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Book Excerpt: Read Chapter One of "Religion, Terror and Error"
A Wake-Up Call
With the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the aimless giant was rudely awakened; and any opportunity for further drifting was foreclosed for the foreseeable future. In the aftermath of those attacks, the United States embarked on a dual-track strategy—a track of justice and retribution in Afghanistan and a track of preemption in Iraq. Whatever one may think of the decision to attack Iraq, both tracks were rationalized by the belief that the leading vital interest of every nation-state is protecting the security of its citizens.
The United States also announced a number of defensive measures to protect the homeland: improving security measures for the nation's aviation system; taking action to protect critical infrastructure; increasing the nation's preparedness for a disaster; and enhancing information-sharing among federal, state, local, and international partners. Numerous other steps have also been taken to protect the country, especially on the intelligence and counterterrorism fronts; but most of these initiatives have constituted defensive measures in reaction to symptoms rather than actions to address underlying causes. Thus far, the country has been spared a second attack, but the threat persists, as evident from the failed attempts of the Detroit "Christmas bomber" and the May, 2010 Times Square car-bomber. Clearly, if we are to deal effectively with the problem of religious extremism, something more will be required.
Despite the widely recognized need to address the challenges of religious extremism, how to do so remains a puzzle for most policymakers. Respectful engagement with other cultures and countries only takes one part of the way, since that has more to do with good manners than with religious faith. America's past inability to understand and deal with religious imperatives has led to uninformed foreign policy decisions in such places as Iran, Lebanon, and, most recently, Iraq. To avoid similar mistakes in the future, we will need to expand our definition of realpolitik to include religion and other cultural factors, if we are to see the world complete and whole. We also need to make a concerted effort to understand how religion informs the world views and political aspirations of those who do not similarly separate church and state. To reduce this ambitious undertaking to manageable proportions, we will confine our examination in this volume to dealing with the challenge of extremism in the name of Islam.
Dealing With Cause
American foreign policy must develop a capacity for spiritual engagement on various levels. This will require moving beyond the rational actor model of decision making that has long dominated our practice of international relations—a model which assumes that states will behave according to the rational pursuit of their national self-interests, foremost among which is maximizing power.[ii] Absent, however, is any room to accommodate the impact of religious imperatives or other supposed irrational factors, hence the need to move beyond. Developing a new, more-encompassing framework for analysis is needed to engage effectively the challenges posed by religious extremism.
Beyond the Rational Actor
Col. John Boyd is not a widely known thinker outside the military. He didn't write books. His ideas were practical, scientific, and against the grain of Air Force doctrine. His most important legacy was his impact on the concept of maneuver warfare[iii] (as opposed to attrition warfare), and it can be found in hundreds of meticulously prepared briefings he gave during 20 years of intellectual insurgency against his own military's bureaucracy. He was also a profane, blunt-speaking truth teller.[iv] Orphaned by the U.S. Air Force for bucking the dominant mindset of "faster, higher, farther," this brilliant fighter pilot of the 1960s became an adopted son of the U.S. Marine Corps. Not well known outside the Marine Corps today, he had a simple view of war shaped by his reading of a 2,000-year-old strategist, Sun Tzu. Boyd's views were, and still are, at odds with the American love affair with technology.
Douglas Johnston is the president and founder of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. Johnston comes to this work after a long and productive career serving in the United States military and government. His edited collection Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft has long been cited as a key text in conflict resolution studies.