American Interests, Policies, and Results in the Middle East: Energy, Israel, Access, and the Containment of Muslim Rage

Remarks to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Security Studies Program

The last time I was in this hall, I spoke about the uplifting subject of the return of China to wealth and power.

Tonight I will speak about another region of the world, part of which is also accumulating wealth and power at a huge rate. The Arab Gulf now racks up about $800 billion in balance of payments surplus each year, and the amount seems set to grow. The cost of energy — the region’s major export — shows every sign of remaining high, indeed, rising higher still in years to come. The flow of global liquidity to the Arabian Peninsula and adjacent areas is not a short-term phenomenon but a long-term shift in global wealth, with enormous implications for the United States and other countries.

This rise in wealth delights the region’s inhabitants but, from an American perspective, the Middle East is currently a depressing place. It is a region from whose peoples we are increasingly estranged. It is a part of the world in which the introduction of a massive American military presence has paradoxically coincided with the steady diminution of US political influence, loss of market share by American business, and displacement of America’s former cultural preeminence.

A few weeks ago, President George W. Bush made his first visit to the Middle East. (This is something that presidents seem to decide is the thing to do as they prepare to leave office. An earlier example is Richard Nixon’s nostalgic tour of the region just before his impeachment. Nixon evidently felt unappreciated in Washington — “misunderestimated,” as it were — and sought solace in Arab hospitality.)

Those of you who have spent time with the Arabs will understand this. I don’t know what his Arab hosts thought about Nixon but Arabs are reliably polite to guests, even guests they do not like. As a case in point, consider the cordial manner in which they recently received the Iranian president, Mr. Ahmadinejad, despite his having numerous characteristics they, like others, consider obnoxious; not to mention an incorrigible character flaw in their eyes — in that he, poor fellow, is Persian.

The Arabs are marvelously hospitable. Yet for the first time that anyone can recall they greeted an important American guest, the 43rd President of the United States, with a series of exceptionally blunt public comments that no American can take pleasure in reading. Their opinions of American policies in the Holy Land, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and most pointedly toward Iran make very painful reading indeed. On his first full day in Riyadh, for example, President Bush was greeted with an editorial in the leading English language paper that analyzed his policies and concluded: “This is not diplomacy in search of peace, but madness in search of war.” That sort of language would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

Clearly the new century has brought with it a new world. The problems for us to ponder tonight are why this new world is off to a particularly bad start in the Middle East and what we can do about this. American policies in the Middle East, more than anywhere else, account for the dramatic fall in our prestige around the globe. The new world of the 21st century is being shaped by events there and our role in them. The Middle East — except in its own estimation — has long been peripheral to global politics. It has now moved to their center.

I have come to this conclusion with some reluctance. I spent my whole career trying to avoid the Middle East. After all, it was where hypocrisy first got a bad name. It is a long time since it has been the home of a world power, so its diplomacy is inherently parochial and aimed at manipulating external actors. And, while the United States has long seemed attracted to the Arab-Israeli conflict like a moth to a flame, I am not into self-immolation.

When the first President Bush asked me to serve as his ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 1989, he went out of his way to assure me that it was a quiet sort of place where nothing ever happened. With that happy prospect in mind, I settled into life in Riyadh just in time to play a role in shaping Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The intensity of that experience built relationships with people and leaders of the region that have kept me engaged with it ever since, despite my better judgment.

Why isn’t the United States doing well in the Middle East? It seems useful to go back to basics. I will speak tonight in very general terms about this region from the perspective of American interests. What are American interests in the Middle East and how do they relate to each other? All things being equal, what sort of policies would you expect the United States to follow, in light of those interests? What policies are we actually following? And what are their consequences? If things are not working out as we hoped they would, what might we do to remedy or mitigate this situation and turn it to our advantage?

I will address these questions briefly and therefore somewhat superficially. Years ago, however, a great professor of political science from MIT, who knew what he was talking about, told me that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing superficially. I have always taken his advice to heart.

The most obvious American interest in the Middle East does not distinguish us from others. We want reliable supplies of energy from it. Abut 60 percent of the world’s energy reserves are to be found in and around the Persian Gulf. Sixty percent! The entire world is dependent on these reserves, both for present supplies of oil and gas and even more so for future supplies. Saudi Arabia alone has about one-fourth of global reserves. Iran and Iraq each have another one-eighth or so. Over two-thirds of future additions to global oil and gas supplies will originate in this part of the Middle East. Almost one-third of current supply comes from the Persian Gulf region.

It is therefore not surprising to turn on the TV news (which, of course, bears the same resemblance to analysis that pornography does to art) and to observe much gnashing of teeth about “US dependence on Middle East oil.” But it’s wrong for our political pundits to encourage us to think about energy as a matter of bilateral trade. It is not.

Energy is sold into a global market and bought from a global market. This market functions like a pool or reservoir. Producers discharge their product into it, and consumers draw what they need from it. The level of the liquid in the pool rises in response to the balance between input and output. Prices rise and fall accordingly.

It is not the United States that is dependent on energy imports from the Middle East; it is the world. It doesn’t matter whether America imports energy directly from the Middle East or not — actually we are less dependent on the Middle East for energy than the Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, and Indians. If supplies to us from the region are cut off, we can and will buy elsewhere. But, if Middle East oil supplies are interrupted to any customer, everyone in the world, including American consumers and the US economy, suffers a price rise and takes an economic hit. The economic importance of Middle East energy lies in its indispensable contribution to the global economy, not how much of it flows to the United States as opposed to elsewhere. What is at stake is not an American interest but a global interest in which we Americans participate.

On this basis you would expect, first, that the United States would pursue policies which promoted stability in the Persian Gulf region, thereby bolstering the stability of its oil and gas production and exports, and reducing price volatility and its impact on both the US and global economies. And you would expect the United States and others to be concerned about permitting a single producer, especially an unfriendly one, to dominate the region’s oil and gas production and gain leverage over the global economy. To that end, you would expect the United States to be interested in sustaining a balance of power within the region rather than allowing a single nation to dominate it militarily. (Indeed, the Carter doctrine and the Gulf War were both in large part efforts to preclude such dominance, in the first instance by the Soviet Union and in the second by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.) And you would expect that United States to do everything we could to avoid the destabilizing radicalization of the region’s politics or the spread of conflicts that could interrupt energy exports, The last thing on Earth we should want in terms of our own well being is an escalating conflict between ourselves and the oil producers of the Middle East.

A policy emphasis on stability would, I think, have a natural corollary. Since energy exports from the Persian Gulf are a vital interest of all participants in the global economy, not just the United States, you would expect Americans to seek burden-sharing, asking other consumers of energy to do something other than take a free ride on us. After all, we are only one of many beneficiaries of Persian Gulf stability. Why should the United States take sole responsibility for managing the security and assuring the exports of the peoples of that region? Why should our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines risk their lives to assure China’s, Europe’s, Japan’s and India’s economic prosperity and well-being through reliable access to Persian Gulf energy? Ponder that, please!

A second very important American interest in the Middle East, given the prestige we have committed to it, is securing the state of Israel by achieving acceptance for it in the region in which it has been established. Israel cannot enjoy security if it is regarded as legitimate only by those outside its own region. It is not enough for Europeans (who initially sponsored the colonization of Palestine by European Jews and then carried out, collaborated, or did nothing to stop the Holocaust) and Americans (who liberated European death camps at the end of World War II) to declare the establishment of Israel to have been right and proper. To assure the long-term survival of a Jewish state in the Middle East, Israel must be accepted by the other peoples of the Middle East.

Given the commitment of the United States to achieving Israel’s acceptance, you would expect us to place great importance on

• brokering mutually respectful arrangements for stable borders between Israel and the Palestinians,

• peaceful coexistence between Israel and its neighboring states, and

• Israel’s political, economic, and cultural integration into its region.

Among other things, to the extent we Americans believe that the spread of democracy bolsters stability, you would expect us to wish to see the example of Israel’s democracy emulated in the region. Israel’s democracy denies full rights of citizenship to one-fifth of its inhabitants and any rights at all to the millions it rules in the occupied territories, but it is still perhaps the world’s most robust democracy, with a level of public discourse on policy matters that is or should be an inspiration to other countries, including our own. In short, you would expect the United States to use our influence to promote reconciliation and make peace rather than to widen conflicts or begin new wars in the region.

