In November 2001 I wrote: “The ultimate outcome [of the war on terror] will be transformational, for I believe there is no way to avoid the massive restructuring of the Muslim world that will follow (and parallel) this conflict. The ruling elites in these societies, friend and foe alike, must choose which future they want, and the status quo ante is not acceptable for us or for them. In too many instances in the past, U. S. foreign policy has supported stability as the ultimate objective, where revolution would have been preferable. Might this mean transitional occupation in some instances? Possibly. A return to some semblance of colonialism, as some have suggested? Maybe. After all, we’re dealing with a region with no core nation-state leadership, and societies that did not have a Magna Carta, a Reformation, a Counter-Reformation, or an Enlightenment. True, these are the unique experiences of the West, but they produced the universal values of successful civilization that most of the world is struggling to emulate in their own way.”
This was written shortly after the “wake up” call of 9-11, and I submit that it is appropriate to repeat because the Jerusalem bus bombing and UN bombing of August 18 and 19 and the bombing of the Baghdad mosque of August 28 were just as significant as wake-ups in many ways. Clearly, we are not yet mentally and emotionally prepared for the level of moral, financial, and military commitment that will be necessary to win the long-term war on terrorism. There are serious choices to be made, and we haven’t come to grips with the fact that this war will possibly be as long and certainly as significant as the Cold War and, as former CIA Director James Woolsey has reminded us, for example, we are nowhere near the commitment to defense spending in terms of percentage of GDP of either the Truman or Kennedy Administrations.
There is no doubt that the full story in Iraq is not being told—things are not as bad as they are being portrayed. For one thing, as Tom Friedman has noted, we are attracting enemies from all sides in Iraq because they know that this war is the Big One, as he calls it. They know it is not about oil or U. S. corporate greed or empire or crazed neoconservative ideologues, it’s about universal values and ideas such as the rule of law, and it is a fight to the death for their culture of death that our side is slowly but surely winning, and must win. There is also no doubt that President Bush needs to do a better job of explaining all of this to the American people because others not so well disposed to our mission are explaining it for him, and, politically, time is not on his side.