"Today the United States possesses abundant, even historic power. But we do not possess a grand strategy. We do not have a coherent framework for applying our powers to achieve large national purposes. There is not even a consensus as to what our national purposes are. We are much clearer about the sheer fact of our power than we are about how, when, where, and toward what ends it should be used."
         Gary Hart, Ex-U.S. Senator
         The Fourth Power 1
AFWW logo

The Vision Thing

A Vision—a Bold, Unifying Plan that Will Work—is Essential
in the War Against Terrorism
And Ultimately in the Campaign to End Wars.

What Senator Hart says of America above is also true of the global community. We, the people of earth of the 21st century, plod and stagger into the future without any goal or plan.  

This website is dedicated to "The Vision Thing" and its amazing power. The site presents nine strategic cornerstones, connected and interconnected by the goal of ending war. If vision and passion are closely linked, which they often are, they evoke a vocabulary of zeal. We must change. We must spend. We must sacrifice. Martial words creep in. Battle to end hunger. War against ignorance. Fight for democracy. Ending war will require zeal and it will be a struggle. Sometimes aggressive words maybe be used for impact here, but the vision of this website is one of nonviolence. Violence begets violence. It always has and always will. Rhetoric aside, our challenge will be to end war nonviolently.

How do we do that? The power that comes from vision is indisputable. At the end of this essay you'll find examples of three other individuals from across the political spectrum and the astonishing power of their visions. First let's consider an example from the life of the American President, Ronald Reagan. Reagan had the good fortune to be the right man in the right place at the right time. No man is perfect, and no man has answers to all problems. Many can, and will, criticize some aspects of Reagan's ideas, policies, or administration. Yet long into the future Ronald Reagan will be remembered as the president who presided over the fall of a Communist regime that ruthlessly suppressed its people.  

Reagan had a vision and the unquenchably determined positive spirit to pursue it. He believed in a world where all human beings deserved to be free, not just those born in America or one of the other Western democracies. He also had a plan. When in June of 1987 he said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," he had already figured out what it would take to win his particular war. At a meeting of US National Security Council in 1982, Reagan said, "Why can't we just lean on the Soviets until they go broke?"2

A war against the Soviet Union that involved weapons of mass destruction could never be won; the devastation would be intolerable, even for those left standing. Other leaders had resigned themselves to a deterrent policy of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) into the indefinite future. Reagan's insight was that the West possessed a source of power and persuasion that was second perhaps only to lethal force: money.

If weapons of killing could not be used, he reasoned, then let's use the next best approach: let's spend them into the ground.

The story is a bit more complicated than that. But not much. The Soviets, already weakened by years of containment and a horrible economy, simply could not match the massive, staggeringly expensive programs that Reagan initiated, most notably the infamous "Star Wars" program, or as he called it, The Strategic Defense Initiative. We can be thankful that the Soviets— indeed, all of us—were blessed with a realistic leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who not only saw the handwriting on the wall, but had a spirit opposed to human suffering.

Reagan's vision to defeat the Soviets by outspending them on defense illustrates the effectiveness of putting dollars behind a nonviolent vision. Reagan shocked many of his supporters, and Gorbachev as well, by promising that once this massive system of defense was developed, he would offer it to all nations, thus ensuring that all countries would be secure. His private letters indicate that he was entirely sincere.

To create a future where we are liberated, at long last, from the tyranny of war, we, too, must set out with a vision and determine what it will take to win our struggle. Then we need to take the initiative, raise the stakes, and go on the offensive.3

Our major challenge at this time (2005) is the terrorism foisted upon the world by Jihadists like Osama bin Laden. This struggle, like the earlier one with the Soviet Union, cannot be won with military weapons. We can kill or imprison terrorists. We can even kill a lot of them, in fact. We can dry up first one source of their money and then another. But these are stopgap solutions, a defensive position equivalent to containing the Soviet Union during the Cold War.  

We will never defeat terrorism by killing people. Killing enemies (which often results in killings civilians, too) reaffirms to the enemy that we are indeed the Great Satan that deserves their hate. It simply lends credibility to their efforts to demonize us.

It is, rather, the ideology that drives and energizes them and that feeds the terrorists' recruitment efforts that has to be defeated if we are to be free of terrorism. How do we fight their ideology?

This current war against terrorism is unusual because it's not primarily over territory or resources—not land rights, water rights, fishing rights, garden rights, mineral rights, salt rights, oil rights, trade routes, or any of the other resources that bring wealth and that have traditionally energized wars. Nor is the rallying call for the Islamic terrorists simply to get the West out of the lands where their holy sites are located. The goal is more encompassing: these terrorists are fighting to kick the West out of the Muslim world, period. In this broader view, terrorism is primarily a struggle over how people should live: under a bin Ladenesque interpretation of the Koran and Sharia or under a democratic system where secular laws protect people of diverse political, religious, or philosophical persuasions. Will these be countries where all individuals are protected and their choices respected as long as their choices don't harm others?

