- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006


By Harlan Ullman, Carroll & Graf, $26, 291 pages

Harlan Ullman thinks geopolitically. “America’s Promise Restored” is a fervent plea that all federal government decision-makers, executive and legislative — prodded by the American people — do the same. He is a seasoned military and defense analyst and worries that we do not fully understand the nature of the threat that faces our nation.

The author’s thesis is that, acting under the rubric of “the Global War on Terrorism,” we have focused on the symptoms — acts of terrorism — rather than the cause: the determination of jihadist extremists to remake the world according to their ideology.

While Mr. Ullman makes this case persuasively, he is pessimistic that our government has the maneuverability or flexibility of thinking to rise to the challenge. He resorts to an oversimplified phrase — “culture, crusade and partisanship” — to explain the sclerotic nature of our government’s problems.

He says our national “culture” (really the social and political trends at any given moment), our propensity to export our idealism (from Christian missionaries in China 100 or so years ago to democracy for the Middle East today), and our partisanship all blind us to the problems before us.

Added to this, he says that the problems of entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare will, if unsolved, make it impossible for us to remain the world’s preeminent economic power.

As for the present danger posed by jihadist extremists, Mr. Ullman knows his stuff and presents it clearly. His argumentation, however, is marred by frequent repetitions of that phrase “culture, crusade, partisanship,” as if he were sprinkling salt and pepper on an omelette.

The author offers remedies for both our internal shortcomings and what he sees as misdirection of our foreign policy. About the latter, he argues that we should better understand the “civil war” that is taking place in the Arab/Muslim world between the forces of moderation, which have reconciled their religion with modernism, and the much smaller group of fundamentalists who would take the world back to the seventh century when, they believe, life on earth was near perfect.

This group, exemplified by al Qaeda, believes all aspects of life should be lived according to the Koran and Mohammed’s writings, the Hadith; that any Arab/Muslim country with a secular government is apostate; that democracy, with its free choice, is evil; and that all the infidels in these categories may be killed without hesitation in order to achieve the pure state the jihadist extremists seek.

How does the United States get to a clearer vision of dealing with this threat, reducing other ones and straightening out its domestic problems? Mr. Ullman writes, “Constitutional contradictions, the impact of single-issue interest groups, and the profoundly adversarial nature of the political process are totally resistant to immediate and probably long-term correction.”

No hand-wringing for him, though. He calls for “Big Ideas” embraced under the banner of “peace, prosperity and partnership.”

Among other things, the author calls for mandatory voting in elections, a system of nationwide town meetings and national referenda on major issues. He does not tell us how mandatory voting — even if enforceable — would produce a better-informed electorate. Nor does he tell us how televised national town meetings featuring the president would not degenerate into contentious verbal duels by supporters and detractors.

As for national referenda, Mr. Ullman gives us no formula for preventing them from becoming massive, well-financed pro-and-con campaigns intended to sway voters at an emotional rather than an intellectual level.

He calls for modernizing Congress by reducing the number of committees and subcommittees and going to a two-year budgeting cycle. He also proposes that Congress create a Joint National and Homeland Security Committee to be roughly equivalent to the National Security Council.

Other proposals put forth are well worth discussion, including several dealing with various actual and potential hot spots in the world. As the author puts it, the “jihadists, like Lenin and Hitler, are out to seize power. That their religion is used to camouflage and ‘legitimize’ these aims does not diminish the intent of the danger.”

Mr. Ullman undergirds his arguments and remedies with interesting but rather long digressions about the modern history of warfare. Nevertheless, the reader who sticks with this book will find its thesis and its recommendations bracing.

Peter Hannaford is senior counselor to the Committee on the Present Danger.

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