THE BLOG
07/28/2016 07:04 am ET Updated Jul 29, 2017

Fight Against Terrorism Requires Broader Approach

Since the 9/11 attacks, our nation has been engaged in a war on terrorism. The American people have understandably grown weary after 15 years of "the forever war" with the loss of thousands of lives and the expenditure of billions of dollars. Many are asking why we have not yet achieved victory.

The progress we have made is considerable but far from enough. Although we have done some things right, the bulk of our effort against ISIS, al-Qaida and other such groups has focused on defeating them militarily. There has been dramatically less emphasis on the political, ideological and economic aspects of the conflict. So long as that is the case, we will not eliminate the threat.

We have not been well-served by our political leaders in their failure to grasp the totality of this threat and in their failure to pursue a broad and multifaceted response. Their solutions, basically more force, are simple, but the real solutions are hard and complex.

Military operations are necessary, certainly. We should continue to train and equip our like-minded partners, deny the extremists territory and take out their leaders. We have recently succeeded in weakening the armed forces of the Islamic Group, known as ISIS, and retaking territory.

But military action is not sufficient. Fundamentally, we are engaged in a war of ideas.

We must better appreciate the pervasive nature and depth of the threat presented by these groups and their appeal to many disaffected Muslims in the Middle East and in the West. Many individuals drawn to terrorist groups have serious grievances, resulting from political upheaval, insecurity and repression. These grievances, coupled with their zealous religious convictions, fuel their violent actions.

An entrenched ideology cannot be defeated easily or quickly. While we should not try to impose our values and systems of government on other countries, we must aggressively blunt our adversaries' ideological appeal and proclaim our values of the rule of law, freedom and broadly shared economic prosperity.

To succeed, we have to enlist the help of our many allies in the Muslim world and especially the support of Muslims in this country. They are the ones who will be most effective in counteracting the appeal of violent terrorism. By ourselves we cannot fix the problems of this turbulent area.

We also need to press hard for effective governance in Iraq, Syria and other embattled regions and work to stabilize the political dynamics. And there are things we should not do. Building walls at our border, closing our borders to all Muslims, embracing Arab autocracy and casting aspersions on an entire religion will only embolden our enemies, discourage our Muslim friends and allies, and make success more elusive.

CIA Director John Brennan recently said that ISIS is resilient, capable of absorbing losses and adapting its tactics. Facing military setbacks, it has stepped up bombings in the Middle East and spread fear by directing spectacular attacks in Europe. It has inspired or attempted to take credit for horrific attacks on American soil.

These attacks are not likely to end soon. There is simply no guarantee that more surveillance, better intelligence, increased monitoring of suspicious individuals, and more robust military action will keep us safe from attacks.

The struggle to establish a legitimate political order rages in the Middle East. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says, we should "hunker down for a protracted period of instability and violence..."

So after 15 years with only modest success, it's time to broaden our approach.

Lee H. Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University School of Global and International Studies; Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs; and Senior Advisor, IU Center on Representative Government. He served as U.S. Representative from Indiana's 9th Congressional District from 1965-1999.