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Andrew J. Bacevich -- To Defeat Terrorism, U.S. Should Wage a Cold War

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Containment implies turning to the old Cold War playbook. When confronting the Soviet threat, the United States and its allies erected robust defenses, such as NATO, and cooperated in denying the communist bloc anything that could make Soviet computers faster, Soviet submarines quieter or Soviet missiles more accurate.

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Containing the threat posed by jihad should follow a similar strategy. Robust defenses are key -- not mechanized units patrolling the Iron Curtain, but well-funded government agencies securing borders, controlling access to airports and seaports, and ensuring the integrity of electronic networks that have become essential to our way of life.

As during the Cold War, a strategy of containment should include comprehensive export controls and the monitoring of international financial transactions. Without money and access to weapons, the jihadist threat shrinks to insignificance: All that remains is hatred. Ideally, this approach should include strenuous efforts to reduce the West's dependence on Middle Eastern oil, which serves to funnel many billions of dollars into the hands of people who may not wish us well.

During the Cold War, containment did not preclude engagement, and it shouldn't today. To the extent that the United States can encourage liberalizing tendencies in the Islamic world, it should do so -- albeit with modest expectations. Sending jazz musicians deep into the Eastern Bloc in the old days was commendable, but Louis Armstrong's trumpet didn't topple the Soviet empire.

Finally, there is the matter of competition. Again, the Cold War offers an instructive analogy. During the long twilight struggle with the Soviets, competition centered on demonstrating scientific superiority (putting a man on the moon) and material superiority (providing cars, refrigerators and TVs for the masses). The West won.

Competition today still includes a material element. Yet a conflict rooted in a dispute over God's place in human history necessarily extends beyond the material realm. Radical Islamists assert that all humanity must submit to their retrograde version of Islam. Western political leaders declare with equal insistence that all must live in freedom, that term imbued with specific Western connotations.

The competitive challenge facing the West is not to prove that Islamic fundamentalism won't satisfy the aspirations of humanity, but to demonstrate that democratic capitalism can, even for committed believers. In short, the key to winning the current competition is to live up to the ideals that we profess rather than compromising them in the name of national security.

The upshot is that by modifying the way we live -- attending to pressing issues of poverty, injustice, exploitation of women and the global environmental crisis -- we might through our example induce the people of the Islamic world to consider modifying the way they live. Here lies the best chance of easing the differences that divide us.

The war we're fighting can become plausible, sustainable and even morally defensible.

It just has to go from hot to cold.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University and the author of "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism."


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