The flagship for the war on terror could well be the US Navy ship Mercy. But this Navy vessel is not armed for battle. Just the opposite: It is fitted for peace.
The Mercy is a fully equipped, 1,000-bed floating hospital, which returned in September from giving medical care and training to the people of Indonesia, Bangladesh, East Timor, and the Philippines. The US Navy, Project HOPE, and other volunteer medical personnel provided free medical care, including major surgeries, for nearly 61,000 needy patients.
Amid the uncertainty about the best strategy in Iraq and how to answer the growing threat of terrorism and extremism in the world, there is one American policy of the past two years that has proven successful time and again: humanitarian missions by the US military. This policy is pro-military, pro-American, pro-humanitarian, and antiterrorist. Most important, it is actually curbing anti-American feelings in Muslim countries.
In global public-opinion surveys, Terror Free Tomorrow, the nonprofit organization I lead, found that the US military's humanitarian missions to the broader Muslim world have directly caused a dramatic drop in popular support of terrorism and extremism.
The surveys also showed a corresponding rise in favorable public opinion of the United States.
Adm. Michael Mullen, chief of Naval Operations, recently announced that because of the overwhelmingly favorable public reaction to the Mercy's visit in Indonesia and Bangladesh - the world's most and third-most populous Muslim countries - the Navy is planning to continue and expand humanitarian missions by the Mercy and other hospital ships around the globe.
The American response to the devastating 2004 tsunami in Indonesia - led by the US Navy - resulted in favorable attitudes not only toward the US, but also concomitant declines in support for Osama bin Laden and suicide attacks. Similarly, American aid to Pakistani earthquake survivors, this time led by the US Army, caused overall support for the US to double in Pakistan, a critical ally in the war on terror.
According to Admiral Mullen, the desire to sustain this change of public opinion, as revealed by the surveys, was a critical factor in the Navy launching this …