United We Stand

I spent last week at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, teaching an honors seminar on public policy entrepreneurship and interviewing high school seniors for the Morehead-Cain scholarship program.  This incredible program selects its candidates from in-state and out of state students, from public and private schools, and from some international education systems and focuses on attributes like leadership, scholarship, moral force of character, and physical vigor.  Teaching honors students and conducting the interviews exposed me to the incredible talent available in our future generations of leaders – what I call “civic engineers”.  I returned home hopeful, uplifted, and excited about the possibilities.

I also walked away with a renewed sense of responsibility to turn the “keys of the kingdom” – of our communities, states, and nation – over to this generation with things in a better state than they are today.  Last week, in Divided We Fall, I discussed the challenges we face within our own borders related to violence and areas where we can focus our energies to improve the situation.  A few of the comments I received back questioned whether I understood the nature of the terrorist threat and was willing to act accordingly.  In fact, the terrorist threat is front and center in my mind – my point last week was to focus our domestic attentions on the real threats and not demonize everyone in the process.  When we stereotype and cast a wide, unsophisticated net, we divide ourselves and create even more opportunity for the enemy.

With that in mind, Americans need to recognize that there is an enemy and we are indeed at war.  Whether you call them Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, or Boko Haram, they are the enemy – an enemy that must be fought in a committed, coordinated, and determined fashion.  I don’t take this statement lightly – real wars are horrible things that change families, soldiers, citizens, and our cultures in ways that are difficult to manage and almost always tragic.


Kurdish Refugee Camp

But there is real evil at work in the world right now and we have an obligation to fight that evil.  I know I’m supposed to understand things from other’s point of view, but no religion, philosophy, or perceived injustice can justify what I see.  Because what I see is an offense to humanity at every turn and that must be stopped.

So unlike my discussion of violence in the United States, where much of the blog was about social policy, my stance on true terrorism and the evil that comes with it is far more militant.

  1. Force Matters: In New Rules for a New Cold War, I argued that the real weapons to use to fight Vladimir Putin’s aggression in the Ukraine were economic rather than military.  While this is not a quick path to victory, it is a practical choice that will ultimately work in an area where all out aggression is not possible.  In contrast, in the war on terror, shear force will have to be applied.  For now, we are choosing to use air assets to bring this force to bear, and I certainly think that is a logical place to start.  I’m not convinced that this will ultimately be successful and it is unclear to me if our local allies can carry the day on the ground.  We should be prepared and willing to do more if that becomes necessary.
  2. Allies are Crucial: Fighting a war like this on our own, or with a small group of allies as in Irag and Afghanistan, would be foolish.  We need to mobilize countries in the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere to bring maximum pressure to bear.  The US should not be the sole policeman here – and it is time for others to step up and play a major role.  That seems to be happening, but I remain worried about long-term commitment.  This situation is not going to get better overnight and the cost will be high in many dimensions.
  3. Support at Home: Terrorism is generally not a part of our American existence.  We watch the ISIS executions on TV, witness the terror in Paris, and read about kidnappings and slavery in Nigeria.  And then we go back to our day-to-day activities and play politics with Homeland Security funding.  That attitude has to change – it has to change with our politicians and with ourselves as citizens.  It is shocking to realize that many have already forgotten what 9/11 did to our country and have lost the appropriate sense of moral outrage at that cowardly act.  This is a war…time to saddle up and support the fight before it surprises us again.
  4. War Has Victims: In all of this militancy, we should not lose track of the fact that war creates millions of innocent victims.  Part of our commitment to the fight must be to support those in exile, those whom are refugees, and those that lose loved ones.  Humanitarian efforts must continue – and we must do a better job protecting those who are trying to help others.  Over some longer period of time, economic development can also play a role in relieving the conditions that enable terrorist recruitment.


This was not an easy post to write because there is nothing glamorous or exciting about war.  The Middle East has been a complicated cultural melting pot since the beginning of time.  It is home to many people and religions who have struggled to live together in any sense of harmony for centuries.  I have no illusions that this will change soon or that this war will settle those disputes.  When this is “done”, Shiites and Sunnis may still disagree, Israelis and Arabs may still hate, and we may still worry about nuclear proliferation and the security of oil in the region.  Perhaps that is the human condition.  But the outright evil in the air must be dispelled. That evil flaunts humanity – and our job is to prove that humanity is alive and well, here and abroad.  Indeed, United We Stand.