Although defending America is the first responsibility of government, the Constitution makes clear that “We the people”-the private sector-are the ultimate custodians of our civilization. The War on Terrorism tests our entire society, not only our brute strength, and private philanthropy can do things in this war that government cannot do, or do as well. For instance, we need to identify Muslim leaders who preach tolerance and magnify their voice, but it would be counterproductive to have the government do that. Healing rifts with allies, to take another case, will require critiques of government policies (our own and others’) that, if made by diplomats, would become international incidents, but if made through think tanks and journals can remind Westerners of our common interests.
Our enemies hope our ability to fight a long war of attrition will be crippled by America’s impatience and what they see as our self- indulgence. Private-sector leaders who can “mobilize” for the long term will prove them wrong. What follows are strategies in three areas where private funders can make the biggest difference: redirecting education, stimulating research, and establishing new organizations.
In our extended encounter with Muslim peoples, we must deepen our understanding of religions and cultures from North Africa through the Middle East to Southeast Asia. Yet we are critically short of linguists and area studies specialists. Education, of course, has long been a focus of philanthropy, but this is a special case. Middle Eastern studies in the United States have often been breeding grounds for politicized scholarship-anti-Western polemics masquerading as serious research-even in seemingly innocuous courses in language training. And the dearth of reliable experts explains both severe shortages in our intelligence agencies and armed forces, and also such scandals as the apparent spies at our Guantanamo Bay facilities. In addition, the normal course of study takes many years and often lacks a policy focus.
I recommend funders consider a new approach, loosely modeled on the military’s ROTC program: a “corps” of specialists to be trained specifically for public service in this area under the auspices of major universities using an accelerated schedule. Just as in ROTC, those who enter such a course would be required to serve the government for a set number of years before either making a career of public service or electing other appropriate employment. The country would gain an increase of needed experts, and those among them who later entered academe would bring practical experience where it is often sorely lacking.
A second educational possibility would focus on existing secondary schools and give teachers help in dealing with the “cultural wars” raised by terrorism. Even before September 11, our identity as Americans had been disputed for years in the fights over the way to teach children about America’s past and future (see “Philanthropy Brings History to Life,” May/June 2002, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s reports on “Reclaiming Social Studies.”) At the Foreign Policy Research Institute, we run a program, supported in part by the Olin Foundation, that helps junior and senior high school teachers instruct students in history and current events. We bring together 40-odd teachers from public, private, and parochial schools across the nation and provide a weekend “institute” on such subjects as “America’s Encounter with Islam” and “Geography and Geopolitics,” emphasizing the distinctiveness of the American experiment. This intellectual recharge is then reinforced by the teacher’s own curriculum designs using materials we give them. We have reached hundreds of teachers through this program and many thousands more through our e-mail network that offers additional materials. Other research institutes and universities could replicate this kind of program.
Another educational area worthy of support is military history. Eliot Cohen at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and now head of the new Merrill Center there, conducts seminars and courses that induct college students into defense studies that help to bridge the gap between civilian and soldier in this era of volunteer forces, no draft, and an anti-military ethos on college campuses. The generation with direct experience of war is passing on, and as Cohen puts it, “we have to equip succeeding generations so that they know what needs to be done to defend our country.” In addition, promoting the study of military history could do for foreign policy what funders’ promotion of sound economic knowledge has done for domestic policy-undermine the sentimental, politically correct blather common on campuses, and offer realistic understandings of the way the world works. This kind of education should work for journalists and journalism schools as well.
These efforts-a corps of Arabic and Muslim specialists, teaching teachers about issues of American identity, reviving military history, and educating the media-are all best done by the private sector and are all ripe for philanthropy.
The War on Terrorism challenges Amer ica’s intellectual resources, especially those provided by the nation’s unrivalled independent research institutes, aka “think tanks.” These organizations operate between university and government, between research for its own sake and applied or policy research, between “scholars” and “operators.” Our work involves a constant tug to move the experts from descriptions of problems to solutions, and to awaken the government to alternative advice, long-term issues, and overlooked hazards.
