Winning Hearts and Minds in the Mideast
Battles are won by brave warriors wielding powerful weapons, using smart strategies during relatively brief engagements. Wars, however--especially wars to replace dictatorships with democracy, fear with personal freedom, and state control with private markets--are won by mass mobilizations of large populations around a larger purpose over a long period of time. In Afghanistan, President Bush showed that he can lead the nation successfully into battle, and there is little doubt that he can do that again in Iraq. But the President has not shown much willingness to mobilize the American people for a long and costly fight against terrorism. He has yet to make the case that Iraq is behind terrorism or that it has weapons of mass destruction. And he has yet to mobilize the masses in the Middle East around a post-Saddam vision of a U.S.-led renaissance of Arab society based on modernity, opportunity, and prosperity.
Unless the President remedies this, the U.S. risks a punishing blowback from an Iraq invasion that might increase, not decrease, terrorist attacks and antagonize rather than attract the very people it intends to help in the Middle East. In Afghanistan, where the U.S. won the battle against the Soviets and then abandoned the country, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden rose out of the ashes to kill thousands on American soil on September 11. This cannot be repeated.
President Bush must first reveal evidence that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. Then he should cut U.S. dependence on Middle East oil by insisting, in the name of national security, that Detroit raise mileage requirements for U.S. cars. Finally, he should commit the U.S. to a long-term war supporting secular moderates against Islamic fanaticism. This also means reengaging in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to forcefully shape a settlement.
A battle with Iraq may well be the easy part. The real war will be for the values of Middle Eastern societies.