The erratic and often half-hearted manner in which we have pursued these goals, especially in recent years, accounts, in part, for Israel’s isolation from other states in the Middle East. The sad fact is that sixty years after the State of Israel’s founding, almost all Americans and many Europeans strongly back it, but it is still seen as illegitimate by the peoples of the region where it was established. The Arabs see Israel as an artifact of Western colonialism in their midst, an unappeasable power in perpetual search of Lebensraum at Arab expense, a cruelly oppressive sectarian occupier whose policies justify violent resistance, and the principal impetus for the radicalization of politics in both the region and the broader Muslim world. The region sees Israel as a hegemonic military threat, not as an appropriate partner in its politics, economics, or culture.

These perceptions, no matter how objectionable to an American audience, represent a major failure of both American policy and the Israeli policies that the United States has facilitated and underwritten. They underscore the boldness of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah’s promise that, if Israel can work out a mutually acceptable deal with the Palestinians, he and his Kingdom will ensure that all Arab states normalize relations with Israel.

Our third interest is military, commercial, cultural, and religious access. We need access to the region for our military because we can’t travel between Europe and Asia or vice versa without going through it or over it, The Arabian Peninsula is the size of Western Europe. Tens of thousands of aircraft cross it each year. The United States military could not operate in Iraq or in Afghanistan without overflight of Saudi Arabia. Nor could we use the huge airbase that has been made available to us by Qatar and from which we direct all air operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We could not access the headquarters of the 5th Fleet in Bahrain or our army installations in Kuwait that support our military operations in Iraq. We could not confront Iran if we decided, in accordance with our constitutional processes or even despite them, that it was in our interest to do so. In terms of its location astride strategic lines of communication, the Middle East is an area that is vitally important to our ability to act as a world power. No wonder Al-Qai’da focuses on breaking the Saudi-American relationship and making cooperation between us infeasible!

But military access is not the only kind of access we need. The adherents of all three Abrahamic religions — Jews, Christians, and Muslims — want untrammeled access to their holy places in Jerusalem. For the world’s Muslims, pilgrimage to Mecca (in the Hejaz on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia), is a religious obligation and a visit to the historically related sites in Medina is also important. The United States, I have been reliably informed, is still a secular country but we have a great interest in non-discriminatory access to holy sites by those attached to the great world religions. Denial of such access embitters and enrages. It promotes conflict, not reconciliation, and it provides the moral justification for wars of resistance.

Then, too, we want access to the Middle East for our businesses, for the benefit of our economy. Commercial access is particularly important when, as now, high oil prices lead to huge transfers of dollars to the region, Dubai is merely the best publicized example of the mind-boggling boom that the Gulf is experiencing. This is a region that was once the preserve of American business, the only place outside North America, where cars designed in Detroit were the dominant form of transportation. (Gulf Arabs like SUVs and other gas guzzlers as much as Americans do. But the economics of gas-guzzling there are different. In Saudi Arabia, for example, they currently pay only about 17 cents a gallon at the pump.)

Our declining market share and the inability of our companies to compete effectively for the huge new projects underway in the region as well its rapidly expanding markets, are a tragedy for our companies and a blow to our economy. It is especially ironic, given the extent to which we have failed to respond to higher prices by curbing our appetite for the region’s major export — oil.

The United States also needs to maintain access to the region culturally. It is in our interest for the peoples there to come to our schools, universities, staff colleges, and training facilities and to carry home with them both an understanding of the United States and feelings toward us that facilitate cooperation. It is in our interest to understand them. To do this, we must meet them on their own ground. We can’t do business with them if they can’t visit our showrooms or train on our equipment; nor can we do so if we cannot serve them where they live.

You would therefore expect the United States to lay major emphasis on military partnerships in the region as well as trade promotion, cultural outreach, and the encouragement of travel between the Middle East and the United States.

Fourth, we have an interest in the containment of problems that arise in the Middle East, Some of you may remember Dean Rusk’s insight that, “at any time of day or night, two thirds of the world’s people are awake, and some of them are up to no good.” Well, the Middle East is the epicenter of that phenomenon today. Its anguish, fear, and rage are uniquely infectious, given its status as the focus of three of the world’s great religions. One-and-a-half-billion Muslims — a fifth of humanity — pray in the direction of Mecca five times each day. Not a few of the 34,000 sects into which the world’s two-billion-plus Christians divide themselves believe that the reestablishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East heralds the rapture of Judgment Day. Many, if not most, of the seven million members of the Jewish Diaspora are passionately connected to Israel. The bitter divisions of the Middle East are contagious and can easily translate into global wars of religion, prejudice, persecution, and terrorist campaigns. It is not in the American interest, still less the world’s, for the 21st century to be dominated, as most of the 12th to 17th centuries were, by religious strife linked to a “clash of civilizations.” European history provides ample evidence of how ugly and destructive such conflicts and the hatred and discrimination they engender can be and of how difficult it is to halt them once they begin.

