Let’s stop calling it “sustained anti-terrorism” as Susan Rice, the President’s National Security Advisor refers to it, and let’s stop saying silly stuff like “War is the wrong terminology” as Secretary of State John Kerry recently opined. War is the right terminology, so let’s stop issuing advisories about whether there will be, or will not be, “boots on the ground.” Let’s just say we’re all in to meet the challenge of the Islamic State and every other radical Islamic movement that seeks the destruction of the United States or any of its allies. We’ll do it with or without others, but we’ll do it.
This is a war like no other. Our enemy has no Commander-in-Chief, as we understand the term. Radical and fanatical tribal commanders and Caliphs will, from time to time, emerge, but the Commander-in-Chief is, and will always be, Allah and to the radical Islamist no Islamist on earth has the right to unilaterally give up the struggle. That is, no one in Islam can unilaterally end the fight to extend the reign of Islam to every continent, every country and every nook and cranny on the face of the earth. The Geneva Convention and the Rules of War are meaningless to the radical Islamists. They have no rules and they take few prisoners.
None of this is new. It has been true for approximately 1400 years, but today this archaic, triumphal, enduring and primitive belligerency has metastasized and evolved and found itself in a milieu rich in advanced weaponry, hyper communication capability, left-behind misfits and zealous fanatics who can be (and are) readily recruited into the world of mayhem, sadism, power and murder.
Defeating ISIS (or the Islamic State) will not solve the problem any more than defeating an enemy brigade ends a war. The emergence of ISIS is but a chapter in a much longer and challenging book of horrors.
Our concern is that we still don’t get it. Islam is the one Abrahamic religion in which a very substantial number of adherents (but by no means a majority) are still committed to the most literal commandments to smite the infidels (all who are not them), and to project their faith, by force if necessary, throughout the world until there is no other faith to confront.
Last year, the PEW research organization completed a four-year study in which they interviewed tens of thousands of Muslims in 39 different countries. Thankfully, and not surprisingly, the vast majority of Muslims (78%) are opposed to violence in the name of Islam. It would be, and is, a great injustice to assume that the world’s Muslims are the enemy. They are not. It is, however, among the 28% who do condone and support violence in the name of Islam that there exists a clear and present danger to our way of life.
Given that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, that 28% represents over 400 million Muslims who do condone violent war in the name of Islam, which is a pool from which the radicals can, and are, recruiting their killers (Pew also found that 84% of Egyptian Muslims support the death penalty for anyone leaving Islam as do 86% of Jordanian Muslims, 30% of Indonesian Muslims, 76% of Pakistanis, 51% of Nigerian Muslims and 76% of South Asian Muslims).
If we fail to understand the nature of violent, radical Islam and its ability today to coalesce into a surprisingly cohesive fighting force, we will face years of misery, and we will not be victorious against an enemy that has declared war against us. As the Chinese warrior Sun Tzu wrote over 2400 years ago in the world’s oldest military treatise, The Art of War, know your enemy. And as Dennis Ross, wrote just this week in a New York Times op-ed, “Islamists are not our Friends,” “…The Obama administration worries about the consequences of excluding all Islamists. It worries, too, about appearing to give a blank check to authoritarian regimes, when it believes there need to be limits and that these regimes are likely to prove unstable over time. But as Egypt and the U.A.E. showed with the airstrikes on Islamists in Libya, some of America’s traditional partners are ready to act without us, convinced that the administration does not see all Islamists as a threat — and that America sees its interests as different from theirs. That is a problem…”
This, again, raises the question — do we get it?
Following the most recent beheading by ISIS, President Obama went on national television and proclaimed, “…There has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of the kind of a nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is group like (ISIS) has no place in the 21st century. Friends and allies around the world, we share a common security a set of values opposite of what we saw yesterday. We will continue to confront this hateful terrorism and replace it with a sense of hope and stability.”
The President’s remarks were all about ISIS and (other) “nihilistic ideologies.” The problem we face is not simply about “nihilistic ideologies.” It is about radical Islam. It is about Bako Haram, and Hamas and every one of the dozens of other radical terrorist organizations that the United States has identified and those that will emerge, as those we know about are defeated. The United States has to be part of a worldwide effort to isolate and defeat them all, or they will continue to metastasize in a never-ending cycle of violence and war against the West and western values.
Despite what President Obama believes, the threat of war is not receding. Not in any meaningful way. Sadly, the threat of war never really recedes. It merely pauses and, then, only briefly. War, again very sadly, has been part and parcel of the human condition for all of time. According to the New York Times, during all of record history (3,400 years), man has been entirely at peace (defined as an absence of conflict claiming at least 1,000 lives) for only 268 years, or just 8 percent of recorded history. For many of the last 1400 years, war and radial Islam have been synonymous. We like to think that the centuries of religious war are long past. Well, religious war appears to be a re-energized companion of the twenty-first century. War by radical Islam may well be one of the defining issues of our time.
We have to understand the threat of radical Islam and we have to carefully contemplate our own resolve. Sun Tzu also taught, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of battle…If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
In other words, we need to have an overriding strategy to confront, with our allies, radical Islam wherever it threatens civil order. Anything less will be to engage in a never-ending war of attrition, and our way of life could suffer the death of a thousand cuts.
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