Religion, Terror, and Error

U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement

by Douglas M. Johnston, Jr.
Foreword by General Anthony Zinni, USMC (Ret)


Following the fall of Baghdad in 2003, Iran offered to negotiate a "Grand Bargain" with the United States, which had the potential to resolve outstanding differences. The offer was met with silence. If the United States is to prevail in its contest with militant Islam, it will need to rethink old assumptions, expand the scope of its policymaking to include religion and other "irrational" factors, and be willing to depart from past practice.

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Cover image for Religion, Terror, and Error

January 2011


Pages 283
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Security Studies/U.S. Foreign Policy
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This book describes how the United States can integrate religious considerations into its foreign policy, moving towards a new leadership paradigm that effectively counters the challenge of Islamist extremism.

How should the United States deal with the jihadist challenge and other religious imperatives that permeate today's geopolitical landscape? Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement argues that what is required is a longer-term strategy of cultural engagement, backed by a deeper understanding of how others view the world and what is important to them. The means by which that can be accomplished are the subject of this book.

This work achieves three important goals. It shows how religious considerations can be incorporated into the practice of U.S. foreign policy; offers a successor to the rational-actor model of decision-making that has heretofore excluded "irrational" factors like religion; and suggests a new paradigm for U.S. leadership in anticipation of tomorrow's multipolar world. In describing how the United States should realign itself to deal more effectively with the causal factors that underlying religious extremism, this innovative treatise explains how existing capabilities can be redirected to respond to the challenge and identifies additional capabilities that will be needed to complete the task.


  • A foreword by retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, former Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East, and member of the CSIS Smart Power Commission
  • Maps that show areas of interest discussed in the text
  • Epigraphs throughout the book to provide amplification of important insights


  • Revisits the first principles of the Founding Fathers as a basis for redefining America's role in the world
  • Describes a new decision-making process and leadership paradigm for conducting foreign policy in tomorrow's geopolitical environment
  • Expands the "whole-of-government" definition of smart power to include a private-sector dimension of religious engagement
  • Develops and illustrates the prospective utilization of a new concept for preventing conflict
Series Description

Praeger Security International

As the world gets "smaller" through technology and globalization, the security risks we face grow and multiply.

International security in the 21st century is not a topic that can be adequately addressed in nightly news soundbites or online articles intended to be relevant for 24 hours or less. Comprehending these complex issues requires insight from foreign policy specialists, diplomats, military officials, peace scholars, historians, and security experts—participants and observers on all sides of each conflict. This series provides the tools for understanding security issues in our uncertain, unstable world.

Written by subject experts and well-known researchers, the books in the Praeger Security International series give readers access to carefully considered and highly informed viewpoints on the critical security issues that threaten to destabilize our world. With titles authored by diplomats, first responders, economists, journalists, civil servants, military leaders and combatants, legal experts, psychologists, and other knowledgeable specialists, these books offer in-depth reflections, thorough analysis, and international perspectives that are unavailable in mass media. These titles represent an invaluable resource for students and researchers as well as anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the complex issues that affect our lives and future.


  • Provides reliable, comprehensive information on all matters relating to security that is ideal for students, teachers, researchers, and professionals
  • Offers insightful commentaries written by a diverse group of scholars and experts who provide interdisciplinary treatments of newsworthy events and important historical occurrences
Author Info

Douglas M. Johnston, Jr., PhD, is president and founder of the Washington-based International Center for Religion & Diplomacy. Johnston was editor and principal author of Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft; Foreign Policy into the 21st Century: The U.S. Leadership Challenge; and Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik.



"An important and thoughtful book that deserves to be read and considered carefully by policy makers and implementers alike."—American Diplomacy


"This extraordinary book, which builds upon Dr. Johnston’s seminal work on religion and statecraft, offers new and compelling insights into the foreign policy challenges that lie ahead and how they should be approached. Its unique illumination of the Muslim perspective on world events provides the backdrop for a dramatically different way of perceiving and pursuing international relations. At a critical juncture in our nation’s history, this exceptional work promises to crystallize new and helpful debate among policymakers and foreign policy practitioners alike."—Dr. Amos Jordan, President Emeritus, Center for Strategic and International Studies; formerly served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs

"I consider this to be the best book that has yet been published on how religion can be deployed to improve US-Muslim World relations. It should be required reading for anyone concerned with bringing peace to our war-torn world."—Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder, The Cordoba Initiative; author, What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America

"This book pulls off the huge accomplishment of turning the game completely around. Anyone who doesn’t adopt what it proposes is not being a hard-headed realist. Even those without faith would have to conclude that absent the sophisticated understanding of other world views that Dr. Johnston calls for, we are doomed to the most dangerous kind of blindness. This is the most important foreign policy book I have read in recent years."—Dr. Stanton Burnett, former Counselor and Director of Research, U.S. Information Agency; author of award-winning book The Italian Guillotine

"In our struggle with international terrorism, I firmly believe that the United States should not rely solely on its 'hard' power but also employ the many tools of 'soft' power that are available to it. In this regard, Douglas Johnston’s new book provides a pragmatic blueprint, one that relies on building trust and finding common ground between vastly different cultures. If properly applied, this approach can enhance American influence in the efforts to find solutions to this global challenge." —James A. Baker, III, 61st U.S. Secretary of State

"The name Doug Johnston is synonymous with thoughtful, courageous and honest peace building in many parts of the world. He has given so much of his life to the quest for peace and harmony among nations and ethnic groups. His key is the careful blend of religious beliefs and shared ethical values. The importance of this book is that it presents a blueprint for action based on his years of experience. It is a must for those who work to end conflicts, great and small, in our society."—Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington

"Using his extensive experience and deep knowledge of religion and diplomacy, Douglas Johnston has provided an outstanding book that offers a unique approach to today’s problems of war, humanitarian concerns, and international relations. His prescriptions reflect our own national religious heritage as well as an understanding of other faiths around the globe. It should be read by those responsible for making or implementing foreign policy, as well as by anyone interested in promoting peace and understanding in a troubled world."—Edwin Meese III, former Attorney General of the United States

"Douglas Johnston was much ahead of his time in anticipating the explosive revival of religious conflict (Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft, 1994). With this book, he is leading the way once again, this time to the mitigation of religious conflict."—Edward Luttwak, author of The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire and Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace

"Douglas Johnston was extraordinarily prescient in seeing the role religious energies and identities would play in the post-Cold War world. And he is both a visionary and a distinctively skilled practitioner of how an informed and pragmatic understanding of religion in human lives and cultures must be integrated into a 21st Century version of Realpolitik. This book is an engrossing introduction to what he has been doing and learning just below the cultural radar for decades. It is a great gift to policymakers and citizens alike."—Krista Tippett, Public radio host and author of Einstein’s God


2011 Best Book Award - 1st Place in "Political Science" — ForeWord Reviews

2011 Best Book Award - 3rd Place in "Religion" — ForeWord Reviews

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