Sometimes using physical force to contain or end a threat to freedom or security is necessary (see Provide Security and Order). It was, for example, fully justifiable in World War II. We'll always need global policemen to enforce good behavior. But concentrating on nonviolent means of conflict resolution is the only way to break out of the historical cycle of violence as the intervention of choice (see Promote Nonviolent Conflict Resolution). Violence begets violence. Cultures that refuse to renounce violence are eventually swept into another war. There are no exceptions to this fundamental truth of our nature.

These terrorists are willing to blow themselves up for their ideas, not for traditional resources. Our principle weapon, however, is not simply better ideas—the ideal of democracy or the ideal of freedom—as some would argue. Ideas are not the definitive weapon in this struggle because Islamic radicals loathe the very idea of democracy, and people who have never experienced it cannot really comprehend the benefits of personal freedom. Democracy. Freedom. Ideas alone will NOT win this war.

Our main weapon in the war on terrorism, as it is in the broader campaign to end wars, is money. To propagate these appealing ideas of democracy and freedom, we will need money—money well spent (see Shift Our Economies for discussion of how money can be well spent). Tangible, positive changes in people's lives will back up ideas and ideals.  

It may not seem possible to "lean on the terrorists so hard they go broke." Compared to the wealth of the developed democracies, the terrorists are already financially broke. But they are bankrupt in an even more harmful way, from within; from embracing a system where the few rule over the many without consent and in the name of one narrow view of religion. What we need to do is take away their appeal to potential recruits by demonstrating that their ideal is bankrupt, that the terrorists' warped view of Islam does NOT produce the kind of life people want or admire. We do this by outspending them on good works. Spend the terrorists into the ground.  

We need to get off the defensive, take the initiative, use our strength. To begin, we could immediately quadruple the amount we spend on every foreign aid program to which we already contribute (see Shift Our Economies for how to fund these efforts). Then,

  • For every madras* they build and staff that teaches hatred, let us build and staff one hundred schools** that teach tolerance 
  • For every healthcare center they build and staff, let us build one hundred
  • For every bulldozed Palestinian home, let us fund the rebuilding of one hundred homes for those displaced
  • For every building they bomb and bring down, let us build one hundred water sanitation systems in a hundred slums
  • For every young man they educate in machete-wielding, bombing, infiltration, and rocket propelled grenade launching, let us put one hundred young men AND women through university and graduate or medical school, requiring only that he or she then serve five years in their country's government, education, or judicial systems
  • For every terrorist in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Palestine, or Indonesia, let us place one hundred additional United Nations Peacekeepers  

* madras = Islamic school

** with prudent use of resources, we could turn every one of the one hundred instances in these examples into one thousand

Lean on them hard until they go broke.  

What about the money? The cost? Won't the democracies go broke and force their citizens into a severely lower standard of living? To think that in order to end war, providing work opportunities, educational opportunities, the means to have access to clean water, daily food, shelter, and basic medical care across the globe is too costly, is to lack perspective as well as vision.

The developed nations have more than enough money to win this campaign without any serious decrease in their quality of life. We are only told that we are poor by politicians. The developed nations are rich beyond the belief or experience of anyone in the past except kings and queens. We in the wealthy countries tend to have no realistic conception of how much money we spend on weapons and weapons systems compared to the amount we spend on nonviolent competition and education (see Examples of War Costs). Or, for that matter, how much we spend on our pleasures. In 2005 alone the American wedding industry brought in $72 B* and the pet industry $71 B.**

Consider the United States, which had waged wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq and had given generously to help tsunami victims in Asia. Were American pockets tapped out? Four days after hurricane Katrina wreaked devastation on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of the United States, the American Congress rushed through an appropriation for $10.5 billion. Within ten days, it had appropriated another $51.8 billion for relief and reconstruction.4 By some estimates, the United States was spending $2 billion per day. As of September 7th, 2005, nine days after Katrina hit, American private charities had received more than $500 million in cash.5 When money is needed, it's there. The issue is not lack but allocation.

Consider just one specific area where money could be applied. In discussing the dire crises in water and the disposal of human waste, Margaret Wertheim wrote: "Pick a crisis—any crisis—the world is facing today: civil war, famine, AIDS, malaria, land mines. All pale in comparison with the problem we face regarding water."6 One in six people lack access to safe drinking water. Two million die each year from water-related diseases. Billions become ill.

