Judgments on matters of war and peace follow from first things and basic principles.
If one is of a religious bent, say a very Christian President of the United States, and if one is a patriotic American, say a very patriotic President of the United States, one is very likely to be adverse to concluding that a people's religion is the root cause of any friction between that people and the United States.
For the first, one would be predisposed not to think ill of religion and to have the highest respect for the more noble aspects of that mindset. For the second, one would combine the traditional American reverence for the religious nature of much of our social history with the highest regard for the principle of freedom of religion. If I may advance a proposition that I think will find no opposition among the minds of my fellow country-men of any political persuasion it is surely this: that a man's religion is a matter of his conscience and faith, no business of mine and it would be an ill thing indeed were I to criticize that man because of his beliefs.
This being the case, it is not at all surprising that the collective will of the Federal Government, as led by its chief executive, has concluded that Islam has been hijacked by an extremist minority who carry out outrages that offend the honorable tradition of one of the world's great religions. As President Bush said shortly after the attacks of 9.11 in his speech to Congress of September 20, 2001:
The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics -- a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.
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I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.
Given the nature of the Federal Government, thoroughly shot through with piety about matters multi-cultural, the nature of the President, a deeply religious man, and the nature of our political culture, which is very respectful of matters religious, it is not at all surprising that this view should have been that advanced by the Administration in the aftermath of September 11.
Not surprising, yes, but disturbing nonetheless.
Many conservatives noted right away their discomfort--sometimes set forth in great detail, at other times merely set forth as a general feeling of unease--at seeing the President of the United States standing before Congress and speaking in the name of Islam. Certainly, being lectured on the "teachings" of Islam by Bush must have struck the Taliban, the mullahs of Tehran and other Islamists as both funny and infuriating at the same time.
It also offended objective reality; at the time the President spoke, political Islam was either in outright war in or conducting violent operations from Afghanistan, Algeria, China, Comoros, East Timor, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, "Palestine", Israel, Kosovo (Serbia), Bosnia, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Philippines, Somalia, Sudan, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Russia (Chechnya and other similar regions). A rational observer might be forgiven for concluding that the actual actions of real Muslims taken, according to them, in the name of Islam should count for more with regard to the nature of Islam than the word of a born-again Christian from Texas by way of New England.
And as reports began to trickle in from conservative dissenters that many of the mosques the President rushed to visit had been used in the past as launching pads for the so-called "extremist" ideology, or that they have been funded by the Saudi Wahabbi sect, or that "imams" invited to the White House had in the past given speeches wherein Hezbollah and Hamas were glorified, the unease began to spread.
In response to that conservative unease, two general responses were given. The first was of the general "Bush the Secret Warrior" bent. You know the type: every bone-headed statement of the President, every bad decision that made you want to tear your hair out was actually a brilliant ploy made to distract our enemies from the fact that we really do have their number. You see, Bush is making polite noises because he has to, not because he really believes that nonsense. On the whole, Bush is making good decisions in the breach, where it counts, so he can be forgiven the window-dressing that, sadly, today's modern media and liberal intelligentsia demand. After all, he may be visiting mosques, but his Justice Department has not been shy about going for radical Muslims found here at home.
This is just true enough to be remotely comforting, but, ultimately, it is not convincing. In its extreme, it manifests itself much like the old Russian peasant adoration of the Czar wherein all abuses made by the Czar's regime were said to be the result of local officials acting inappropriately and "if only the Czar knew what was being done in his name" they would stop. For conservatives, this approach is always that taken when some especially stupid decision by the State Department is brought up.
"Oh, those appeasing idiots at Foggy Bottom gave a student visa to a Taliban ambassador" or "Can you believe that Karen Hughes was groveling like that on Al-Jazeera?" Which is all very fine until one realizes that Foggy Bottom is an executive office of President Bush and Karen Hughes is an officer of the President, acting in his name and at his direction.
"If only the President knew what was being done in his name!"
And, so, the aggressive side of the Administration is praised without looking or dwelling too closely on negative signs. At the end of the day, however praiseful the effort may be, the simple fact that the Administration is going after some radicals is not, in and of itself, incompatible with the President's expressed views that only a few extremists are defaming the name of a great religion. Yes, some of the worst have been rounded up and prosecuted, but the King Fahd Mosque is still a strong Wahabbi outpost in the center of Los Angeles, home to literally hundreds of Saudis and other Muslims working here legally under a "religious worker" visa the Administration has taken no steps to rein in.
The second general response was given most succinctly in a comment by ZF to my post below: you go to war with the public you have. This is true, so far as it goes. Certainly the President is constrained by what the American public finds generally acceptable. For example, I believe quite strongly that FDR was convinced that the United States would have to enter WWII long before he was able to actually come out and say that, so strong was anti-war sentiment in the populace at large at the time.
