Several weeks ago I attended and participated in a conference devoted to anti-terrorist strategies. MI5 and FBI officials were in attendance as were former terrorists. The meetings were open and reasonably well attended. Yet when it was over, all I could recall was the reliance on clichés as policy recommendations.
One presumptive expert delivered a paper on the “3Es,” education, engagement, enforcement. While I agreed with his sentiment, there was nothing in his paper to which action could be attached. I kept asking myself what is the nature of this education and how effective can it be in opposing theological arguments? Could the relativism and multicultural views that dominate elite circles in the West be converted into logical or emotional instruments to curb terrorism?
Similarly, what does engagement mean? Interfaith seminars that I have attended are based on the premise that those in the Judeo Christian world have an obligation to understand Islam. While that may be necessary, interfaith dialogue, it seems to me, should be reciprocal. I assume that Muslims would want to develop an appreciation of the Judeo Christian traditions as well as the reverse. Yet that condition rarely prevails. If engagement is a one way street, how can it possibly be successful?
Enforcement is yet another cliché that relies on the obvious, but is activated by obfuscation. If terrorists break the law, if they are intent on murder and mayhem, the full weight of the law should be applied. However, legal technicalities often trump common sense. As a consequence, justice is a matter of circumstance and legal wrangling.
It is also the case that President Obama often conflates cliché and policy. Additional insurance for the unemployed, for example, is described as an essential benefit for the needy. How one pays for this benefit or the net effect on the economy are matters rarely disclosed. Perhaps the president doesn’t know, but the barrenness of the commentary is palpable.
On the foreign policy front there is a continuing refrain that smacks of a hackneyed bromide: “We will not tolerate an Iran with nuclear weapons.” Tolerate or not, the Iranian regime has, according to our own intelligence estimates, enough fissionable material to produce several nuclear weapons even though these bombs may not yet be attached to a missile fleet. Of what possible value is this cliché when it doesn’t speak to actual policy and doesn’t conform to current conditions?
Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001).
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