Donors must use caution: A survey of research institutions post-September 11 by management consultant James McGann found most had simply tacked terrorism onto work already underway or lost the subject in social science vagaries. A program officer for a major foundation that supports research institutes suggests three criteria to evaluate a think tank’s potential: first, are actual terrorism specialists at work; second, is the program more than just a relabeled exercise of existing work; and third, does the program provide practical advice for policymakers?
With these caveats in mind, let me suggest where additional research would repay donors’ support. I group these topics under three imperatives: Know the enemy; know yourself; know your friends.
• Know The Enemy. September 11 was carried out by Muslims who see defeating America as the key to purifying Islam. Some Westerners, frightened by any religious clash, advocate increased dialogue to deal with terrorism. Others offer a favorite analysis, namely, that the poverty of backward countries breeds hatred; hence “draining the swamp” that breeds an al-Qaeda will require a Middle Eastern equivalent of the Marshall Plan. In other words, fix the problem with words and money, and downplay the role of force.
Dialogues may help. Improved living standards are always desirable. But neither approach confronts the hard fact that we are at war with identifiable groups and several governments (including non-Muslim North Korea) that either help the groups or practice terrorism. A far better research focus would be to compile a “dossier” of the terrorists: their origins, sociology, ideology, education, skills, experience in the West, and then compare Islamic and non-Muslim terrorists to give us a clearer picture.
Dialogues can be of some use, provided we make certain choices. We know the Muslims are arguing over how to deal with “modernity.” Some Muslims see Islam at war with the West. A few journalists and scholars (notably Steven Emerson of The Investigate Project and Daniel Pipes at the Middle East Forum) have detailed how this viewpoint is being propagated in America. But other Muslim voices exist. The Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., has embarked on the difficult task of challenging Muslim leaders and scholars to explore possible relationships between Islam and democracy, both in the United States and abroad. Hillel Fradkin, head of the project, notes that “this kind of thinking takes place best in the freedom of America.” After a year’s effort, he is convinced there are other voices to be heard, able and eager to engage in such a dialogue, and the center is giving them a platform and inviting journalists, policymakers, and scholars to meet and listen to them. This deserves replication in similar projects.
• Know Yourself. There is much talk of America’s military “transformation,” whereby new technologies allow smaller numbers of servicemen to move faster with greater lethality than ever before. Yet our recent triumphs on the battlefield disguise the critical role volunteer reservists play. The current reserve system was not designed for duties that now often take reservists from work and family for many months or even years, with profoundly disruptive effects. We need to think quickly how best to revamp the reserve system
Beyond this issue lies another problem. The American Republic historically has relied on the “citizen-soldier,” whether volunteer or draft, to spread responsibility for the defense of the country broadly among the population. Yet as fewer and fewer Americans experience any kind of military service, a gap inevitably grows between our society and its volunteer defenders. The long-term health of our democracy depends upon a widespread understanding of and participation in the defense of our country. We should study alternatives to current arrangements that would foster a broader commitment to the nation’s defense (say, through expanding the presence of ROTC units on our major university campuses).
Research is also badly needed on the subject of homeland defense. As a recent RAND report noted, many recommendations made by think tanks thus far are “overly generalized, urge more spending than is feasible, or urge the government to take various actions without providing clear guidance on how to best prioritize those actions. . .. What is still missing. . .is a strategy that covers activities beyond those of the federal government.” Despite all the noise in Washington, the critical players are state and local governments and private companies. America’s economy and society depend on “showstoppers” and “choke points” that allow the whole to work: railroads, ports, roads, electrical stations, and the like, usually controlled by local government or private owners. Yet few state and local governments or private companies have established priorities and allocated resources to meet a range of threats, as the recent Toronto-to-Ohio electricity blackout revealed. Assessing these threats and how best to counter them will be essential for homeland security.
• Know Your Friends. American foreign policy has long assumed that the countries of “the West” share fundamental interests that keep them allied. But after Iraq, these nations may be headed down divergent paths. Although there have been dialogues and written reports on a possible U.S./European crisis, these have tended to be at the diplomatic or political level. A far more probing analysis is needed that looks to broader social and economic interests as well, including the future of the European Union, not only the Atlantic Alliance.
