I'll try explaining with a state diagram (readers familiar with them may skip ahead to the picture). An object (such as a switch, or elevator, or country, or planet) is in a "state", and can switch to other states depending on which state it's in now. A light switch can always go between "on" and "off". An elevator needs to go through the "stopped, door closed" state between "moving" or "door open." Here's some more info on how they work. So a simple state diagram for America would show it moving between "war" and "peace" as states. Here's a slightly more complex one to illustrate how I think we have to view the war:
(The arrows show the possible changes from one state to another. The white ones are unstable. We'll keep changing among the white ones until we get to a grey end state, at which point the war will be over)
Before 9/11 we considered terrorism to be an Acceptable Level of Violence. Nothing that justified changing how we dealt with the world at home or abroad. But Moore's Law of Mad Scientists keeps working, so it gets easier to cause a major attack every year. The "acceptable level of violence" state isn't stable and we have to move to another, or someone will move us against our will.
There are several different
So what intermediate states will get us to a good end state instead of a bad one? Right now we're in Gunpoint Democracy, making Iraq a test case for turning Arabs into good neighbors. If we decide that democracy can't work in the MidEast and take over running things ourselves we get American Empire. Or we can say heck with it and go home. Fortress America relies on tight controls of borders and trade to stay safe. It'd also have ruthless surveillance of our own people and nasty punitive expeditions to retaliate for any attacks that do get through. That's if we keep the will to fight. Lose that and we're in Danegeld, probably not by making cash payments but enforcing blasphemy laws and allowing local sharia zones.
There's some key assumptions going into this:
1. There isn't enough time to let the MidEast evolve into a democracy on its own before somebody cooks up a megadeath attack.
2. America doesn't have the willpower to maintain an empire.
3. Staying on the offensive will keep terrorists from launching a major attack against the US.
4. Islamofascism is powerful and agressive enough that we can't coexist with it.
I favor Gunpoint Democracy as the option that gives us the best chance of getting the best outcome, and gets us as far as possible from the worst. Given that strategy we've got to start somewhere. Iraq (for many good reasons) was it.