WASHINGTON--History has shown on more than one occasion that what might be clear to most of us may not seem so obvious to the Bush administration.
Was it not obvious to everyone but this administration that Saddam Hussein did not have links to either the Sept. 11 attacks or bin Laden?
And is it not increasingly obvious to everyone but this administration and its supporters that our intransigent Mideast foreign policy--not "our freedom"--is what alienates Muslims in the region, bolstering the credibility of extremists and enhancing their ability to promote anti-American attitudes?
The Bush administration eventually caught on that Saddam had no links to Sept. 11 and that he did not possess weapons of mass destruction, but not before hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars had been lost.
Now it remains to be seen how long before the administration finally figures out "why they hate us," and what the cost there will be.
Neoconservatives scoff at the thought that our own actions could have any impact on how others feel about us. Their explanation for "why they hate us" is that "they" are inherently evil and "we" are inherently good.
When someone dares suggest that our political and economic transgressions in certain regions of the world contribute to anti-American sentiments, the response is one of anger and demonization. He or she is dismissed as unpatriotic, anti-American, or even an "apologist for terror."
While we should not discount the role extremist religious beliefs have in indoctrinating young terrorists, it would be foolish to pretend that exploitative U.S. policies do not facilitate recruitment.
The administration's rhetoric is problematic because it is borrowed from the WWII and Cold War eras, when America fought a conventional war or faced a conventional threat.
Today, the fight against global terrorism is so unconventional and so unlike any threat that has ever been fought that the term "war" hardly fits.
Semantics aside, every American wants to see our nation's enemies vanquished. And while some believe that anything less than beating the drums of conventional war is complacency, our best bet is to fight smart.
How can we defeat an ideology--a metaphysical threat--through the sheer use of physical force?
The ideological threats we face today, of which al-Qaida is only one example, require us to do a few things we have not done in a long time: understand our world, engage people of other nations, and win hearts and minds by basing our action on American values of justice and equality, not brute force.
Given the fact that the overwhelming majority of human beings, including Muslims, oppose the extremists within their ranks, the "unconventional war" against global terrorism is ours to lose.
Ahmed Rehab is executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Copyright 2007 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company