From the February 2005 issue of The American Spectator.
THE ONLY SERIOUS CRITICISM OF THE IRAQ WAR John Kerry managed to muster was that President Bush’s invasion plan didn’t include an exit strategy. But Mr. Bush always had a good exit strategy: first we win, then we go home. The problem is that he hasn’t defined just what this war is, or how well even know when we’ve won.
An imperfect election is about to take place in Iraq. Some Iraqis will get to vote, and some will not. But in the end, a democratic government will have been chosen by a close-to-free people. Though the U.N. and Old Europe may turn their noses up at its legitimacy, our diplomatic recognition of it will make it a new member of the community of nations. And as soon as that happens, the left will insist that the war is over and that it is time to bring the troops home.
The war — as the president has defined it — is a global war on terrorism. But terrorism is, at most, a strategy. The “GWOT” — in the inevitable Pentagon acronym — a muddy concept. You cannot war against a strategy but you can fight nations, people, and ideologies. It would be better for the President to redefine the war in such clear and distinct terms that no one could misunderstand it. This is a war to defeat or destroy the ideology of Islamic jihadism, the terrorists who embrace it and the nations that support them. The president, in his second inaugural address, should tell us that we must defeat all three in order to win this war. With only a few sentences, he can change the dominant question of his second term from “when we will bring the troops home” to “where else and how else must the war be fought in order to win it?”
An endless parade of experts assure us that this is a war like none we have fought before, that the terrorists have or will soon have weapons with which they can wreak untold destruction on us and our allies. Only a very few of the experts tell us that we must deal with the sources of terrorism, and most of them get it wrong by insisting that the cause is poverty and the ugly American image of us that prevails in the Islamic world.
To deal with terrorism we have to destroy its sources. Those sources have little or nothing to do with poverty or public relations. The sources of terrorism are the jihadist ideology and the nations that base their imperial ambitions on its success. Were we to identify those sources clearly, and define the means of defeating them, we would have a clear vision of what winning requires. To begin to do that, we have to speak loudly those thoughts that have only occasionally been whispered.
THE FIRST OF THOSE THOUGHTS is that no matter the result of the Iraqi election America cannot withdraw from Iraq until the remaining terrorist regimes in the region are neutralized. That unpalatable fact results from two facts, that the jihadist regimes of Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia cannot leave a democratic Iraq at peace and that those regimes are jihadist themselves and large sources of terrorism.
The second is that military action will be necessary, in one degree or another, to destroy the other sources of jihadism. That we are building a number of military bases in Iraq is, to the U.N., Old Europe, and the Democrats, an unnecessary provocation of the terrorists. Heaven forbid that we would offend those who hack off the heads of helpless American and other hostages. The terrorists may well derive some propaganda benefit from our presence, but the military advantage we gain outweighs that by — in strategic airlift terms — millions of ton-miles per day. We don’t have to “get there fustest with the mostest.” We’re already there, and can get on with the job of destroying jihadist ideology and supporters.
Jihadist ideology is based on two concepts. First, under the jihadists’ reading of the Koran, only those who are true believers are entitled to life, and they must subjugate themselves to the dogma of jihad. Second, jihadist ideology promises to restore the idealized Islamic past of a Muslim caliphate, ruling the civilized world and leading it in science, art, and prosperity. To achieve this, they believe, requires destroying Western society.
Jihadism is, by definition, a hegemonist ideology. It means death not only to Westerners but to Muslims who are not “true believers.” In War in the Desert, John Bagot Glubb wrote of his RAF service in the Iraqi desert in the 1920s. His task was to protect nomadic Iraqi tribes from “al Ikhwan,” the Wahhabi raiders who crossed into Iraq from the Nejed: the eastern part of what we now call Saudi Arabia. The Ikhwan — the first modern jihadists — crossed the border only to kill and rob. But for Glubb and his tiny force, they might have depopulated southern Iraq. Today’s jihadist believers say, as the Brezhnevites of the old Soviet Union did, that their success is both inevitable and irreversible. Glubb lacked the power to beat the jihadists by destroying their sources of power. We do not lack the power. But do we have the skill and will to use it?
We have done an exceedingly poor job of battling jihadist ideology, even among the people we are freeing from its oppression. Last November, a senior Defense Department official bragged about the lives we risked and lost attacking Fallujah without destroying many of the mosques from which the insurgents were attacking our troops. I asked him how we were making the Iraqis aware of those sacrifices. His answer was that we were trying to lead by setting a good example. What he said, in effect, was that we were sacrificing young American lives to earn Iraqi goodwill, and then wasting the sacrifice by not even trying to impress the point on the Iraqis. By failing to tell the Iraqis and the Muslim world that American lives were being sacrificed out of respect for their religion, we are failing to fight the ideological battle. It’s doubtful that our military commanders in Iraq even understand this.
To defeat the jihadist ideology, we have to fight it as we did the Soviets’. There should be a continuous stream of American information being broadcast into the Muslim nations, in their own languages, setting out our values, our goals, and our strategy. We cannot overcome a thousand years of insecurity and failure of their societies by talking, but we can blunt the jihadist propaganda by getting information out to those most in need of it. The U.S. Information Agency — disbanded with the fall of the Soviet Union — should be re-created for that mission. But that is only one step. It is essential that we defeat jihadism in a way that proves — like the freedom of Poland proved to Communists — that the success of jihadism is neither irreversible nor inevitable.
Toppling Saddam’s regime in Iraq was irrelevant to defeating jihadist ideology. To disprove its inevitability and irreversibility, we must remove the jihadist regimes so that for at least two generations no hope of their revival seems possible. Of the jihadist regimes, Iran is by far the most dangerous. If its nuclear ambitions are realized — and they soon will be — the advent of nuclear terrorism will quickly follow. If 9/11 was the challenge of Mr. Bush’s first term, Iran is the challenge of his second.
SINCE 1979, WHEN JIMMY CARTER while the Shah’s regime was overthrown and the current kakistocracy took power, Iran wasted no time in building a web of terrorist organizations to act upon its enmity toward America. Hezbollah, Iranian-created, equipped, and funded, made a battlefield of Beirut. In 1983, at Iran’s direction, a Hezbollah attack killed 241 Marines in the Beirut barracks bombing. They kidnapped, tortured, and murdered Marine Lt. Col. William “Rich” Higgins, and CIA station chief William Buckley. Hezbollah fighters have been in Iraq, fighting beside the insurgents against Coalition troops. In Iraq, Iran has funded and operated the Moqtada al-Sadr “mahdi militia” and used it to attack and kill Coalition troops. Iran is now openly allied with al Qaeda.
In May 2003, when a rocket attack on a civilian compound in Riyadh killed a number of Westerners, the Saudis were quick to blame outsiders. All eyes turned to Iran. Did the al Qaeda attack in Riyadh emanate from Iran? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “Well, I’ll leave the analysis to others, but just from a factual standpoint, there is no question but that there have been, and there are today, senior al Qaeda leaders in Iran. And they are busy.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?