12/13/2007 01:04 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yes, America, We're In a "War on Terror"

In the 24 hours since we released the Winter 2008 issue of Democracy, there's been a lot of discussion over my ending essay about the debate over the term "War on Terror." Many have agreed with the points I laid out, some have disagreed, but this is clearly a debate we need to be having.

I hope you'll read the whole essay, but the takeaway point is this: Yes, we are in a "War on Terror" -- just not the one that either George Bush or some his critics are talking about. The fact of the matter is that, in the 21st century, "war" is no longer just about the clash of armies, it is about the conflict of ideas and values (similarly, "peace" is no longer just about ending military battles, as we see this week with the thrilling news of my old boss, Al Gore, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize). Similarly, "terror" is not only about terrorism - the "terror" we are fighting against in this conflict is also the everyday terrors of despair and despotism and degradation in countries around the world that end up driving people into the arms of terrorist fanatics. Taking on these threats needs to be part of the war we're waging.

Just because George Bush hasn't fought this battle, just because he's used the "War on Terror" as a bludgeon to attack domestic political opposition, just because he's made friends with dictators like Hosni Mubarak and Pervez Musharraf when he should be declaring them our enemies, just because he has taken us on the tragic detour of Iraq, just because he's sacrificed the goodwill of all nations and the leadership of the Free World, just because he's failed to hold America out as a special nation that doesn't torture its prisoners and that shuts down the world's Abu Ghraibs instead of running them, just because he's neglected to stand with those spreading democracy and prosperity to the world's darkest corners does not mean that we can walk away from the very real battle at the heart of the War on Terror.

What I propose is a new kind of foreign policy approach -- one geared to a world where the threats we face (such as climate change, international terrorism, epidemic disease, and endemic poverty) know no borders, where the solutions to these challenges require more than government action, and where, for the first time, most people live in democracies. That means we can no longer just speak to other governments and heads of state and ambassadors. It means we need a foreign policy that speaks directly to the people of the world, wins them over to the side of America and our international vision, and offers them hope for a better future.

Some neoconservatives -- like Norman Podhoretz, the author of World War IV -- have tried to conflate the War on Terror with the War in Iraq. (BTW: check out Anne-Marie Slaughter's devastating take down of the neoconservative worldview and her stirring progressive internationalist alternative). As many have pointed out, that is completely wrong. But lately, some progressives have fallen into the same trap -- applying everything that is wrong with the War in Iraq to the unrelated War on Terror. Some progressives -- such as George Lakoff, John Edwards, and Joe Klein -- have adopted the dangerous idea that the War on Terror is nothing more than a Republican talking point or that we are not really at war. But beating back the evil ideas behind the terrorist threat will take more than the low grade law enforcement action promised by some Democrats -- a kind of "War on Drugs" on steroids. It will mean a concerted effort to win the admiration and allegiance of ordinary people around the world -- by our deeds and not just by our words. That is the kind of war we fought and won in the Cold War. And that is a war worth waging -- and worth winning.