Before the economy eclipsed everything else, the country was feeling better about Iraq. The war was winding down. The insurgents were being steadily pacified. Then along came Mumbai, and their 9/11, as Indians view it, and reignited our own past fears. As the world watched the grueling, sickening violence enacted against innocent victims, it was easy to push back as aggressively as possible against the attackers and their like everywhere.
In other words, kill them all.
But this wasn't our 9/11, and we've learned since then that there's a second reaction to terrorism. One recognizes, wearily but maturely, that killing every terrorist we can lay our hands on isn't the same as killing their ideology. The jihadist's ideology is barbaric, violent and senseless. But that isn't what will wipe it out. Ideas can't be wiped out with force, much less killed. There has to be a good reason for people to give them up. (See pictures of Two Days of Terror in Mumbai.)
America needs to deliver a Marshall Plan to the Arab world not in the form of money to rebuild war-torn cities but in the form of ideas to rebuild violence-torn minds. We have no alternative. In my yard there are stubborn patches of crabgrass. It's tempting to take a weed whacker and chop them down, but the crabgrass comes back twice as strong unless you get at its roots.
We learned in Vietnam that Ho Chi Minh's "hearts and minds" approach could withstand burning showers of napalm and carpet-bombing from B-52s. The poison of Islamic fundamentalism will survive any aggression we mount against it. Roots don't submit to violence. (Chop up a crabgrass root, and it breeds a dozen new offspring.) You have to patiently dig and dig, and never give up until the job's done. (See pictures of Saudi Arabia's Jihad Rehab Camp.)
The root causes of fanaticism aren't a mystery. Some are external, like the rigid political oppression that exists in almost every Arab country. Some are internal, lying in the endemic ignorance and lack of education in those societies. Both can be changed, however slow and difficult the process.
The real reason the surge worked in Iraq is that it first brought an end to violence in Baghdad neighborhoods. Then American soldiers kept watch while the Iraqis themselves nourished their own peace. America has an enormous advantage in the Arab world: the moderates vastly outnumber the fanatics. On their own, these moderates haven't had the power or influence to change the hearts and minds of the whole population, however. The guns on both sides have been too loud.
The crucial thing is a change of direction on America's part. Much of the widespread Muslim sympathy for al-Qaeda is based on defensiveness, the attitude of people who feel attacked and judged against. We should be able to police the threat of terrorism without making more than a billion Muslims feel that they have an enemy. And consider this: if you take the opposite approach, refusing to dig out terrorism by its roots, you are saying in effect that the jihad movement that affects every Muslim country is rootless. That makes no sense at all, and it will keep making no sense as long as we mistake killing terrorists for killing terrorism.