However, we elect Presidents to lead, not to follow. And this is doubly true in wartime. While I know the left-wing sites are filled with shrill denunciations of the Administration's "scare-mongering," the fact is that the Administration, should it choose to do so, could be much, much more effective in alerting the American people to the very real danger poised by Islamism in the world today. Nearly every day, as is demonstrated in the Blogosphere hourly, brings some fresh outrage with severe implications for Western freedom. From beheadings of schoolgirls in Thailand, to the execution of tourists in the Philippines, to demands for restrictions on freedom of speech be read into international human rights law at the United Nations, to open calls by Islamic Republic officials for the destruction of the United States, to the near universal Muslim practice of using civilians as human shields to cover their attacks, to the actual and very real genocide being conducted by the Islamist government of Sudan, to the prominent place of the worst Nazi propaganda at Arab book fairs, to incendiary and untrue stories on Al-Jazeera, the Islamic world offers open indictments almost at will. The President's inability and unwillingness to speak frankly about the nature of the threat reveals both his fundamental misunderstanding of it and his failure to take his responsibilities seriously.
In any case, the recent "port controversy" made it quite clear that many, many more Americans than one would be led to believe by reading the New York Times
thinks that we have a problem with Muslims, period. In their unsophistication and simplicity, the average American seems to think that the U.A.E. is no different than Iran, which is no different than Saudi Arabia; they're all filled with crazy Muslims. (I am not speaking here of the actual controversy itself, there are good arguments on both sides, but what is beyond clear is that a very large majority of the American people instinctively think "trouble" when they hear the words "Arab" or "Muslim"). Given that, according to the last Los Angeles Times
poll, a full 57% of the American people support war with Iran right now
, even with Iraq still on-going, it's awfully hard to argue that the President is being constrained by the peaceful feelings of the American people.
On the contrary: were a President to seek a formal declaration of war against the Islamic Republic right now, laying out the case in full before Congress and the American people, he would get it if he were deemed serious. Of that, there is not the slightest doubt in my mind.
The Left is the Left. They opposed the reversal of the aggression against Kuwait, they (and this is infuriatingly forgotten now) opposed the invasion of Taliban Afghanistan and, to no one's surprise, they opposed the invasion of Iraq. Even being charitable about it, this faction constitutes no more than around 40% of the American voting population and probably a good deal less than that. Yet, disapproval of the Iraq War is ever widening and Bush's approval rating is plummeting to truly dangerous levels.
I submit it to you that what is going on here is not the widening of the anti-war faction. No, their pronouncements are still stale, their demonstrations still sparsely attended and no one outside of the liberal elite gives a damn about Cindy Sheehan. What we are seeing here is the fusion of an entirely different anti-war constituency, one that is growing opposed to the Iraq War because we are "calibrating" our use of military force in pursuit of "political" objectives that no one really thinks are worth the lives of our soldiers.
The objection is not that people are dying. It's that not enough of the right people are being killed.
Writing in NRO's The Corner, Rich Lowry, who was one of the first to detect what he calls a growing "To Hell With Them" constituency, pointed approvingly to a Tom Ricks piece that began "Current U.S. military commanders say they have come to understand that they are fighting within a political context, which means the results must first be judged politically."
For that segment of the American people who are broadly middle-class and are the inheritors of the Jacksonian tradition, this simple statement is deeply offensive. To them, there is NO such thing as a war fought "within a political context." To them that translates as "fighting with one arm tied behind our back, dying while trying to achieve silly and not-worthy-of-sacrifice public policy prescriptions." In yet another potential Left line that might yet resonate, statements like that also translate as "Vietnam," though not for the reason the Left thinks.
Taken together, I think the balance of the evidence is that Bush's War on Terror is informed by Bush's judgment of who the enemy is, and that in that judgment the enemy is a tiny minority in a sea of otherwise peaceable peoples who wish to live in dignity and freedom. Thus, the overall strategy is to empower that majority through democracy, thereby both marginalizing the radical minority and depriving them of the political oxygen within which they need to survive.
As I noted below, that was not how Bush initially sold the War on Terror, but that is a side issue. Of more importance now is the basic fact, that even those who strongly disagree with me must realize, that to the extent Bush's fundamental judgment regarding the nature of the enemy is faulty, the resulting strategy for victory would necessarily be flawed.
Which begs the question: are we at war with extremists or at war with Islam?
The first is self-evidently true whichever way we decide; extremists are the in either case either the cause or the most fervent foot soldiers. It's the second that is the tricky part.
Before we answer it, however, we need to get over our a certain squeamishness. To a certain type of (very reasonable) person, the question is not even askable, let alone answerable. After all, we are constantly reminded, there are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, living across a huge swath of the planet from the west coast of Africa to Indonesia, not to mention the numerous Muslim citizens of a large number of Western countries, not the least the United States itself. It's....it's.....well, it's unthinkable.
Well, I certainly understand this. After all, war with 1.2 billion people and roughly 30 countries is not to be wished for. However, consider this: during the Cold War the U.S. was engaged in active and actual hostilities with the entirety of the Soviet Union, all of Eastern Europe, giant China, some of south-east Asia, Korea, some of Latin America and some of Africa. That's not to say we were engaged in active hostilities in each at the same time, but as anyone who lived in the Cold War era can tell you roughly half the world was an active enemy and a good deal of the rest were sympathetic to Moscow.
