Attend to identity. The top strategic priority is providing avenues to identity formation — opportunities for people to escape stagnation and despair and to strive toward secure identities. This principle has obvious economic, political and social components.
Attend to the global economy. Worldwide economic shocks are the surest means to accelerate the growth of all forms of anti-modernization radicalism, especially radical Islamism.
Practice the greatest restraint possible in foreign policy. We must keep two stubborn facts firmly in mind: a number of psychologically-induced conflicts are likely to be underway at any given time in the world, and each of them will be devilishly hard to resolve. Staying out of their way is the most reliable avenue to safeguarding U.S. national interests, and as often as not this means adhering to a narrow definition of those interests. It suggests, then, something close to the opposite of a global crusade on behalf of democratic reforms, something that may easily worsen rather than alleviate psychological stress. In Russia, Germany, and Japan alike, ineffectual, short-lived parliamentary democracies were the precursors to radicalism; the combination of governmental ineffectiveness and corruption with the dashed hopes for a better and freer society has played a leading role in bringing down a host of emerging democracies.
Do not become the focus of the alienation. Adopting policies in the name of geopolitics that place us in the crosshairs of psychopolitics — supporting a repressive regime beset by an exploding antimodernist social movement for “pragmatic, strategic” reasons — will almost always work to our disadvantage.
Crush the true extremists. When we encounter a group that is truly beyond reach, who have gone so far down the road of alienation and humiliation and rage, there is no alternative but to capture and kill them as rapidly and completely as possible.
Note again the contradictory requirements of this agenda. Our task these days is not the linear requirement of destroying a given percentage of enemy forces; it is a fluid, nonlinear undertaking strewn with paradoxes and dilemmas. How do we crush extremists without generating humiliation? How do we accelerate economic growth to create avenues for identity formation without aggravating the specter of “Westernization” that helps spark alienation in the first place? The paradoxes of this challenge are on vivid, and often tragic, display in Iraq today — the need to destroy insurgents without mistreating innocent Iraqis; the desire to hasten economic and social development without creating even more cultural disquiet; the effort to liberate the Iraqi people while making them feel as if they’ve done it for themselves. These are dilemmas with which we are sadly stuck because, in taking on this intractable challenge, we violated the principles of restraint and avoiding humiliation — reasons why a psychopolitik approach would have argued, on balance, against invading Iraq in the first place. (It would also argue, for reasons that ought by now to be obvious, that we should do everything in our power to avoid a military showdown with Iran.) ...)
And note, finally, what this perspective has to say about the claims of our national leaders that we are “at war,” with all that that has traditionally meant: an effort to mute dissent “during the war”; the breathtaking escalation of executive powers, free from any legislative restraint, “during the war.” The fact is that we are not “at war” in the way the framers of our Constitution understood that concept when they wrote the document. We are engaged in a different enterprise entirely, one that overlaps only a little with war as it has been traditionally — and politically — understood. More than any well-honed constitutional theory, it seems to me, this simple distinction hacks the legs out from under the assertions of executive privilege in wartime being made today.