Still, she cites Ralph Daley, director of INWEH (International Network on Water, Environment and Health at the UN) that the money needed to eliminate this problem is comparatively small: it would cost between $10 and $20 billion a year for the next 15 to 20 years to provide this basic necessity to everyone. According to Wertheim, Americans in the United States in 2003 alone spent $61 billion on carbonated soft drinks and $71 billion on beer. Americans have clean, safe water from the tap, yet in 2003 they still spent $23 billion on bottled water. America will spend an estimated $10 billion a year on the unworkable Star Wars program. It's not just the United States that spends generously on non-essentials. In 2002, the French spent $2.9 billion on lingerie. If the developed nations worked together to solve the water problem, it would cost Americans 2 cents a day per person. That's only $7.00 a year. In some cities, that's less than one take-out pizza a year.

We need to educate ourselves. We need perspective.

No great campaign can be won on the cheap. In 2005 dollars, American's spent $613 billion for WW I and $623 billion for the Vietnam War.7 As of May 2005, the United States has spent $300 billion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and those wars are not yet over.  

Nor can pacification be achieved on the cheap. The Marshall Plan that reconstructed Europe after WW II is a sterling example of what it takes to win the peace: many years, lots of money, sustained vision. General George C. Marshall—the architect of the prosecution of WW II, the reconstruction of Europe, and the containment of the Soviet Union—was a brilliant military genius and statesman. His kind of vision and staying power are rare. If the United States were similarly to remain in Iraq and Afghanistan for ten years in order to ensure the creation of strong, secular democracies, the semiannual report of the Congressional Budget Office (January, 2005) estimated that the total cost would be as high as $1.4 trillion at current levels of operation, and $1 trillion if the wars were gradually phased down.7 Planning for, executing, and cleaning up after wars is tragically wasteful (see Shift our Economies).

"Of course balance is important: between personal pleasure and compassion, between personal pleasure and investing in a secure future, between personal pleasures and the needs of others. But until the eight richest nations in the world are rationing chocolate, wine, and gasoline, it's impossible to argue that we're doing all we can to end war.
     Judith L. Hand
Author of Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace

In The Fourth Power, former Senator Gary Hart makes a compelling case for why America needs to have a vision, or as he calls it, A Grand Strategy.1 He describes (p. 34) America's ad hoc approach to world problems following the collapse of the Soviet Union and suggests that the doctrinaire orthodoxies of both left and right, liberal and conservative, may have become "so brittle and stale they cannot respond to (these) new realities."

The components of his Grand Strategy are all included in the grand strategy proposed by A Future Without War: provide security, expand opportunity, and promote liberal democracy (p. 15). "Neither rabid libertarianism, confirmed liberalism or conservatism, nor rigid militarism should represent an insurmountable obstacle to the action that a major power standing at the complex intersection in a turbulent storm can thoughtfully and intelligently plot (as opposed to plod) its way toward a destination it determines to be in its highest and best interest (p. 35)."1

A leader of great vision could help us find virtually limitless creative ways to use American and global wealth to teach the world's discouraged and disenfranchised people to help themselves (see Shift Our Economies for ideas about supporting self-sufficiency over giving aid handouts) and to oppose the ignorance and hopelessness from which terror is bred.

A critical mass of leaders of vision can inspire us and encourage us to pay for a bloodless coup (see Embrace the Goal). That's what's required. "No new taxes!" will not win the war on terrorism. It will not win the campaign to end war. But when we no longer waste resources that could enrich life on producing killing weapons and when we stop sending our young people to war, we will reap personal benefits and benefits for our posterity many times over.

There is a rapidly swelling global sense that we must change our tactics before environmental destruction8 or weapons of mass destruction literally rob us of civilized life. On 14 September 2005, U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich reintroduced legislation to establish a cabinet level Department of Peace and Nonviolence. This attempt to formalize and fund an American effort to end war acknowledges that without the support of the richest and most powerful nation in the world, no grand plan to end war will ever be completed. In the same month, Ex-president Bill Clinton held the first Clinton Global Initiative in New York. Invitees were influential people whom Clinton asked to commit to specific goals. This effort recognizes that it is time for the private sector to move in large and global ways that governments cannot.  

Other examples of visionary leaders:  

No one political party has a monopoly on visionary leaders or plans. Such plans are the product of individuals like George Marshall who are able to rally the necessary supporters.  

While money—funding—is inevitably necessary, some visions are achieved principally through dogged determination, and personal sacrifice can be the defining ingredient for success. The suffragists in England and America had a vision of equal rights for women. They gave money, time, and personal sacrifice as they suffered derision, ostracism, and sometimes even physical harm.

