregg Carlstrom’s point that research indicates a 26 percent youth unemployment rate in Arab countries, and serious problems are almost inevitable. But these aren’t really ideological problems that will be resolved with even a metaphorical civil war. You see across the region lots of regimes that lack democratic legitimacy and also lack the kind of legitimacy that can come from success in delivering the goods. It’s a bad situation, and one that unfortunately has bad consequences for Americans, too. But broadly speaking it’s not really clear to me what the United States can do about it beyond trying to avoid the sort of actions—invading Iraq, funding Israeli settlement expansion—that make us more likely to become a lightning rod.