Post-9/11, there were those who "explained" the attacks by blaming U.S. policy in the Mideast as behind the "desperation" of the hijackers. After the Madrid bombings, half the Spanish electorate effectively blamed their nation's participation in the war in Iraq by voting out the government that supported the U.S. In the wake of every suicide bombing in Israel, that country's policy on Palestinians is deemed responsible in many quarters, especially in Europe. Post-Beslan, who is prepared to blame the children?
On the eve of last week's Republican convention, President Bush told a television interviewer that the war on terror is not winnable. Pundits were quick to pounce on what seemed like a political slip, but Mr. Bush's meaning ought to have been clear. What he meant was that the war on terror was not winnable in a conventional sense. It would not conclude with Osama bin Laden ordering all Islamists to stand down the way the Emperor of Japan asked his countrymen to do at the end of World War II.
As should be obvious by now, the war on terror cannot be won only by disrupting terrorist networks and shoring up homeland defenses. It is also a war of ideas, and as such can be won only if the widespread ideological support for terrorism found in the Muslim world and some quarters of the West can be transformed into widespread condemnation.
There are historical models for this kind of transformational thinking. In the century that just ended, fascism and National Socialism, ideologies fashionable among some Western intellectuals during the 1930s, were stamped out by the Second World War. Communism lost ground during 50 years of the Cold War that ended with the collapse of the Soviet Empire. All of these ideologies have been proven bankrupt, even in the parts of the world where totalitarianism still reigns.
In making the case that the world needs to think differently about terrorism, Mr. Bush and other members of his Administration sometimes cite the example of the British in the 19th Century as changing the way the world thought about the slave trade. By the end of the century, slavery may still have existed in parts of the globe, but no one was making the moral case for it.
Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, explained the Administration's effort to de-legitimize terrorism in a speech last spring at the University of Chicago. "The world should view terrorism as it views the slave trade, piracy on the high seas and genocide," he said, "as activities that no respectable person condones, much less supports."
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