07/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Taking Our Seat at the Table

We have spent recent years fighting an unconventional war in a conventional way. We have sent in ground troops and bombed villages to rubble. We tried to scare our enemies into surrender with sadistic strategies such as "shock and awe." Our former president spoke violent words, full of bravado and hatred aimed at intimidating our enemies, but also resulting in animosity towards innocent people. The Iraq War was started with the old-fashioned belief that superior arms would easily crush an enemy and lead to a quick victory, but the wars of today no longer follow these rules. Luckily, after having to deal with the idiotic thugs of the last 8 years who wielded military might as if they were overcompensating for their own insecurities, we now have a president who seems to get it.

If there was any doubt that President Obama would bring change to foreign policy his speech in Cairo, Egypt wiped it away. His speech set a new tone for the way America operates in the world, a tone that actually has a chance at some beneficial results. The problem is that for the whole of human history, superpowers (previously called empires) have acted in a certain way, taking over all land within their power, and using superior armies to crush their enemies and plunder their resources. It made for a ruthless, murderous, and destructive environment marked with constant warfare. There are some who still wish the world worked like that, our last president for example, but it doesn't. America's enemies no longer have standing armies, they don't meet on a battlefield or serve a government; instead they are religious extremists, ordinary people who live amongst the general populace.

To win a war against this enemy it takes much more than military might. Using pure military power to bomb and kill will result in the deaths of countless more civilians than actual targets, and this indiscriminate killing will not only make us the bigger enemy of humanity, but also birth more religious extremism. Growing extremism will lead to more and more enemies, eventually leading to more governments led by extremist and supported by extremists. This cycle, one that we were engaging in during the Bush years, will only lead to inevitable defeat. Our actions would breed so much hatred amongst the people of the world that we would eventually be overwhelmed by enemies. But there is something we can exploit in this type of war; extremists need public support to survive. They do not run governments (for the most part) and they cannot draft people into armies; they are merely members of the civilian population. In order to thrive and grow they need the population they exist in to remain poor and uneducated. They need people to feel that they have no other option, because when people feel that they are not hopeless, they are much less likely to join up or even tolerate neighborhood extremist cells.

This is what the speech in Cairo was all about. President Obama abandoned the strategy of the previous administration and administrations before them, and spoke frankly and directly with the world. He didn't come trying to intimidate the world, but rather to engage it in conversation. The goal is to win over the hearts and minds of the people in the Muslim world, not to alienate them and make them feel that they are our enemy, and therefore we are theirs. The President's speech was exactly what was needed to start a new relationship between the US and many of the countries that previous presidents have called enemies. He came with the power of the US behind him, but he demonstrated that he would be willing to sit down at the table as an equal, showing great respect to the Muslim world for all it has done for civilization as a whole. He was honest with the world, explaining that he understands where America has made mistakes, where it has failed, but also where it will not waver. President Obama went to the world not as a conqueror, not as a superior, but as a partner seeking to work towards a shared goal of peace, exactly the kind of attitude we need to turn over a new leaf in our foreign policy.

That is how we can win this war. It won't be done by killing civilians or pushing around smaller nations, it will be done by being a strong nation, not just militarily, but diplomatically and, most important, morally. It becomes tremendously difficult for extremists to recruit people if they can't convince them that they have some moral high ground, and by going directly to the Muslim people and being honest with them, President Obama has a chance of regaining the moral high ground in the eyes of the Muslim world. Without their ability to recruit new people, these terrorist cells will eventually die out. But this is just the start; the war is far from over, and the struggle to reconcile has just begun, but we are finally on the right