Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Vision Thing

As I wrote yesterday, I was blown away by the vision President Bush outlined in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly. It elaborated on ideas and themes the President has kept before the country in his State of the Union addresses (2002, 2003, and 2004), previous speeches before the U.N. (2002 and 2003), and even his address before the Joint Session of Congress on September 20, 2001. As Dr. Condoleeza Rice put it recently (emphasis added),

In its comprehensive report, the 9/11 Commission called for the United States to develop a long-range strategy to engage in a struggle of ideas to defeat Islamic terrorism. The report says that we must have a "strategy that is political, as much as it is military," and that "long-term success demands the use of all elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public policy, and homeland defense."

President Bush and the members of his administration could not agree more. Since the beginning of the war on terror, the President has recognized that the war on terror is as much as conflict of visions as a conflict of arms. One terrorist put it succinctly. He said, "You love life, we love death." True victory will come not merely when the terrorists are defeated by force, but when the ideology of death and hatred is overcome by the appeal of life and hope, and when lies are replaced by truth.

This has been the President's clear message and consistent practice. In his very first State of the Union speech, he said, "America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate values around the world, including the Islamic world, because we have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror."

Some people don't get the "vision thing", however. In a press conference yesterday, Senator Kerry said, "[T]he president needs to live in the world of reality, not in a world of fantasy spin." Mr. Kerry is hardly unique in this opinion. On September 10, Mark Helprin wrote an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he complained about Bush's grand vision (e.g. the RNC speech) ignoring the daily reality of fighting terrorism:
[W]e have embarked upon the messianic transformation of an entire region, indeed an entire civilization, in response to our inability to pacify even a single one of its countries. As long as our war aims stray from the disciplined, justifiable, and attainable objective of self-defense, we will be courting failure.
The critics overlook a fundamental rule of psychology. Fear is a terrific short-term motivator, but it's lousy long-term because you keep focusing on that which you wish to avoid and never plan where you ought to be going.

For long-term course change, you need to have something to aspire to, principles and dreams that guide your daily decisions and actions. As the Cheshire Cat told Alice, if you don't know where you want to get to, "Then it doesn't matter which way you go."

I've dealt with self-proclaimed "realists", who have a tendency to imagine the worst possible scenario, proclaim it most likely, and then act accordingly. They forget that there are a range of possibilities, and that we can make choices that will make our preferred future reality more likely. They think that their dreams are unrealistic, hence out of reach, and therefore don't even begin to try. Why bother?

We could just sit back and let the terrorists win, wiping civilization off the face of the earth. That, however, is a future world I would not want to live in. I'm an optimist, just like President Bush. I believe that we can create a" just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror". The reality is that it will take a lot of work. It will take years.

But it's a future worth fighting for.