A second area of independent research should focus on key states once thought to be reliable American friends but now clearly in flux; Turkey, for example. Another case is Saudi Arabia and, in a broader sense, the Gulf States. As former CIA agent Robert Baer has pointed out, 60 percent of the world’s oil is controlled by five extended families and one-third of that oil by one family, the al Saud. In the wake of the Iraq War, four of the families have invited us to establish a major permanent presence; the Saudis have taken the opposite tack. All these relationships are in the throes of far-reaching change. We need to ask again whether U.S. and allied dependence on the five families can be lessened, or whether the only alternative is to underwrite their safety with a permanent military presence.
Given the number of existing foreign policy organizations engaged in research, education, and publication, it may seem odd to suggest starting new ones. Yet philanthropists should consider backing several possible innovations that would focus on the problem of terrorism. One is a publication. Years ago, as the Cold War began, a journal called Encounter was established to bring together American and European intellectuals seized with the challenge of Soviet ideology. Encounter succeeded in aiding the fight for freedom because of its high literacy and intellectual standards and its willingness to deal with critical issues. Today, we badly need a journal that could renew the once-exciting dialogue between Western theologians, philosophers, and scientists with their Muslim counterparts. This could provide an excellent outlet for exchanges now stifled for want of a non-religious, non-governmental, non-political forum that wrestles with issues rather than preaches. Articles might be written in English, French, and Arabic for starters. The journal’s main task would be to re-establish the intellectual bridges that once connected Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the pursuit of civilization.
Another idea is to build democratic “beachheads” on the ground by establishing think tanks in the Islamic world. These institutions have proven valuable in promoting transitions to the rule of law and democracy in formerly communist Eastern Europe. They represent not only a way to raise public issues that governments fear to undertake but also a way to offer alternative views, demonstrating that diversity does not mean disloyalty and providing a good training ground for democratic cadres of the future. Over the last several years, such organizations in Turkey (the Association for Liberal Thinking) and Israel (The Shalem Center) have begun to make themselves felt in public and private discourse. The ideas they foster include something quite foreign to most Middle Eastern states, namely, a strong private economic sector.
Finally, another sort of organization, again drawn from precedent, might be useful. At a critical juncture of the Cold War, private support enabled the Committee on the Present Danger to create a bipartisan push for stronger foreign and defense policies. Eliot Cohen has suggested that Americans could use another Committee on the Present Danger that would supply care and feeding for a strong consensus behind the War on Terrorism. It is vitally important that the war effort remain bipartisan, that the people remain alert, and that public pressure remains fixed on what we need to do, not only abroad but also at home. A “Committee To Win the War” could have as its first function the recruiting of a bipartisan group behind certain principles and specific policy priorities, as was done in the earlier Cold War effort. The committee staff could commission select research to advance its positions, thereby adding a research dimension to its work in public advocacy. As the 2004 presidential election approaches, this kind of operation could take “custody” of several inflammatory matters (such as the war’s legal consequences for American civil liberties) that otherwise might fall victim to the inevitable partisanship of the contest.
The threat of terrorism offers enormous challenges to American security that go well beyond our physical safety to issues of our identity, our legal system and ultimately the American character. As the world’s most powerful democracy, we are not only the custodians of a superpower’s arsenal but also of those extraordinary ideas about human liberty that Americans hold most dear and that, as Abraham Linclon said, quoting Thomas Jefferson, are mankind’s last best hope.
The private sector cannot stand aside from this struggle, trusting to governmental action. Our enemies mean to defeat America on the battlefield of ideas. Indeed, they think we are a hollowed-out society, ready to fall if “shocked” at the right place. Modern militaries no longer need the millions sent forth in World War II, but we should volunteer in our private capacities to aid the war effort in ways the government cannot: to redirect education to supply the skills we need in area, language, and military studies; to support research carefully focused on knowing the enemy, ourselves, and our friends; and to launch new organizations drawn from successful precedents. Private philanthropy can make a strategic difference in all these areas. The stakes are literally our survival, our principles, and our way of life.
Harvey Sicherman is president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. His books include America the Vulnerable: Our Military Problems and How to Fix Them, co-edited with former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman.