It is time we heed what America's military leaders are telling us
about the war on terror. Pentagon officials involved in writing the
Joint Chiefs of Staff recently released counterterrorism strategy
have acknowledged that "the American military's efforts to aid
 tsunami victims in Indonesia and to assist victims of
Pakistan's  earthquake did more to counter terrorist ideology
than any attack mission."
Indeed, according to the Navy's commanding officer, Admiral
Michael Mullen, the change of Muslim public opinion as a result of
American aid is nothing less than "one of the defining moments of
this new century." Admiral Mullen concluded: "Shame on us if, even
through benign neglect, we allow those same opinions to turn against
our best intentions again."
The statements of our military's leaders point to a dramatic
reconsideration of the means necessary to prevail against global
terrorists. Fortunately, recent history shows us exactly how we can
help people who need help, and just as important, how to change
public opinion favorably toward the United States, and against
terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.
This means a commitment to following the path the US successfully
forged last year in response to the tsunami that struck Indonesia
and the earthquake that ravaged Pakistan. American assistance was
direct, extensive, effective, and well-publicized on Indonesian and
For the first time since 9/11, both the Indonesian and Pakistani
people - the largest and second-largest Muslim populations in the
world - expressed a favorable opinion of the US, and at the same
time, turned against support for Mr. bin Laden and terrorist
attacks. It seems that if American efforts are focused on positive
rebuilding and vision for the future, the foot soldiers for bin
Laden and radical Islam will desert. Islamist extremism can indeed
be effectively defeated in Muslim hearts and minds.
In fact, the number of Pakistanis who have a favorable opinion of
the US doubled from 23 percent in May 2005 to more than 46 percent
after American earthquake aid was received. According to a poll
conducted by the nonpartisan not-for-profit, Terror Free Tomorrow,
with fieldwork by ACNielsen Pakistan, for the first time since 9/
11, more Pakistanis are favorable to the US than unfavorable.
At the same time, the number of Pakistanis who disapproved of bin
Laden doubled at almost the exact same percentage as those who
became favorable to the US. …