Based on this, you would expect a careful American attention to dialogue between faiths and the enlistment of religious authority in the cause of reasoned compromise among the various contending parties in the Middle East. You might also expect the United States to seek allies amongst these authorities who could discredit extremism among their co-religionists.

If these are descriptions of the main interests of the United States in the Middle East and the policy approaches they might logically produce, what policies are we currently following?

With respect to stability in the Persian Gulf region, we have given up on the idea of maintaining a regional balance of power and substituted our own unilateral military presence for this. When there was a rough balance between Iraq and Iran, the United States did not have to be present in the region in force. We could remain over the horizon and practice rapid deployment so that, if the balance started tilting too much in one direction or another, we could throw our weight behind the weaker side without ourselves becoming directly involved on the battle fields of the Middle East. This is what we did during the Iran/Iraq War.

When that war exhausted Iran but 1eft Iraq still vigorous enough to try to take advantage of the imbalance by invading Kuwait, we were prepared to intervene to liberate Kuwait and to cut Iraq back to a level that Iran could balance. We accomplished both objectives with Operation Desert Storm.

Then, out of frustration with Saddam Hussein’s unexpected survival in power, we unilaterally decided that we would practice what was called “dual containment,” a policy that required us to maintain a large military presence in the region to balance both Iraq and Iran, This policy, which is the father of the current one, was and remains the most expensive, the most strategically fatiguing, and the most politically irritating of all strategies we might conceivably adopt. It guarantees continuing friction with the peoples of the countries hosting our forces and raises the possibility of mounting blowback. Now that we have flattened Iraq, however, there is no obvious alternative to it. It appears we are stuck in both Iraq and the lower Gulf.

Our invasion removed Iraq as a reliable supplier of oil to world markets. Our threats to bomb Iran have added to regional instability and uncertainty, and led to additional rises in oil and gas prices. Recent polling data shows that we are now seen by the region’s peoples as the greatest threat, not the greatest contributor, to its security.

By pursuing a unilateral course, rather than organizing our allies, friends, and other nations who have a stake in the secure flow of energy to assist us in maintaining order and stability in the region, we have put ourselves in the position of being held accountable for anything and everything that may go wrong there. We have also chosen to give everyone else a free ride on our unilaterally assumed responsibility for the security of the world’s energy trade. As a consumer nation, we share interests with other major oil and gas importers, including newly emerging importers like China and India.

Instead of making common cause with them, however, we have chosen to deal with oil and gas producers through uncoordinated bilateral relationships or, in the case of Iran and Sudan, non-relationships. This has compounded the incoherence of our domestic energy policy, leaving us with no policy response to rising energy prices, no strategy for future energy security, no commitment to conservation or demand management, and no answer to climate change beyond an apparently counterproductive farm subsidy program.

Meanwhile, next door in the Holy Land, it has been years since we made a serious effort to promote negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians or even exercised our own judgment about the issues that divide them. Rather, we have reflexively supported the efforts of a series of right-wing Israeli governments to undo the Oslo accords and to pacify the Palestinians rather than make peace with them. Our recent embrace of the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and a secular Arab state — the so-called “two-state solution” — is widely seen in the region as too late and too little. Too late, because so much land has been colonized by Israel that there is not enough left for a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel; too little, because what is on offer looks to Palestinians more like an Indian reservation than a country. Such status will not be accepted by the inhabitants of the occupied territories; nor will it be accepted by the six-to-seven million-strong Palestinian Diaspora. It would inflame rather than relieve Arab resentment of Israel. It would not lead to normalization of Israel’s relations with other Arab states. Far from achieving the acceptance of Israel that is essential to its long-term survival, it would assure the continuation of efforts by other states in the region to erase Israel from the map. It would risk further globalization of asymmetric warfare in the form of terrorism against Israel and its supporters overseas, including the United States.

