08/15/2006 12:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

America Needs A JFK-Like Vision For Transforming Our National Security Effort

After years of stumbling and government failure since 9/11, it's time for real leadership and vision in the so-called "war on terror." The United States conceived and executed the Manhattan Project, the Marshall Plan, and the Moon landing. Addressing our 21st Century security needs will be no less challenging. Yet if we view it as an opportunity to bring out the best in us, rather than the worst, the benefits can be greater than we can currently imagine.

America's current leaders have failed to create a vision for what they've labeled a "global war on terror." Their rigid, fear-based, 20th Century mindset is holding the country back from creating an inspired national security vision - one that can actually bring out the best in us as a nation while protecting us more effectively.

This limited vision may be the inevitable result of a political philosophy that declared it wants to "drown government in a bathtub," not long after that same government took humanity into the reaches of space.

We need a five-step plan to transform the "war on terror" at home and abroad. True leadership would demand that we do the following:

1. State the objectives

The public must be told, in clear and certain terms, which is possible and achievable.

2. Create a National Security Brain Trust

We need an interdisciplinary team of experts in a wide variety of fields to support our national security effort - an effort that can and must include diplomacy, police work, and economics, as well as military and intelligence capability.

3. Conduct a national dialogue

We need to address issues that have been circumvented by our current leadership: What is the real risk we face? (It's greater than some may think.) What are our national values - about freedom and privacy, for example - and how much should we be willing to sacrifice? Are we willing to accept the same level of risk for preserving our freedoms as we do by allowing cars to drive faster than 55 MPH, to name just one example?

4. Define the expected result

Describe an achievable end state that most Americans can accept by consensus.

5. Mobilize and achieve

Use our best resources - in science, technology, police work, the military, finance, and the social sciences - to achieve the goal we have defined for ourselves as a country.

If we conduct this effort properly, we will not only reduce the terror threat significantly, but we may help bring positive change to other parts of the world. As with the other great US efforts, there can also be collateral benefits that result from the creation of new technologies - and from a better understanding of the world in which we live.

While this initiative must be bipartisan in nature, as our country's other great initiatives were, Democrats are uniquely positioned to provide its spark, due to their Party's history and philosophy

A Democratic President approved the Manhattan Project. While the existence of nuclear weapons casts a darkness on humanity, their creation was inevitable and it was imperative we obtain them first. In that context, the Manhattan Project was a masterpiece of applied vision, faith in our own abilities, and harnessing of the intellect.

Another Democratic President approved the Marshall Plan, which transformed Europe from the perennial incubator of fascist governments to an oasis of democracy. That's a model that should be remembered as we watch our government's blundering efforts in the Middle East.

A third Democratic President declared that the country would send men to the moon and return them safely within a decade - and it was accomplished. Our current crisis should ideally be solved in a bipartisan way, but that requires two political parties that are committed to the notion that government can be a force for good. Bipartisanship should be the goal, but Democrats are ideally suited to propose the new national security initiative.

What should the initiative propose to do? These earlier projects had clearer goals: "build an A-bomb," "create a democratic and financially sound Europe," "land a man on the moon." Our national security needs to have many tentacles, reaching into many parts of the world. Addressing these needs demands that we draw on disciplines as varied as military affairs, diplomacy, hard science, engineering, the social sciences - even spirituality and the arts.

Large-scale vision should not be the sole province of rightwingers and neocons - whose visions are more like pipe dreams. It's time to offer a competing vision for our national defense. In Part 2, we'll describe that vision is more detail.

(part 1 of 2; Part 2 is here)

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