Long before the World Trade Center towers vanished, long before airport security weakened and long before Mideast violence erupted, our collective failure to deal effectively with our differences made this terrorist act on American soil inevitable.
And something else is inevitable: A violent war on terrorism is doomed to fail.
Twenty years ago, when Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor in June 1981, experts on terrorism told me for an article I wrote that until we give people something to lose, until we helped make their lives worth living, we will not solve the probem.
Eight years ago, when terrorists first attacked the World Trade Center, everyone who knew anything about terrorism believed it was inevitable the terrorists would try again. Some experts thought it would be a crude nuclear device killing many more people in lower Manhattan.
Two years ago, I told a senior Mideast adviser to President Clinton that we had only ceremonial peace in the Middle East peace treaties. Divisions could be healed only, I said, by operational peace - economic success that benefited workers, their families and their children. He agreed but couldn't get the message across.
Surely and justifiably we will go after the terrorists. But we must look at ourselves. The same government officials breastbeating now knew about this threat - even the popular literature discussed it. One of my colleagues notes that this was very cheap terrorism - using our equipment. We can blame the terrorists till the end of time, but we consider ourselves the smartest people in the world. We didn't do it right before, and it doesn't sound much smarter now.
However this thought rankles, the "war" will not solve the long-term problem. We cannot wipe out terrorism with years of counterattacks and new protective actions. If we ban penknives, they will learn karate. If we put a federal marshals on flights, they will put on 20 people. If we make stronger cockpit doors, they will find a way to get through them or kidnap the pilot's children. There is no end to obvious, known possibilties, including biological weapons in the subways or a car bomb collapsing a tunnel.
As Albert Einstein said 60 years ago, "there is no secret and there is no defense." Even if we turn our country into an armed state, we will not stop the escalating cycle of global violence - including violence against our citizens - without fixing the root causes. We can shout, "Bomb them" and congratulate ourselves for our "tough" stance. All this does is sentence hundreds of thousands of Americans to death, however we might rail against terrorism. How successful was our war in Vietnam?
If we kill even one innocent person on their side, we will create more enemies. There is a risk that we will martyr the terrorists in their own countries. Already the Taliban have said an attack on them will constitute a holy war. Are we prepared for our cities to be part of the battlefield?
Consider how different life really is in the less-developed world. At night, drivers in poor countries often run red lights fearing robbery, kidnapping or death if they stop. Even middle-class houses in most Third World cities have high walls around them. Most open space in Jordan, Bolivia or the Congo lacks grass or trees - but there's plenty of rubble that looks not unlike the area around what was the World Trade Center.
To many in developing countries, "globalization" means that our products crowd out their local firms, creating jobless hardship. AIDS medicine, prevalent here, is hard to come by in Africa. Health care? Sanitation? Enough food? Not there. Action on the global environment or global warming? We're not very interested. At the same time, our citizens, five percent of the world's population, use 35 percent of the world's resources.
We can smugly say we deserve prosperity - that "we worked for it and we won." But this is a not a football game. A commentator said last week that no matter what the other side's grievances, they don't excuse the attacks. That's right. But now ask: How does the solution of war solve the problem?
And it's easy to say the terrorists and their supporters are irrational and evil. The notion that somehow the other side "doesn't value human life" is foolish. They weep when their children die, just as we do. We feel attacked militarily; they feel attacked economically and culturally. Our people died from a single day of violent terrorism; their people die - more of them - from multiple daily attacks, they think, from our righteously proclaimed way of life. It is bitter to swallow, but this perception - however misguided we think it is - must be considered unless we are prepared to kill all of them.
What we have not done is provide a meaningful choice. Without something tangible to live for, without gainful work, without food for one's children, dying for a cause seems OK. As such, even if we kill these and other terrorists, or oust governments that harbor them, we will still leave in place a bad process. And if we don't fix the process, we will continue to be targets.
Here is how to promote a lasting peace:
Provide a meaningful choice. Well-to-do extremists thrive in poor economic times; Bin Laden attracts more sympathizers because of a perceived lack of options. Offer extremists and their sympathizers the choice between a better life for themselves and their children, or continued violence and poverty. At the least, this will split the extremists and make the problem smaller. U.S. and Israeli businesses, with government support, should form joint ventures with those less fortunate. An easy example: crops grown in Jordan with cheap labor, sent to Israel for processing and export. Helping people to a better life is self-reinforcing. That's a main reason why the U.S. spurred the rebuilding of Europe and Japan after World War II. It's why the failure of the U.S. to rebuild Germany after World War I created economic depression that enabled Hitler to come to power.
Build diverse coalitions based on collective interests. The sides should not be, for example, Arabs versus Jews, but those who want economic growth by peaceful means and those who don't. Both sides must be included in coalitions that should offer the choice of a better life or ostracism: both carrot and stick. As the other side sees they can forge a better life for their families through peaceful economic growth, it will separate terrorists from their sympathizers and constituencies, including in Iraq. This will strike at the heart of their strength.
Uncover, address and separate the grievances. A major cause of emotion and anger - in a family, or on the streets of Jerusalem or Los Angeles - is not feeling heard. Not all grievances by the other side are preposterous. We should hear all grievances, address the easiest ones, consider the hard ones and publicize the preposterous ones. We will gain supporters and isolate the greedy and ridiculous. We must create opposition to extremists from within the community affected, reducing the ability of terrorists to gain needed sympathizers.
Respect the dignity of the less fortunate. The "we're better than you" attitude devalues other people and makes them angry and susceptible to extremist motivations. Invoking "the rule of law," reason, or fairness is useless. African Americans didn't buy it in protesting segregation. U.S. companies took much from developing countries, including the cheapest oil before 1973. Old wounds die hard, especially without a better life.
And whether their perceptions are right or wrong is irrelevant. If we act like their friends - we who are supposed to provide leadership - a dialogue will begin. As a Jew who has worked in Arab countries, I know this firsthand to be true.
Use other tools besides the baseball bat. "My way or the highway" is not effective. Taking the time to discover the interests of others and build relationships is more effective. It takes more patience and skill. But then again, we're supposed to be patient and skilled.
No measures will succeed overnight. We must start incrementally, develop models of economic success and collaboration, and hold them out for all to see. Twenty years ago, many people said, "It will take too long." But think where we would be today had we started 20 years ago. Instead, we've had four administrations - Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush - whose inaction now faces us with starting when the costs have become so much greater. Had we spent only $50 billion on global development 20 years ago, we would not be spending it now on rebuilding New York and increasing air security. And these costs are small compared to those in future. We must make a global investment. If we do not finally act now, we will surely be at fault for the deaths of our friends and children, deaths that will surely come, more horribly, next time.
Stuart Diamond, a professor at the Wharton Business School, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, longtime teacher and adviser on negotiation and diversity, and president of Global Strategy Group.
Copyright 2001 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc