Executive Summary

If we are to have partners for peace, then we must first be partners in sympathetic recognition that all mankind possesses in common like aspirations and hungers, like ideals and appetites, like purposes and frailties, a like demand for economic advancement. The divisions between us are artificial and transient. Our common humanity is God-made and enduring.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Address at the Centennial Commencement of Pennsylvania State University
June 11, 1955

Creating partnerships for peace with Muslim countries and communities is one of the greatest challenges—and opportunities—facing the United States today. Currently, conflict, misunderstanding, and distrust plague U.S. relations with Muslims in many countries, imperiling security for all. Maintaining the status quo raises the specter of prolonged confrontation, catastrophic attacks, and a cycle of retaliation.

Despite these tensions, the vast majority of Americans and Muslims around the world want peace, amicable relations, good governance, prosperity, and respect. Policies and actions—not a clash of civilizations—are at the root of our divisions.

This Report outlines a comprehensive strategy for the U.S. to enhance international security by improving relations with key Muslim countries and communities. The strategy reflects the consensus of 34 American leaders, including 11 Muslim Americans, in the fields of foreign and defense policy, politics, business, religion, education, public opinion, psychology, philanthropy, and conflict resolution. We come from different walks of life, faiths, political perspectives, and professional disciplines. Our shared goal is to develop and work to implement a wise, widely supportable strategy to make the U.S. and the world safer by responding to the primary causes of tension between the U.S. and Muslims around the world. We believe that a strategy that builds on shared and complementary interests with Muslims in many countries is feasible, desirable, and consistent with core American values.

The central message of our strategy is that the U.S. government, business, faith, education, and media leaders must work with Muslim counterparts to build a coalition that will turn the tide against extremism. Our recommendations are directed primarily to U.S. leaders and institutions, but we can succeed only if counterparts in Muslim majority countries and communities also take responsibility for addressing key challenges: reducing extremism, resolving political and sectarian conflicts, holding governments accountable, creating more vibrant economies, correcting misconceptions, and engaging in dialogue to build mutual respect and understanding.

The Need for a New Approach

During the past several years, it has become clear that military force may be necessary, but is not sufficient, to defeat violent extremists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, or to prevent attacks elsewhere. Moreover, military action has significant costs to U.S. standing in the world, and to our ability to gain the cooperation of other countries in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. Senior U.S. defense and military leaders have recognized the primary importance of diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural initiatives in combating extremism.

Recently, the U.S. government has taken important steps to expand the use of diplomacy, support improvements in governance, and promote economic development in Muslim countries threatened by extremism. In the face of continuing extremist violence directed at the U.S. and its allies, the next U.S. President and Congress must create and implement a more comprehensive strategy for reversing extremism in key Muslim regions, countries, and communities. U.S. business, educational, philanthropic, faith, and media organizations should help define and carry out many elements of that strategy.

The Drivers of Extremism

Only a tiny minority of Muslims is involved in violence against the U.S. and its allies. The extremists’ ability to recruit, operate, and inflict harm depends on a more widespread set of active and passive supporters. In many Muslim majority countries and Muslim minority communities, that support is driven by deep-seated frustration with poor governance, constraints on political activity, and lack of economic opportunity.

The United States is not directly responsible for these conditions and frustrations, but many Muslims see the U.S. as complicit, believing that it has supported ineffective and corrupt governments in their countries as a way to meet U.S. geopolitical and economic interests. Their anger is compounded by their sense that the U.S. has favored Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, and has exercised a “double standard” on democracy, calling for democratic reforms in the Muslim world while continuing to support repressive governments in allied Muslim countries. Since the invasion of Iraq, many Muslims have also come to believe that the U.S. seeks to dominate Muslim countries by force. Efforts by the U.S. government, private leaders and organizations to change these perceptions have had limited effect.

A Strategy for Reversing Extremism

To shrink the base of support for extremism, our strategy calls on U.S. governmental and private leaders, and their Muslim counterparts, to work together to advance four goals: resolving conflicts through diplomacy; improving governance in Muslim countries; promoting broad-based economic development in Muslim countries and regions; and building mutual respect and understanding.

Efforts on each of these goals will be helpful, but coordinated action on all four goals, tailored to particular countries and regions, offers the greatest potential for improvements in U.S. security and U.S.-Muslim relations. Following is a summary of our recommendations for advancing each of the four goals.