Ironically, November’s gathering at Annapolis was, as feared, all spectacle and neither process nor substance. The glimpse of Israel’s unilateralist vision of the Palestinian future that the run-up to it afforded has invigorated interest in a one-state, as opposed to a two-state, solution. As he left Annapolis, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert pointedly noted the danger of this trend, which promises to force his country to choose between its character as a Jewish state and a democracy that rejects the practice of apartheid. This is not a choice that the founders of the State of Israel ever envisioned. It is one from which thoughtful people must recoil. If there is a better way forward, we must help Israelis and Palestinians find it.

Let me turn now to the issue of access. In every respect other than military, our access to the region has steadily diminished. Despite the amazing level of economic activity in the Gulf catalyzed by the rise in energy demand and prices, most business is going to European and Asian rather than American companies. This is a trend that would call out for reversal even if we weren’t running a chronic trade deficit. The region’s imports are increasingly priced in euros, sterling, and other currencies, while its exports are still denominated in dollars. The dollar is sinking under the impact of chronic budget, trade, and balance of payments deficits. This is fueling inflation both in the Middle East and here at home. It is creating strong domestic political pressure on oil producers to dump the dollar. Serious questions are being raised about whether the little green portraits of dead presidents we have been in the habit of exchanging for oil and other commodities will not have to be converted into some other currency before they can exchanged for energy. The impact on our economy of such a development would be grave.

As our business presence in the region declines, Arab travel to the United States for business, study, or pleasure has not recovered from its post 9/1 I collapse. Far from it. While visa issuance rates are up, visa applications are way down. Those few who are able to obtain a visa often encounter degrading search and interrogation practices at the point of entry in the United States as well as while traveling within it. The human ties that are essential to resilient relationships between us continue to fray and attenuate, despite far-sighted efforts by a few in the region, like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, to sustain them.

Militarily, despite all the hoopla about our offer to sell $20 billion in weapons to the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs, it is not at all clear that they intend to pick up on the sales pitches our companies have made. Increasingly, others who are more politically acceptable — Britain, France, Russia, and South Africa — overshadow us as arms suppliers in the region, and China, India, Korea, and Pakistan are queuing up behind them to take their piece of the action in a game we no longer dominate. We continue to transit in high volume to bases we have been lent in the Gulf and to those we have built in Iraq. But this is on sufferance, not pursuant to defense treaties or agreements, still less an agreed strategy. Our talk about attacking Iran in association with Israel has further encouraged the Gulf Arabs and Egypt to seek new and less belligerent military partners in Europe and Eurasia as well as to pursue rapprochement with Tehran.

And finally, to turn to matters of religion — from Indonesia to Guyana the United States is now perceived as conducting a Crusade against Islam, not a war on extremists who usurp the good name of Islam for their own foul purposes. The unwelcome notion of a clash of civilizations is turning out to be a case of self-fulfilling paranoia. We have no dialogue of consequence with Muslim religious authorities. Nor have we sought allies among the many Muslims who share our disgust with the perverted actions of Islamist extremists. If the first requirement for a successful campaign against terrorist insurgents is the discrediting of their cause and their ideology, we have yet even to attempt this. If the measure of success in such a campaign is, as former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld declared, eliminating more terrorists than we create, then we are losing this war.

Overall, this is not a pretty picture. Given our substitution of talk radio for serious analysis of the sources of Muslim rage and the paralysis of our politics post 9/11, it has taken some time for our society to recognize that things have not been going well and to begin to ask what we might do to change course. The next administration is clearly going to inherit a thoroughgoing mess in the Middle East with implications that extend well beyond it. We face an unprecedentedly complex challenge to our statecraft in the continuing anarchy and mayhem in Iraq; the siege of the Gaza ghetto; the refurbishment of Taliban credentials as the defenders of Islam and the political rights of the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan; the entrenchment of Iranian political influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria; the collapse of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians; our estrangement from Turkey; the emergence of a democratic opposition in Egypt openly committed to abrogating the Camp David arrangements; the unrebutted appearance of an American military crusade against Islam; the lack of an energy security strategy; Iran’s continuing development of a nuclear industrial base that will in time permit it to field nuclear weapons; the impending spread of nuclear technology throughout the rest of the region; the alienation of allies and potential partners in dealing with these problems; and the absence of strategies or proposals to address any of them except through air strikes.

What is to be done?

Given the daunting number of challenges, I’m tempted to leave them to whomever we elect on November 4. But, since none of the presidential candidates has dared take them on, let me propose a number of thoughts for your consideration.

