The underwear-bomber attack underscores all this rather well. We can’t defeat men like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab by invading Yemen or Nigeria. Nor can we defeat them by sending drones to kill dozens of terrorists and thousands of civilians, thus producing more terrorists than we destroy. While military action may sometimes be unavoidable, we can no more militarily defeat jihadist terrorism than we could militarily defeat Soviet communism.That's all well and good until the next plane blows up or a radiological bomb explodes somewhere. But the answer to his question contains another question: where does he think these people have been all along?
The way to win is by using military force sparingly, and massively leveraging America’s greatest assets, which are economic, diplomatic, and ideological. When people in countries like Yemen and Nigeria see America and its allies as a force for progress and dignity and al Qaeda as a force for misery and oppression, America will win the struggle against al Qaeda where it won the struggle against the USSR: on the battlefield of hearts and minds. Winning the “war on terror,” like winning the Cold War, starts by recognizing that what we’re fighting isn’t really a war at all.
America has always been a force for progress and dignity. Nothing has changed, so how does he think these people are going to see a change if they couldn't see America under the last liberal president who responded to attacks with a light footprint? We tried the law enforcement/throw money at it diplomacy approach in the 90s and ended up with several attacks culminating in 9/11.
With all due respect, this battle is not like the Cold War, either. Citizens of the USSR were repressed and desired basic freedoms (similar to the folks in Afghanistan and Iraq); Muslim jihadists are not seeking freedom and prosperity--they are fighting for a tightly-held belief about Islam that paints the west as a land of debauchery. The jihadists are often like mobsters in their host countries, using intimidation and violence to control the docile masses (see Taliban). So the main hope for change has to be establishing some kind of democratic framework to allow freedom, law and order to prevail.
The hard core terror fundamentalists don't care about money as proven with the likes of Yousef, KSM, bin Laden, Zawahiri, Atta, Hasan and now Abdulmuttalab. They do not crave wealth and freedom, except freedom for the Palestinians, which requires a departure of American presence in the entire region and an overthrow in Tel Aviv. Mr. Beinart more or less ignores Palestine and the geopolitical importance of the region.
In Simon Reeve's book "The New Jackals", (page 129) he writes about Yousef's views on why he committed terrorism:
The West, says Yousef, was the first to kill innocent people and introduce terrorism into human history when America dropped an atomic bomb 'which killed tens of thousands of women and children in Japan..The terrorist also had thoughts on Agent Orange and Vietnam, the embargoes of Cuba and Iraq, Senn Fein and our support for "Zionists", although it's not clear whether Yousef actually believed this drivel or was just saying it to be popular and foment instability. Both Saddam and bin Laden have said the same things, repeatedly.
And Mr. Beinart sounds as if he's carrying on the same viewpoint, ie, it's more our fault than theirs and it is America that must change. True, we're getting silly in our response to aviation security and we can't roll tanks across every theater (and we're not) but we also are wasting time if we repeat failures of the past. Why not focus more on isolating the intransigent tyrants (not coddling them) while systematically eradicating the lawless who warp the societal continuum?
That would not only send a pretty strong message to worldwide lovers of peace and freedom and encourage them to persist it would also uphold our values as a nation. And to those who believe that targeting innocents is a law of war, the goal should be to make them aware that resorting to terrorism will lead to a predictably poor ending, every time.
Ace has a take on this topic (not on the same article, but it could be) and is even harsher than Cheney, but comes to the same general bottom line.