Alice Paul, a US Quaker, had uncommon determination. Her vision gave the struggle for women's suffrage a high profile and a national battlefield.10 She broke ranks with many of her sisters in the movement who felt she sought a federal amendment prematurely. Yet Paul persisted. She raised funds and held parades. She led her followers in picketing the White House. Many of them endured arrest, incarceration, beatings. Taking their clue from British suffragists, some women, including Alice Paul, went on hunger strikes. When they were brutally force-fed, word of this treatment reached the public, which reacted with outrage. In the end, the suffragists won: the US Congress passed the Susan B. Anthony amendment in the House in January 1918 and in the Senate in June of 1919.10

The example of Alice Paul and the suffragists is especially relevant. The success of these women illustrates how ineffective bullying, domination, and force are against an idea whose time has come. They also illustrate many of the nonviolent tactics that can be used in the campaign to end war:  

  • civil disobedience (protests, picketing)
  • skillful politics (Paul understood the power of the vote)
  • masterful use of public images and the media to affect people emotionally and move them to action (parades, visible protests, images of women being force-fed because they sought equality)
  • refusal to compromise or settle for less when a core value is at stake. Her vision was not piecemeal suffrage for women at the whim of legislators state-by-state, something easily rescinded, but an amendment to the basic instrument of government, the US Constitution.

John F. Kennedy was also a man of vision, a liberal from the left. Kennedy showed us what can happen when a charismatic leader gets behind a grand idea. Kennedy proposed, "that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." He then set up and funded an organization for that specific job. He recruited the best minds. Money was to be no limit. He used the media to rally the voters behind the task. His is the perfect model for implementing our new vision. The world needs a new John F. Kennedy who says, "I propose that within the next 25 to 35 years we end the use of war to resolve our conflicts, and here is the plan."

George Soros, another man, an activist with an international view, grasps the same principle Ronald Reagan did. He, too, uses money in the war on terror to get the desired result, but he states it this way: the strategy is to bring "such great benefits to the people that even a repressive regime finds it advantageous to accept your presence."11 George Soros has spent billions of his private wealth to foster in current or former authoritarian governments the democratic and open societies that are and will continue to be critical in our campaign to end wars.  

If you live in a democracy and vote for leaders who pursue nonviolent, spend-them-into-the-ground-with-positive-works strategies, you are already embracing a strategy that will work and be stable into the future.  

The alternative is to vote for the ancient and historically discredited strategy of make-more-and-better-weapons-so-we-can-attack-and-destroy-them-and-by-so-doing-have- peace. Or to do nothing at all, just plod on. The result will be history as usual—war, after war, after war. And we will then watch democracies slowly but inexorable erode into empires or tyrannies as the urge for domination reasserts itself.

Thinkers as diverse as the editors of Scientific American9 and former U.S. Senator Gary Hart1 agree: the global community is at a pivotal, unique time in history (see How Far We Have Already Come). Given the will to do it, we can create a warless future. It's time to choose. Time to get serious. Time to make a final push.


1 Hart, Gary. 2004. The Fourth Power. A Grand Strategy for the United States in
     the Twenty-First Century
. NY: Oxford University Press.
2 Reed, Thomas. 2004. At the Abyss. An insider's history of the cold war. Novato,
     CA: Presidio Press.
3 Mamet, David. 2005. "Poker party. In politics as in poker, the only way to win is to
     seize the initiative." LA Times, September 16.
4 Vieth, Warren and Mary Curtius. 2005. Bush pledges aid for 'long haul.' LA Times,
     September 9.
5 Bernstein, Sharon and Amanda Covarrubian. 2005. "Donations at $500 Million, and
     Climbing." LA Times, September 7.
6 Wertheim, Margaret. 2004. "Drying the tears of thirsty nations." LA Times,
     September 12.
7 L.A. Times, 2005. "$80-Billion request for wars expected." Jan. 25.
8 Diamond, Jared. 2005. Collapse. How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
    NY: Viking Books.
9 Scientific American. 2005. "Crossroads for Planet Earth. The Human Race is at
     a Unique Turing Point. Will we Choose to Create the Best of All Possible Worlds." September.
10 Lewis, Jone Johnson. 2005. "Militant suffragists split over strategy." About.com.
11 Holley, David. 2004. "Soros invests in his democratic passion" LA Times, July 5.
*   Stewart, Martha. 2005. Cited on her TV show, The Apprentice. October
**  Stewart, Martha. 2005. Cited on her TV show, The Apprentice. October

Back to top