On November 7, 2006 Americans went to the polls and registered a deep concern on the course of the war in Iraq. For months ahead of the mid-term elections, they understood what leaders in the White House refused to acknowledge: A region spiraling downward in violence and bloodshed. American troops with no exit strategy. Most horrific of all, U.S. soldiers— America’s finest—tortured, killed and mutilated in a war making no observable progress in achieving the promised reduction in terrorism.
We hold the view that there is a better plan for exiting Iraq, one that is based on a clearer understanding of both that country’s history and the civil war underway there now . We also hold the view that there is a better path to reducing terrorism that is very different than the one currently being pursued. This new path adheres to the values that have made this country great—justice and strength combined with respect, humility and inclusiveness—and, if followed, can reaffirm this greatness. Unlike the current course, this plan is built upon a recognition and understanding of the causes and nature of terrorism.
Simply put, U.S. policies and actions in Iraq and throughout the world have increased world terrorism. The predictions made by our administration regarding the war have been badly wrong—predictions regarding how quickly it would end, how much it would cost, how we would be greeted as liberators, and how terrorism would decline as a result. Now predictions are no longer even offered.
The predictions have been wrong because their view of the cause of terrorism is wrong. Therefore the plan for defeating terrorism also has been wrong. By leading our finest into the wrong war, and leaving them there too long, we have put them in an untenable situation. Haditha and Abu Ghraib are the failure of our leadership in Washington, not our soldiers on the front lines.
Tragically, the Administration’s policies, founded on misunderstanding, will most probably lead to the ascendance of yet another repressive regime or regimes in Iraq as the only way to restore “order” to the country. But the damage will not be limited to that country alone. Our mistakes in Iraq will haunt us throughout the region and beyond. Violent terrorism has accelerated and spread. More lives—military and civilian—certainly will be lost.
Our thesis is this: extremists who commit acts of terror exist in virtually all religions and societies, including our own. The most serious problems with terrorism occur in countries or regions where extremists have gained the sympathy and support of a broad population. Generally, that receptive population is enduring oppression or occupation. The most effective way to eliminate that support, to isolate—and thus neutralize—extremists, is to overcome occupation or oppression. And the most effective way to achieve that is through truly a decentralized and representative government. Opportunity must replace despair.
Crucially, power cannot be decentralized into a democracy if economic opportunity and wealth are not also decentralized in close to the same time frame. Economic development is an integral and indispensable part of the equation.
Many new plans and policy alternatives are now being put forward, including the report of the Iraq Study Group. Most, however, are built on these same misunderstandings that led us to where we stand today. Increasing the number of troops will not bring real progress in Iraq. Military strategy cannot be properly set until the political situation is rightly understood.
Nothing can excuse the horrors of terrorism. Yet terrorists are not born. They are created by external forces. This essay will explain the causes of terrorism, offer a solution to reducing terrorism, and outline a realistic path forward. This is not an exclusive, or unique, view. Rather, it incorporates, distills and synthesizes much that has been written by historians and commentators in this area, analyses that—unfortunately—have accurately forecast the events of the last three years. We cite the works of those experts here to augment our own opinions and buttress our recommendations. This essay points to a path away from our dilemma and toward better times.
This essay addresses these issues:
- What is terrorism?
- Why they hate us
- How to reduce terrorism
- What we have wrought in Iraq
- What we should do in Iraq
- Thoughts on Palestine, Lebanon and Iran
- How we should conduct relations with Islamic countries going forward
- The current administration’s position on Iraq and terrorism
Robert Wright wrote in his July 16, 2006 article on “progressive realism,” “Exploring the root causes of bad behavior, far from being a sentimentalist weakness, informs the deft use of real power.” Arthur Schlesinger wrote, “The great strength of history in a free society is its capacity for self-correction.”
We heartily agree.
On a personal note, as primary author of this essay, I must state that I am a businessperson and have rarely been deeply involved or interested in politics. When I have, it has almost always been to support conservative policies and candidates. However, my passion is history, and because of that, I have been speaking out since before the invasion of Iraq against what history has shown would be the ineffectiveness of this administration’s approach to the war on terror. My motives have included the safety of family and friends as well as the avoidance of death and destruction in Iraq. I believe our current course is making things worse. I also see firsthand the detrimental effects of this war on U.S. business. After the invasion, a barrel of oil spiked from $28 to over $70, short-term interest rates climbed by 4.25 percent, the U.S. deficit grew to record levels and global trade—a crucial engine of America’s business growth—was impacted.
We hope that you will take the few minutes needed to read this essay. It is a message that we hope will be heard.