The Magazine

America Loses Its Voice

The war of ideas is lagging.

Jun 9, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 38 • By JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
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The agenda of persuasion should contain three objectives. The first is to anathematize terrorism, which is still widely accepted in the Islamic world. In the wake of 9/11, Kofi Annan was forced to abandon a draft treaty against terrorism because the Islamic Conference insisted that it contain an exception for terrorism on behalf of worthy causes. And, according to Gallup, more people in Muslim countries found the 9/11 attacks somewhat justifiable than found them completely unjustifiable.

The second objective is to strengthen those Muslims, from the secular to the most devout, who share Iraqi writer Kanan Makiya's view that "the substitution of jihad for worship" is a "travesty" of Islam. We need to give them platforms and encouragement and material support wherever they feel they can accept it without compromising their message.

Third, we must carry out a campaign of explanation aimed at Europe and the rest of the world about our view of the uses of American power. Rarely has one power been so little balanced by others. No wonder the rest are uneasy. To allay their concerns, we must say much more about how we intend to use our power and the limits we accept.

Addressing this agenda will require new resources. Funding for the war of ideas should be restored to Cold War levels, which would still amount to a pittance compared with military expenditures. We also need to develop a new cadre of spokesmen and activists both within the government and outside. Our greatest asset in the Cold War were ex-Communists like intellectuals Arthur Koestler and Sidney Hook, who could best the Communists in the world of letters, and laborites like Jay Lovestone and Irving Brown, who could battle them in the political trenches. Alas, there is no comparable group of ex-Islamists; but there are eloquent Muslims who are pro-American and pro-democracy with and through whom we can work.

Finally, we need to reinvent USIA. The State Department, whose vocation is the soft sell, is unsuited to the task. As much as we need the Pentagon, we need an agency dedicated to the mission of waging the war of ideas.

Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism."