It happened again during the Cold War, when Truman saw that defeating the Soviet empire required additional time — and money.
And now, as scholars at the Foreign Policy Research Institute contend, President Bush's war on terror has reached a similar crossroads.
Speaking on the five-year anniversary of Sept. 11, institute director Harvey Sicherman — together with associates Michael Radu and Stephen Gale — suggested that Bush's current anti-terror campaign may not be able to get the job done in full. Like his presidential predecessors, Bush needs to prep for a longer, more expansive fight in the Middle East if he expects to see victory there, said the scholars.
Though Sicherman referred to something of a five-year grace period for presidents whose countries have been attacked on home turf, he stated that there's also an expectation that "if he hasn't fixed it in five years, then he's in trouble."
"In the last five years, we demonstrated that we could take down regimes lickety-split," he added. "But what we also demonstrated was that this firepower, this doctrine, doesn't really do the job. We need to know what it takes to build up a democracy."
'Democracy Is a Package'
Gale agreed, pointing out the inherent difficulties in state building.
"Bootstrapping a democracy is anything but an easy issue," he said. "Most democracies have come about — if they've lasted — through a true revolution internally, as we did. Somebody wanted to create a democracy, not have it imposed on them."
Gale reminded the audience that democracies cannot be defined on the basis of elections alone. Though they "may be our goal," using ballot boxes to represent free and democratic societies actually misconstrues the true nature of these regimes.
"Democracy is a package," he added, citing the need for democratically based institutions.
It's also a work-in-progress, added Radu.
In his comments, Radu differentiated between Middle Eastern nations like Jordan and Egypt, which, though not "Jeffersonian Democrats," maintain friendly relationships with the United States, and ones like Iran and Syria, which do not.
"Now, which one do we really want?" Radu asked the room. "Which one do we really believe we can get?"
Gale put it another way: "If our objective is to rebuild the Middle East as a U.S. clone — a democracy, as we see it — if that's the only solution we saw, that would take a long time."
Panelists also touched on the war's impact domestically.
Though Sept. 11 ushered in a new wave of governmental agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, Radu said they are "only taking baby steps."
"What we did so far was to add a new bureaucratic layer to our international system," he said. "We're not even approaching any kind of means of change in dealing with border security."
Sicherman said that effective policies would only come at the helm of serious government reform. He called for consolidation of the "85 committees and subcommittees in Congress" with access to intelligence data.
The speakers also called for an educational overhaul, citing a lack of public information on terror, Islamofacism and other so-called enemies of the state.
As Radu stated, the public has an emotional "but very confused, idea of what happened, why, and what should happen next."
He said that this confusion has created a "de facto alliance" between the left and radical Islam — "anti-anti-terrorists."
"Until we can shed this political correctness," insisted Radu, "we're never going to convince the public that there's a demon in this country."