Newsweek: We live in a very dangerous world, John McCain would respond. In his eyes, Islamic extremism is the transcendent challenge of the age. Jihadist warriors—funded and supported by states that adhere to their views—pose the central threat to the United States. In the rise of China, Russia and India, McCain sees turbulence. Russia and China, being autocracies, represent a special danger. Moscow's attack on Georgia was, for McCain, the "first serious crisis since the end of the cold war." The role for America, in such an environment, is to aggressively use its power—hard power—to fight evil, spread freedom and defeat the enemy. Otherwise we will lose the struggle for the 21st century.
Obama's sense of the world is more optimistic. The dangers are real but not so all-encompassing. Obama speaks less of Islamic extremism in general and more of Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups specifically. He points out that compared with the cold war—when thousands of Soviet nuclear missiles were pointed at American cities—the threats we face today are reduced. He argues that most people in the Islamic world want development and a better life, not jihad. America's promise remains alive even in these countries.
America's role, for Obama, is to restore its military strength, fight Al Qaeda and its ilk, and deter rogue regimes like Iran. But it is also to stay calm, because in overreacting to dangers, we often cause new problems and crises. To lump together all Islamist groups is to exaggerate and misunderstand the threat. The Iraq War, for Obama, is a prime example of an alarmist overreaction, one that had the United States launch an unprovoked invasion of a country and rack up huge costs. If America can keep its cool and provide the help that countries really seek—in development, modernization and democracy-building—then we will gain in both security and legitimacy.
There is some truth to both visions of the world, but in my view the reality is much closer to Obama's—more so than most American politicians seem willing to admit. We live in remarkably peaceful times. A University of Maryland study shows that deaths from wars of all kinds have been dropping dramatically for 20 years and are lower now than at any point in the last half century. A study from Simon Fraser University finds that casualties from terrorism have been steadily declining since 9/11. It is increasingly clear—look at their voting from Indonesia to Iraq to Pakistan—that very few Muslims anywhere support Islamic fundamentalists. More countries than ever before now embrace capitalism and democracy.
'Black widow' bombing in Russia
17 minutes ago