March 13, 2002 - Seattle Post-Intelligencer: We cannot win War on Terrorism by Fear and Force alone

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By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, March 15, 2002 - 9:52 am: Edit Post

We cannot win War on Terrorism by Fear and Force alone

Read and comment on this op ed piece from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer which mentions the Peace Corps near the bottom of the page and its role in the War on Terrorism at:


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Mar 13, 2002 - Seattle Post-Intelligencer Author(s): Nicholas D. Kristof Syndicated Columnist\

One of the advantages (or is it disadvantages?) of having an e- mail address at the bottom of each column is the torrent of messages helpfully pointing out muddy thinking.

In particular, whenever I write a mushy column about sending medicine abroad as well as soldiers, building bridges instead of just bombing them, I get reproaches from readers who insist that we should worry not about being liked, but about being feared.

"Americans have to get over their craving to be loved," scolded a reader in New Jersey, adding: "Since 1945, we have struggled to be nice guys in the world. It doesn't work; it never did; it never will.

"So no more Mr. Nice Guy. We should now work on building up the fear factor."

And a Filipino admonished Americans: "You're on top, so you're easy to hate. People don't like the dominant nation in the world - there is nothing you can do to placate people.

"So don't keep trying to make people like you. Instead, if you want to avoid another Sept. 11, make people respect you and fear you."

Behind these comments is a central debate echoing in capitals around the world, roughly dividing the doves who want to win hearts and minds and the hawks who wouldn't mind gouging out a few hearts with Bowie knives. A similar debate is going on in Israel, with Ariel Sharon trying to bulldoze the Palestinians into submission and peace groups arguing that the tough approach has made the Palestinian uprising worse.

Even the Romans fretted about the issue, with Cicero offering his famous dictum: Oderint, dum metuant - Let them hate, so long as they fear.

(Actually, Cicero seems to have been no better at crediting his sources than modern historians are; he apparently stole the line from Accius' play "Atreus.")

Cicero's view seems to be gaining ground among many Americans. Plenty of people think that in planning, say, an attack on Iraq, we shouldn't worry about squawks from those (sissy) Europeans or the (medieval) Arab street. If the street revolts at some point and tosses out the Saudi rulers, why, we can just go in and run the oil wells ourselves. Who cares what anyone thinks?

Indeed, it's hard to deny that there are benefits to being muscular and hot-tempered. Just this month President Bush's "axis of evil" language enjoyed some success, by scaring the Iraqis into new discussions with the United Nations about weapons inspections. And in Peru, President Alberto Fujimori managed to eviscerate terrorist groups by being as brutal as they were.

But look further, and Cicero's approach runs into trouble. Rome itself wasted no time with hearts and minds, yet Rome's harsh treatment of civilians abroad simply inspired more rebellions.

And look in the mirror. Britain's decision to get tough with us colonials triggered the birth of the United States. Over and over around the world - in the Philippines, Malaysia, Algeria, Kenya, Vietnam and many other countries - efforts to terrify people into submission backfired and created more ferocious resistance.

Simply put, the war on terrorism cannot be won by force alone. Ignoring popular opinion abroad will only increase the risk of another Iranian-style revolution in countries like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. So we must engage our enemies not only on the battlefield but also in the world of ideas.

Indeed, that seems to be Bush's position, for he has very commendably searched for new ways to win friends abroad. This is a difficult task when your instincts are as unilateralist as Bush's, but the administration is doubling the number of Peace Corps workers abroad. It has also installed a former advertising executive named Charlotte Beers at the State Department with a title that ought to be undersecretary for spin.

The State Department's talk about "rebranding" is easy to mock, but Colin Powell's instincts here are absolutely right. For years the United States has been virtually a nonparticipant in the battle for hearts and minds overseas; our ambassadors have hobnobbed with local elites but failed to hit the talk shows.

Cicero was wrong. Sure, there's a value to being feared, but it's safer to be feared and admired rather than just feared and loathed.

Nicholas D. Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times. Copyright 2002 News York Times News Service. E-mail:

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