November 19, 2007

How to Win a War

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On each side of the aisle, there is talk of the war on terror, and which party is better equipped to win this war. In the not so distant past, the Republicans were your party if the war on terror was your biggest concern. They may still be your party on this issue, but Democrats are covering some ground, thanks in large part to the Bush administration’s foreign policy blunders. Nonetheless, nobody is really sure what a victory would look like. Does it mean that we kill every terrorist? Does winning mean that all state sponsors of terror are defeated in war? Does it mean we last longer than the terrorists and hope they give up? Winning the war on terror means that the ideologies of terrorists are discredited and the alternative of democracy is made more appealing.
Both the Republican and Democratic approaches to the war on terror are incorrect. Republicans want to stay on the offensive and fight the terrorists abroad so we do not have to fight them here. The fact of the matter is that we cannot be on the offensive any more than we already are. We have troops stationed throughout the world and military spending is already over 4 percent of GDP, according to the CIA. Additional expansion of the military and our offensive strategy is unwise. The Democratic position is not much better. The leading Democrats wish to downsize the military, which is appropriate to some extent, but they do not want to encourage democracy. Rather, some Democrats would rather just let the world be, and the U.S. will deal with the consequences. Although we should not forcibly export democracy as we have done in Iraq, the U.S. still needs to demonstrate the appeal of democracy and free markets as an alternative to terrorism and sharia law.
The war on terror will only be won once militant Islam loses credibility within the Muslim world. History demonstrates this idea quite well. The end of the Cold War could not have been possible without help from people inside the former Soviet Union. There was a realization that communism was not sustainable and was not working. In Italy, Mussolini was overthrown by his own people, in part, as a result of their discontent with fascism. The same idea holds true for the war on terror. The U.S. can fight endlessly and take every measure and precaution to prevent the success of terrorist organizations. However, not much will change unless the Muslim world condemns terrorism. Much of this burden falls on the Muslim people. In a BBC poll conducted in March 2007, 51 percent of Iraqis said that attacks on coalition forces are acceptable. This is certainly not to say that everybody in the Muslim world holds this same sentiment. Yet, there has not yet been a major public condemnation of terrorism against the west by Muslim nations and leaders.
The U.S. and western nations must also do their parts in changing attitudes within the Muslim world. This should be done in two ways. First, the U.S. needs to redeem its status as a “city upon a hill.” It is well-documented that the U.S. can be alienating and at times unfriendly towards other nations. There is no need to get in to this, but just let it be known that the U.S. needs to improve. However, what has happened in Iraq should not deter the U.S. from encouraging democracy and freedom. This tactic needs to be tweaked. Success should not be measured by elections, but rather by the development of free markets, the rule of law, and civil liberties. America should not be afraid to show the world how great she is. A thoughtful and tactful approach to encouraging democracy and freedom can prove to be successful. The election results in Palestine that brought Hamas to power, or in Iran that brought Ahmadinejad to power, should not discourage the U.S. Isolationism is not the answer. Encouraging constitutional liberalism and democracy abroad will serve the world and America well in the long run.
The war on terror will undoubtedly be a long one. However, we only compound the war if we continue to take both extremes; increasing military power on one end or adopting an isolationist attitude on the other. The U.S. should be proactive in encouraging democratic ideals in foreign nations. This will serve as an alternative for the Muslim world. This alternative of constitutional liberalism and democracy, combined with renouncement of terrorism from Muslims, will ultimately bring the war on terror to a close.

Lee Blum is a Sun blogger. He can be contacted at blogs@cornellsun.com.