Perhaps it is time for the major consumers of oil to organize ourselves to join Arab and other producers of oil in managing the global market for it to mutual advantage. At present, there is no organized exchange of information or collective bargaining between producers and consumers of energy. Both sides could benefit from exchanging planning information and views, like unions and management, we share an interest in assuring each other’s continuing economic development and prosperity and avoiding unpleasant surprises. It would also be timely and appropriate for the United States to discuss with other consumers how to share the burden of defending the seaborne oil trade as well as bolstering a renewed balance of power in the Gulf. As a related matter, we might do well to put our heads together about how to develop a truly multilateral reserve currency system to replace over-reliance on the dollar and reduce the perils to our economic health that that increasingly entails.

Second, we badly need to develop war termination strategies for both Afghanistan and Iraq. Iraq is the more urgent of the two. It is in our interest to achieve the earliest possible restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and independence. Iraq today is not in most respects a sovereign country but one occupied by the United States. Although we did not want this, we stand there in the position of a colonial power. Iraq’s inhabitants look to the United States military — not to the Iraqi government we shelter in our “green zone” — for patronage, support and resolution of their problems. They also see our presence as a more pressing problem than the political presence that Iran has established in their country under cover of our occupation of it. So, for the first time in history, many Iraqis lean toward Iran. If we weren’t there, most likely they would distance themselves from Iran.

For many, many years our permanent presence in the Gulf consisted of nothing but four ships. We now have hundreds of thousands of sailors, soldiers, airmen, marines, and contractors on station. The region does not want this. Most Americans do not want it. In the end, such a presence is not politically sustainable. We must find a way once again to rely on a regional balance of power between the Gulf Arabs, including Iraq, and Iran. Our withdrawal from Iraq should be conducted in such a way as to facilitate the phased achievement of this.

It is also time for the United States to develop different policies toward Israel and the Arab lands it occupies. Our objective should be a peace that would trigger the broad normalization of Israel’s relationship with the Arabs that the Saudi-orchestrated Arab League proposal promises. It serves neither our interest nor Israel’s (as opposed to the interests of expansionist politicians in Israel) to support Israeli policies and practices that, far from serving this objective, undercut it. The blank check we currently offer Israel enables it to adopt policies that serve parochial and short-term interests at the expense of long-term interests. Principal among such long-term interests is Israel’s survival as a democratic state with a Jewish identity. Our unconditional support deprives Israelis of the need to make choices they must make in their own interest, and it aids and abets the adoption of policies that are unilateralist, militarist, counterproductive, and inevitably self-defeating. Our assistance to Israel, as well as our diplomacy, must be conditioned on goals and benchmarks that produce progress toward reduction of tension and negotiated coexistence in the Holy Land. There are many in Israel who have clear ideas about how to do this and who are eager to harness our power to the ending of their conflict with the Palestinians, if empowered to do so.

Finally, we need to start over in our relationship with the religious leaders of Islam and their secular counterparts, and to focus them on cooperation against the terrorist enemies of both Islam and the United States. We have begun to do this at the local level in Iraq and, as a result, Al Qa’ida is now on the run there. Both in Iraq and elsewhere, Al Qa’ida has murdered huge numbers of Muslims-many, many more than it has killed Christians or Jews. Yet our public diplomacy, such as it is, has concentrated on explaining away or defending Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and “extraordinary rendition” rather than on seeking common ground with the world’s Muslims, the vast majority of whom share our horror at Al Qa’ida’s amoral tactics and reject its deviant vision of Islam. We have an open invitation from the religious leaders of the Islamic world to open a dialogue to explore the possibility of a coordinated approach. It is past time for us to respond.

Part of this response must, I believe, embrace reconsideration of the garrison state we are currently constructing at home. We need to strike a much better balance between the open society that is the source of our greatness as a nation and security from those determined to punish us for the perceived iniquities of our policies. We are a nation defined by our ideals, not our territory or ethnic origins. That is the source of our appeal to the world and the font of both our domestic tranquility and our influence abroad. If we abandon our ideals in the name of defending them, we defeat ourselves. I have long felt that all the world — including its most troubled regions — would still follow America, if they could only find it. We must rediscover it to them.

Thank you very much.

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr., USFS (Ret.)

Cambridge, Massachusetts

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