Say what you will about Lyndon Johnson's imperfections, the man had a keen sense of the American character. "Our American people", he said during a November 1967 press conference, "when we get into a contest of any kind-whether it is a war, an election, a football game or whatever it is-we want it decided quickly; get in or get out." President Johnson's appreciation for Americans' lack of tolerance for ambiguities, particularly in matters of national security, bears on how we think about and deal with the problem of mass-casualty terrorism. Having to live with vulnerabilities of apocalyptic scale for an indefinite future is, for most Americans, simply inconceivable. It follows that there must be a way to end such vulnerabilities.
For some that way is to kill or capture terrorists everywhere they may be found, and to either overturn or intimidate into good behavior all regimes that aid them. That seemed the essential message of the original Bush Doctrine (since refined into a strategy of conjoint military and political pre-emption-of which more below). For others, the solution is a Middle East Marshall Plan, the premise being that poverty causes terrorism. But nearly everyone sees that a broad and hyperactive military approach, even a technologically stunning one, is unlikely by itself to succeed (and could incite more trouble in future than it can solve in the here and now). The poverty alleviation solution is so impractically suited to the size and urgency of the problem that few responsible people take it seriously. So a political solution, poised between military and materialist ones, has now gained pride of place: fostering Arab democracy.