1. Elevate diplomacy as the primary tool for resolving key conflicts involving Muslim countries, engaging both allies and adversaries in dialogue

  • Engage with Iran to explore the potential for agreements that could increase regional security, while seeking Iran’s full compliance with its nuclear nonproliferation commitments
  • Work intensively for immediate de-escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a viable path to a two-state solution, while ensuring the security of Israelis and Palestinians
  • Promote broad-based political reconciliation in Iraq, and clarify the long-term U.S. role
  • Renew international commitment and cooperation to halt extremists’ resurgence in Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • Provide top-level U.S. leadership to resolve regional conflicts and to improve coordination with international partners

2. Support efforts to improve governance and promote civic participation in Muslim countries, and advocate for principles rather than parties in their internal political contests

  • Build the capacity of government institutions to deliver services, and of citizens to participate in governance
  • Advocate consistently for nonviolence, pluralism and fairness in political contests
  • Use U.S. leverage with authoritarian governments to promote reforms in governance
  • Assess the value of engagement with political representatives of armed and activist movements case-by-case, based on their principles, behavior, and level of public support
  • Support political transitions and the consolidation of reforms in countries at critical “turning points”

3. Help catalyze job-creating growth in Muslim countries to benefit both the U.S. and Muslim countries’ economies

  • Support policy reforms to secure property rights, facilitate transactions and promote investments
  • Partner with governments, multilateral institutions and philanthropies to make education a more powerful engine of employment and entrepreneurship
  • Use public-private investment partnerships to reduce risk, promote exports and fund enterprises
  • Use trade agreements to reward economic reform and spur investment
  • Manage energy interdependence and diversify resources

4. Improve mutual respect and understanding between Americans and Muslims around the world

  • Use public diplomacy to reinforce changes in policies and actions
  • Dramatically expand cross-cultural education, people-to-people and interfaith exchange
  • Promote greater depth and accuracy in news coverage and programming
  • Invest in cultural diplomacy through arts and entertainment programs, to deepen mutual understanding and challenge stereotypes
  • Involve the Muslim-American community as a bridge

A Call for Action

Implementing this strategy will require a sustained, coordinated effort by a range of public and private institutions, including the President and Executive agencies; Members of Congress; business and investment leaders; philanthropic institutions and development agencies; and educators, faith leaders, the news media, and citizens.

The next U.S. President and Administration must provide immediate and sustained leadership to improve U.S.-Muslim relations. We recommend that the next President take these steps:

  • Speak to the critical importance of improving relations with the global Muslim community in his 2009 inaugural address
  • Take key actions immediately to demonstrate a commitment to improving relations, including:
    - Immediately organizing a whole-of-government effort, with Presidential leadership, to define and implement a strategy for improving relations with key Muslim countries and communities
    - Immediately re-affirming the U.S. commitment to prohibit all forms of torture
  • Within the first three months of the Administration, initiate a major and sustained diplomatic effort to resolve regional conflicts and promote security cooperation in the Middle East, giving top priority to engagement with Iran and permanent resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • Within the first six months of the Administration, co-convene a business-government summit on economic reform, growth, and job creation in the Middle East to accelerate current reform and investment initiatives
  • Work with leaders in Congress, educational, cultural and philanthropic institutions in the U.S., and counterparts in Muslim countries, to create and fund a global initiative for teaching, learning, and exchange among citizens in the U.S. and Muslim countries

It will also be important for a wide range of private actors to coordinate their activities more closely, while maintaining their separation from the government. To do so, we recommend that the new Administration and leading business, educational, philanthropic, faith, and media organizations co-convene forums on U.S.-Muslim relations, and create new platforms for action, making special efforts to involve Muslim-American leaders.

What Is at Stake

Immediate action is needed. Neither the U.S. nor Muslims in regions of conflict can afford a further deterioration in relations. Extremist groups and movements have gained ground in many Muslim countries. Their appeal will grow unless the U.S. acts more effectively to address the economic, political, and security concerns that extremists have exploited.

Implementing our recommendations will not eliminate the risk of terrorist attacks affecting the U.S. Yet given a broad, deep, and sustained commitment, our proposed strategy will reshape U.S. relations with Muslim leaders and peoples in ways that improve U.S. and international security, transform the spiral of fear and mistrust into a foundation of mutual confidence and respect, and help create a more peaceful world.

The Leadership Group on U.S -Muslim Engagement
September 2008