So let us not blanch from answering the question just because it may lead to a very distressing answer. This is objective reality and we have to deal with it, come what may. If it demonstrated anything, 9.11 should have demonstrated that wishing for and assuming a state of peace does not objectively create it, no matter what the Beyond War folks used to say.
Again, the question: are we at war with Islam?
As of right now, the answer is clearly "no." There is no open or secret national security strategy being pursued by the Government of the United States that assumes that we are waging a world-wide war against Islam. Islamic countries continue to be treated as valued allies, especially Saudi Arabia. Islamic immigrants continue to be welcomed as immigrants, even those from radical communities. Our war-fighting strategy is specifically designed to promote "good" Muslims at the expense of "bad" Muslims. Our public diplomacy efforts, as laughable as they are, assume that Muslims may be convinced of the good intentions of the United States.
Of the past four major American armed interventions (Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Somalia), all four were designed to specifically benefit the local Muslim population and to relieve them from an oppressive and horrific condition.
The key event that proves that we are not at war with Islam is the USG's official reaction to the Mohammed Cartoon controversy. Forced to side with a basic Western value and an ally who is fighting at our side versus the wider Muslim population at large, we unhesitatingly and unequivocally sided with the wider Muslim masses. (Side note: Were I the Danish Prime Minister, my troops would have been home the next day, my navy would be steaming home and the American ambassador would have been politely asked to go home, but this sort of shoddy treatment is, alas, what many a U.S. ally has painfully come to expect of us when the chips are down).
Given this mountain of evidence, it is impossible for a rational observer to conclude that the U.S. is waging a "war against Islam" in the guise of the War on Terror.
And that is exactly the problem. To paraphrase Trotsky, you may not be interested in a war against Islam, but Islam is interested in waging a war against you
. The question asked is backwards. It hardly matters whether or not we are waging a war against Islam since Islam has already declared war on us.
To be sure, not every Muslim in the world is willing to suicide bomb a Starbucks in Chicago. But that's not the test. Not every German was willing to volunteer for the Eastern Front either, but that didn't stop an entire generation of Germans from being fanatic Nazis supportive of the regime's stated goals. As Nazism was impossible without the near-unanimous support of the German people, so is Islamism impossible without the near-unanimous support of the Muslim people. If a great and noble civilization like the Germans could fall so in love with their grievances that they fell hook, line and sinker for a murderous ideology, why are we to assume that Muslims could be immune?
Conservatives right now are making a big deal about the "President" of the Islamic Republic's denial of the Holocaust and wish to "wipe Israel off the map." That's all well and good, but as any expert or person who has spent any time in the Islamic world will tell you, both viewpoints are not the rare expressions of a fanatic but the common assumptions of the vast majority. As we are seeing with the Mohammed Cartoon Controversy, the wider Muslim world claims as its right to impose Sharia concepts on Western nations and is quite willing to use violence and intimidation to back that imposition up.
Needless to say, this is a generalization, albeit a valid one. There exist many fine, upstanding Muslim individuals who reject the bloodier claims of their religion. But these people are the rare exception to the rule and not at all common. I enjoy reading Iraq The Model as much as the next guy, but if you think the author is typical of the average Iraqi you're living in a dream land. Ditto with "progressive" Iranians, "secular" Egyptians and "rational" Libyans.
The fact is that right now radical Islamism has an ever-growing hold on the Muslim masses at large. It is a supremely confident ideology that fixates on historical grievance and blames the Jews and the West for all ills. It allocates to itself an absolute right over life and death and demands without hesitation submission to its righteous cause. What we think of as tolerance and multi-culturalism, they see as weakness and a readiness to submit that must be exploited. As Steyn wrote last week:
What, in the end, are all these supposedly unconnected matters from Danish cartoons to the murder of a Dutch filmmaker to gender-segregated swimming sessions in French municipal pools about? Answer: sovereignty. Islam claims universal jurisdiction and always has. The only difference is that they're now acting upon it. The signature act of the new age was the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran: Even hostile states generally respect the convention that diplomatic missions are the sovereign territory of their respective countries. Tehran then advanced to claiming jurisdiction over the citizens of sovereign states and killing them -- as it did to Salman Rushdie's translators and publishers. Now in the cartoon jihad and other episodes, the restraints of Islamic law are being extended piecemeal to the advanced world, by intimidation and violence but also by the usual cooing promotion of a spurious multicultural "respect" by Bill Clinton, the United Church of Canada, European foreign ministers, etc.
That claim to universal jurisdiction impinges upon our rights and liberties in a very fundamental way. Given that the newly resurgent Islamism is very unlikely to give up such a claim without a fight, I find it highly unlikely that we can avoid a general conflict.
Decisions on war and peace follow from basic judgments. If you, like me, share the judgment that Islam is claiming rights it has no right to and if Islam is claiming the right to use violence to enforce those rights, then our only choice is to submit or fight. Convincing ourselves that there exist allies in the Islamic world who will disclaim Islam's historical stance and live in peaceful co-existence with the non-Islamic world is a delusion of the highest order that only further convinces our enemy that we are not serious and are easily defeated.Next: Our Options In the New Cold War