Time to look forward

May 28, 2004|By Thomas L. Friedman

WASHINGTON - I'm glad the president gave a sober talk about where we're going in Iraq and in confronting terrorism. But I can't say I found it reassuring. I still don't feel we have a broad, workable strategy.

We currently have two national commissions looking backward - one on how 9/11 happened, and another about the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Those are key questions. But what we really need is a bipartisan commission looking forward. I'd call it the National Commission for Doing Things Right. Its mandate would be simple: Tell the country what U.S. policy would be if we were determined to do things right in confronting terrorism, no matter what the political costs - so we don't have to have yet another commission looking backward two years from now. Here's what I'd like to see:

We would take all the money the Bush team has wasted on public relations campaigns directed at the Arab-Muslim world and put it into three programs: a huge expansion of U.S. Embassy libraries around the world, which have been cut in recent years; a huge expansion of scholarships for foreign students to study in America; and a huge expansion of our immigration service so it can quickly figure out who should get visas to study or work in America and who shouldn't. You don't get better PR from ads. You get it from bringing people into America or American libraries and letting them draw their own conclusions.

We would adopt a 50-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax, the Patriot Tax (along with my wife's proposal: free public parking anywhere in America for any hybrid or other car getting more than 35 miles per gallon). A Patriot Tax would help pay for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and help finance a Manhattan Project to speed the development of a hydrogen economy, enabling the public to make a contribution to the war effort while lessening our dependence on foreign oil.

There is simply no way to stimulate economic and political reform in the Arab-Muslim world without radically reducing their revenues from oil, thereby forcing these governments to reform their economies, and societies, to produce real jobs for their people.

We would spearhead efforts in trade talks to reduce U.S., European and Japanese farm subsidies. Nothing would be more helpful to Pakistani, Egyptian and other poor farmers in the Muslim and developing worlds than no longer having to compete with subsidized produce.

We would make a serious effort to defuse the toxic Arab-Israeli conflict, including using NATO forces to separate the parties.

We would spell out that the war on terrorism is a long-term war on radical Islam - and while force is necessary in that effort, it is not sufficient. We have to connect all of the above dots to strengthen Arab-Muslim moderates, because only they can take on their extremists. Unfortunately, the Bush team reacted to 9/11 as if all the old rules and methods had to go. I believe 9/11 was gigantic. But the old rule book - emphasizing allies, the Geneva Conventions, self-sacrifice, economic development, education, Arab-Israeli diplomacy - was and remains our greatest source of strength in the effort to promote gradual reform in the regions most likely to breed threats to our society.

I think David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said it best: "The answer for us lies not in what has changed, but in recognizing what has not changed. Because only through this recognition will we focus on an effective multilateral response to WMD proliferation, the creation of real stakeholders in globalization among the world's poor, the need for reform in the Arab world and a style of U.S. leadership that seeks to build our base of support worldwide by getting more people to voluntarily sign on to our values. We need to remember that those values are the real foundation for our security and the real source of our strength. And we need to recognize that our enemies can never defeat us - only we can defeat ourselves, by throwing out the rule book that has worked for us for a long, long time."

Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.

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