A containment strategy for jihad

The looming fall of Iraq, with Afghanistan posed to follow, is forcing a re-think of the misnamed War on Terror, what is more properly thought of as our defense against the War of Jihad.  Unless there is another catastrophe like or worse than 9/11/01 (which is far from unthinkable given the fragility of Pakistan’s nuclear-armed government), nobody thinks the American people have the will to fight aground war anywhere in the Islamic world, the base of the War of Jihad.

Kevin Williamson at National Review offers a sober assessment of the failed Counter-insurgency strategy and nation-building, a strategy that did work most notably in Japan, but at the cost of a military occupation and subsequent presence that continues even today, almost 70 years later.  Utterly devastated in a way we were unwilling to stomach imposing on Iraq or Afghanistan, the Japanese had the will to change, something lacking in Muslim countries today. So what other choices to we have?

Williamson posits what I would call a containment strategy. He doesn’t use that Cold War term, coined by George Kennan, but I think it is a fair reading of his strategy:

Al-Qaeda et al. view the West not as a competitor, but as a contagion.

Perhaps there is something to be learned from that view, namely that — the democracy project having failed — our best strategy is a quarantine. Middle Eastern occupations are not going to prevent another 9/11, but border control and immigration reform would go a long way toward achieving that. Visitors who are coming from jihadist hot spots, or who have some connection with them, should be subject to an extraordinary degree of scrutiny and supervision. Student visas, in particular, should be severely restricted: Access to an American university education is a coveted commodity, and denying it is our version of an oil embargo. Beyond that, immigration from the Middle East to the United States should be radically curtailed. That such actions would unfairly burden some citizens of those countries should be considered at most secondary to the fact that they would protect citizens of this country. Terrorism requires terrorists to be in proximity to targets. If the Middle East is indeed to be an exporter of terrorism and violence, we need not be an importer of it.

President Bush was not wrong in his desire to take the fight to the enemy; this was, in fact, an admirable inclination. But a more effective and prudent strategy would be to exclude the enemy rather than seek him out. Our main interest in Iraq and Afghanistan was terrorism, and terrorism can be contained by means other than pitched battles and infantry divisions. There is no army in the Islamic world even within a generation of being able to face the U.S. military without being almost instantly annihilated. (Iran’s nuclear program is a different and acute concern.) The so-called law-enforcement approach to counterterrorism has a bad name among conservatives, but in fact our police and intelligence agencies at home are far better suited to preventing terrorist spectaculars than is a Marine Expeditionary Brigade abroad. Between intelligent domestic defenses and pitiless small-scale operations abroad that continue to make jihad a dangerous business, we have a much better chance of achieving our goals than we did through occupation and nation-building in nations that resolutely do not wish to be built.

One point that must be made is that the dirty little secret of American higher education is its financial dependence on full-tuition students coming from wealthy Middle Eastern countries, whose oil-enriched regimes pay the freight for their students sent to the United States. The pricing of university tuition in the United States is more confusing and trick-laden than used cars or cell phone plans, with secret discounts (aka, scholarships) making the true price unknowable to consumers. Rack rate tuition and average cost paid are very different at most schools, with those paying full price indirectly subsidizing others.

Make no mistake, higher education is a vast industry, heavily subsidized by the federal government, and almost completely in the pocket of the Democratic Party. It is almost unthinkable that Barack Obama or any other Democrat would act on Williamson’s suggestion.

But at this stage, we do need to begin discussing the fact that, whether we choose to fight or not, a war is being fought against us, our way of life, our very civilization, in the name of Islam, and that it is backed by an unknowable but nontrivial fraction of the world’s Muslims. We did not choose this war, and we ignore it at our peril. Declaring the war over is tantamount to surrender. Jihad will continue in a thousand forms, overt and subtle.

Our greatest weapon at this point in history is our capacity to produce enough energy to diminish the clout of the Islamic oil states. Other than energy (still largely extracted by Western technology and Westerners), the Islamic world has little that is valued in world trade. Thanks to fracking and other new technologies, the world’s dependence on Islamic oil sources can be rapidly diminished.

As this happens, we can use our other source of strength, our knowledge and technical capabilities, to pressure Islamic states to re-interpret Jihad into the benign interpretation CAIR and others claim is its essence: self-improvement. And to force the Islamic world to recognize overtly that other religions are entitled to the same respect they demand for Islam. If they want the fruits of our civilization – the cell phones, TVs, jet planes, medicines, and the like – then they have to embrace our pluralistic values. This means permitting churches and missionaries, just as we permit mosques and imams.

Or else they can live as Mohammed did in the seventh century, without all our advances which they see as the products of a corrupt civilization, when everything was perfect in their theological view.