Bernard Lewis spoke those memorable words to sum up the necessary goal of U.S. policy at a Hudson Institute conference two days ago. More fully, to quote a New York Sun news report, he said "the only real solution to defeating radical Islam is to bring freedom to the Middle East. Either ‘we free them or they destroy us'."
I have the highest regard for Bernard Lewis, a great Middle East historian from whom I have been learning since I entered the field in 1969. (The very first book I read in Middle East history, not surprisingly, was his Arabs in History.) But I disagree that our goal is to free the Muslim world, and for two main reasons:
There are plenty of born-free Muslims in the West who are Islamists. Take, for example, the four 7/7 bombers in London. Freedom did nothing for them.
The goal in war has to be to defeat one's enemies, not liberate them. The invasion of Iraq, dubbed "Operation Iraqi Freedom," suffered from this mistake. The same applies to the war on radical Islam, where we must cause our enemies to feel a sense of defeat. We must crush their will. After that bitter phase has been experienced, they are then eligible for freedom.
(September 13, 2006)
Sep. 20, 2006 update: The text of Lewis's speech, "Bring Them Freedom, Or They Destroy Us," has now been posted, and as its title suggests, the written version differs slightly from how the New York Sun reported his talk. The final sentence of the talk reads: "Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us."