In military parlance, the "close battle" is the battle being waged at the moment on the battlefield. The "deep battle" is the fight for hearts and minds. Retired General Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA, recently compared these two at a National Press Club program on militant movements in Yemen. He indicated the close battle is the easy one for the U.S. to win; the deep battle is hard.
Why? The U.S. is heralded as the beacon for freedom and democracy. When we can't win when it comes to ideology, something is sorely out of kilter.
To begin with, the General's analysis was inside the box. Winning the close battle, he said, means knocking out the enemy's leadership and destroying their safe havens. Then the General explained that our difficulty in winning this ideological war was due to the particular nature of the ideology we now confront, militant Islam.
The deep war aspect of the Cold War, the General explained, was a fight between democracy and communism. Because both were grounded in Western philosophy, he felt this gave us a legitimate way to talk about the differences between the two. He argued that is harder for the West to energize allies around a religion that is not of the West. This will require an "authentic voice" among Muslims, he said.
He pointed out the security risks of losing the deep war with terrorists. While the U.S. has been successful at containing large attacks like 9-11, he does not predict that we will be as successful at containing what has replaced them, attacks modeled after the Mumbai hotel attack in November, 2008. All it took to terrorize the city and capture the attention of the world was about a dozen men with automatic weapons and cell phones.
The General's answer to this new type of warfare was to shift the emphasis from intelligence to law enforcement, from foreign activities to domestic, and to revise the definition of success. We must be prepared to suffer smaller attacks, as they will happen, he predicted.
General Hayden contemplated how we might respond to this new, closer battle. Will we impose more restrictions on our freedom, thus undermining the beacon of freedom that we provide for the world? Will our politicians "go spasmodic," in General Hayden's terms? Will Al Qaeda exhaust us with our own defensive security measures?
The General suggested that it will require political maturity for us to prevail. I suggest that political maturity means looking for new ways and better answers that are readily available. He is incorrect when he says that religion is the obstacle. People of all religions share the same humanity, and it is at this level that we will secure a safe world for all people. To demonstrate what I mean, I offer an example I have cited previously, the aid the U.S. military provided to Pakistan after the terrible earthquake in October, 2005.
In the wake of the Iraq war, Muslims in many countries turned against the United States, wishing Americans harm and even death. In Pakistan, favorable public opinion toward the United States plummeted to just a few percentage points. Then Pakistan was hit with a terrible earthquake. American soldiers were sent to Pakistan to give earthquake victims medical care, shelter, and food. By doing so, they won the hearts of many Pakistanis who had previously hated Americans. Favorable opinion toward the United States rose to 46 percent by the end of November of that year. (CNN Poll)
Then in January 2006, Americans returned to our traditional method of an eye for an eye in Pakistan. Gunfire from CIA drones missed the intended target, instead killing eighteen innocent men, women, and children in a remote village. Pakistanis were outraged. Crowds took to the streets chanting threats to the Americans. By August 2007, only 19 percent reported a favorable opinion of the United States; a mere 9 percent were favorable toward President George W. Bush. It was Osama bin Laden whose favorable approval rating then stood at 46 percent.
What happened? The actors were the same: the United States and Pakistan. The Iraq war was still in full force when the radical shift in Pakistani opinion towards the United States occurred. The answer is clear. The earthquake relief effort addressed the human needs of the Pakistani people, not a political agenda aimed at getting them to do or think as we dictate.
While it had been thought that it would take years for nearly half of all Pakistanis to again hold a favorable public opinion toward the United States, it had been achieved in a month. When we again attacked, it was quickly undone, and religion was not what made the difference.
When former Vice President Dick Cheney spoke to the Manhattan Institute on January 19, 2006 about the Iraq war, I was struck by the incongruence of what he said. He justified the war casualties, the torture and deaths in the name of democracy. Then he said that he was proud to be an American and named one of his most proud moments: when he and his wife visited Pakistan and saw the valiant efforts of the U.S. soldiers helping the earthquake victims.
What made him proud was not when we were harming others, but when we were rendering aid and assistance to humans in need, free of our immediate political agenda. These are the moments that all Americans can be proud of, beyond religious affiliation or political ideology. These are the human moments that connect all of us, one to the other. History proves that addressing human needs is the path to peace, freedom and security for all people.
Also posted on GenuineJustice.com.