How to Regain Momentum in the War on Terror
A briefing by David Frum
February 17, 2004
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Mr. Frum, a former presidential speechwriter who coined the "axis of evil" phrase, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and a contributing editor at the Weekly Standard. He is the author of The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush (New York: Random House, 2003) and other books. He spoke to the Middle East Forum in New York and Philadelphia on February 17, 2004.
Richard Pearle and I wrote An End to Evil because we were alarmed at the collapse of the strong national consensus against terrorism that emerged after 9-11. The post-9/11 consensus acknowledged that forceful measures must be taken against terrorism because it aims to destroy American society and to open the way for totalitarian despotism to rule over a fifth of our fellow humans. This consensus lasted until the preparations for war in Iraq, but is currently eroding.
The Mood in Washington
Addressing the collapse of this consensus is not just a matter of party politics. Indeed, within both parties there are many who oppose what President Bush has tried to do after 9/11. To this add the routine forces of bureaucratic inertia, the fact that the U.S. has had an alliance of convenience with the Saudi monarchy for over 50 years, and a preference for existing evils over unknown ones. The Bush program does fully understand the risks involved in its approach, but realizes that the existing evils have become so unbearable we have to try something new.
The program Richard Pearle and I lay out in An End to Evil is much bolder and stronger than explicitly advocated by this administration, which means it opens up more risks. There are, of course, people in Washington averse to these kinds of risks and a general feeling that, in a country this large, conflicts within our borders are more pressing than anything happening beyond them. As we fight these battles in Washington over the future of American foreign policy, our opponents therefore see their conflict with us – the people they call the "neo-conservatives" – as far more tangible than winning the conflict in Iraq.
There are very few new ideas being generated in Washington by the people who believe the war must have forward momentum. The mood in Washington is, rather, that we must muddle through Iraq toward some kind of increasingly modest endgame. It is as if the administration is conceding to its opponents that our only objective in Iraq is to get out as soon as possible. The real reason that led the United States to war in Iraq – to change one of the most important countries in the Middle East in a way that offers a positive example to the region – is an impetus that is fading.
A Strategy for Direct Public Participation
This is why you can now feel the vitality and energy of the public attitude toward this war waning daily. In the year and a half after 9-11, Americans promised themselves never to forget, never to succumb to false moral equivalence, and never to allow complacency to shackle us to policies that have proven disastrous in the past. One by one, those "nevers" are falling away.
How to fix the fading of this impetus for forward momentum in Iraq is the subject of our book. We were motivated to write the book because the power that drives the forward momentum of the war does not come from a particular administration or from bureaucracies or institutions. This power to drive forward momentum actually comes from a demand from the people of the country for action; from the memories of Americans that the wrongs this country suffered in the war on terror have not yet been avenged; and that it is not just a matter of safety, but of self-respect.
People concerned about the threat of terrorism should play a role in the political sphere. In addition to supporting individual candidates for office, what is necessary is something like the group the Club for Growth. This is a group of business leaders that pools resources behind candidates who, regardless of party, have what they consider the right attitudes toward economic policy.
Something like that may need to be organized in the realm of foreign policy. Citizens' groups should be organized to directly participate in politics by asking one question: which candidates are going to do the things that are necessary and to bring about the right solution in Iraq and to secure the country at home and abroad? In this way citizens who understand the necessity for a bold program can directly participate in political life and help safeguard our democracy.
Summary account by Robert Blumm, research assistant at the Middle East Forum
Related Topics: War on terror
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