August 10, 2006
Hard Thoughts about the WarBy Steven M. Warshawsky
Two recent articles on National Review Online demonstrate what I consider to be the two biggest failures to date in thinking about the War on Terror: a studied refusal by most westerners —— including American conservatives who support the war —— to admit that we are in a clash of civilizations with militant Islam, and a concomitant failure to recognize that America and her allies have not fought this war with anywhere near the ferocity required to win.
In the first article, "The F Word," Rich Lowry discusses the "bedrock conviction underlying President Bush's foreign policy," to wit, that "freedom is the desire of every human heart." Lowry laments that this conviction "appears to not be true." Ever since President Bush transformed the War on Terror from a global military campaign against terrorists and their state sponsors into a Wilsonian exercise in democratic nation—building, conservative commentators of all stripes have questioned the validity of the political and philosophical assumptions behind this idealistic vision. George Will has been the most eloquent and insightful of these conservative critics.
Like Will, Lowry argues that President Bush and his advisors have "forgotten conservative wisdom about the importance of institutions and culture." According to Lowry, without "appropriate governmental institutions" and a "culture" that does not elevate the annihilation of Israel above all other goals, it will be "excruciatingly hard" to build free, democratic countries in the Middle East. Nevertheless, failing to draw the right conclusions, Lowry endorses "the liberalizing thrust" of the President's foreign policy and speaks breezily of a "democratizing Middle East" as "the best alternative to the violent, dictator—plagued region of today."
What Lowry and so many other commentators refuse to acknowledge, however, is that the "institutions and culture" that created, nurtured, and sustain (for now) the free, democratic societies we enjoy in the West are the products of Christian societies. There is a lively historical debate, of course, over the contributions of Christianity (especially Protestantism) to western political ideals of individual rights, personal freedom, and representative government. But this is a debate over how much credit Christianity deserves for these achievements, not whether it deserves any credit at all.
The historical evidence on the connection between Christianity and democracy cannot be denied. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly clear that Islam, at least in its modern militant form, does not contain any body of thinking from which similar ideals can be derived. Certainly there is no evidence of any "democratizing" forces in contemporary Muslim history, politics, and culture.
In short, commentators like Lowry speak of the need for "appropriate governmental institutions" and a different "culture" in the Middle East, but they won't acknowledge (at least not openly) that what they really are talking about are the "institutions" and "culture" of Christian societies —— and that there is no good reason to believe that militant Islam will similarly provide fertile soil for ideals of freedom and democracy to grow.
On the contrary, it is abundantly clear by now that militant Islam not only will never move towards freedom and democracy, it aggressively seeks to destroy freedom and democracy through a global jihad that rains terror and destruction on the West. This is the enemy that must be defeated. But if militant Islam is not susceptible of democratic change, then President Bush's strategy cannot succeed. The only alternatives, then, are to allow the jihadists to destroy our society (which would not be nearly as difficult as one might think —— a few well—placed nuclear bombs would wreak havoc on the United States government, economy, and way of life), or to destroy them first.
This brings me to the second article, "Hawkish Gloom," by Stanley Kurtz. Kurtz recognizes the deadly seriousness of our present confrontation with militant Islam. He fears "we're on a slow—motion track" to both world war abroad and nuclear terror at home. But rather than blow the trumpet and rally the troops, Kurtz sighs, shrugs his shoulders, and slumps down in the grip of powerlessness and despair. Or as he puts it, "hawkish gloom."
Wherefore the gloom, Stanley? Apparently Kurtz has convinced himself that militant Islam cannot be defeated, and so we are doomed to suffer a never ending series of wars and terrorist attacks until, he suggests, the whole conflict is ended in a nuclear conflagration. Why must this be the end game? Because, according to Kurtz, "our Islamist enemy has proven himself implacable." Kurtz further argues that, due to the nature of modern terrorist organizations, "decisive military victory" cannot be achieved against the forces of militant Islam.
With all due respect, this is nonsense. No different than the myth of the invincible Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.
The truth is, to date, we have not made any effort to destroy the forces of militant Islam. We have only engaged in limited conventional actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and (supposedly) covert ops worldwide. That's it. We haven't mobilized the American people for war. We haven't destroyed Iran and Syria. We haven't closed radical mosques or shut down the jihadist propaganda networks. We haven't conducted targeted assassinations of jihadi leaders across the globe. We haven't made it clear to the terrorists and their supporters that they cannot win and that they will die.
How can Kurtz be so sure the enemy cannot be defeated? We haven't even tried.
Yes, Kurtz is right in that a much broader war will be required to defeat militant Islam. And, yes, Kurtz would have been right to question whether the United States and Europe have the political will to engage in this fight. I have my own doubts on this score. But to believe that militant Islam "cannot be defeated" is ridiculous —— and only weakens whatever resolve we still have to kill them before they kill us.
The ugly truth about existential warfare —— and that is what we are engaged in with militant Islam —— is that the only way to win an existential conflict is to kill as many of the enemy population as possible and to destroy as much of its society as possible.
This is precisely what we (and our allies) did to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War Two. The reason these two enemies were defeated and pacified is because literally millions of their young men were killed, and their societies were brutally battered into physical and psychological submission. Just because we no longer have the stomach for this type of warfare, for bloodletting on this massive scale, doesn't mean it is not an effective strategy for winning wars. Indeed, it is the only strategy. It certainly is the jihadists' strategy, only limited by their lack of military capability.
How quickly we have forgotten 9/11. How blithely we assume that an even more devastating attack could never happen. A nuclear bomb in New York City or one of our other great metropolitan areas could inflict more casualties than we suffered in World War Two. This is what we should be fighting to prevent. We should not be fighting for elections in Iraq.
Today, our excessive compunction about killing the enemy, and about having our own soldiers die in combat, is the real reason the gloomy scenario described by Kurtz may come to pass. For "peace" is not an option. Even if we do not fight the jihadists, they will keep attacking us, and keep trying to kill as many Americans, Jews, and westerners as possible. Kurtz surely is right on that point. But the answer is to fight harder, not resign ourselves to an even deadlier future.
Contact Steven M. Warshawsky