Her view is that practitioners may have succumbed to the “root cause fallacy,” which occurs when a phenomenon caused by many factors is mistakenly attributed to a single source.
But the following claim bothers me: “There is no one root cause of civil and political violence, which means there is no one silver bullet solution.” I believe she is right that there is no one “silver bullet” solution to civil and political violence, so that’s not my quibble.
The general version of her claim is that if a phenomenon has multiple causes, it must have multiple solutions. Yet if we consider effective mitigation to be a solution, the claim isn’t true. When we experience headaches, we take our favorite painkillers even if we have no idea which of a range of possible triggers led to the headache. A useful policy intervention can have nothing to do with the root causes of that problem.
I think this bothers people for a few reasons. For one, it’s so often repeated that it’s ill-advised to manage symptoms instead of applying a cure. This makes for a great talking point, but it’s also better to engage in symptom management than to do nothing while waiting for a cure to reveal itself.
Another reason I think people focus on root causes is that policy interventions aimed at mitigating problems risk making them worse if root causes are unknown. A second-order effect of an intervention might in fact be a root cause of the problem, so that the intervention can unintentionally prolong the phenomenon. We’re all familiar with this argument in the counterterrorism context. I would just point out that it requires the second-order effect to outweigh the primary effect, and evidence either way is often lacking.
Still, we should recognize the ubiquity of policy interventions that have nothing to do with root causes. Domestically, we have a social safety net because a long list of known and unknown causes can push people into hardship. Internationally, we may not understand exactly why a state is rising in material power or becoming increasingly belligerent, but we know that alliances may mitigate the threat (because of the security dilemma, we can’t be sure). The notion that we must know the causes of problems in order to address them effectively thus seems to be a second "root cause fallacy."
By the way: economic fixes for terrorism might work even if economic grievances aren’t a major cause of it. This is unlikely, but not illogical. If it is true that extreme Islamist movements are sustained at least in part by a belief that Western governments are enemies of Islam, an outpouring of economic assistance aimed at improving the lives of people in Muslim countries could undermine that belief. I don’t think the effect would be large enough, but this illustrates the problem with rigidly pairing every potential solution with a single cause.