Andrew McCarthy, the prosecutor who put Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in prison for the original WTC bombing in 1993, has a fascinating article at the National Review Online. He begins by debunking the notion of the “war on terrorism”:
Terrorism is not an enemy. It is a method. It is the most sinister, brutal, inhumane method of our age. But it is nonetheless just that: a method. You cannot, and you do not, make war on a method. War is made on an identified — and identifiable — enemy.
In the here and now, that enemy is militant Islam — a very particular practice and interpretation of a very particular set of religious, political and social principles.
He then describes perfectly the real crux of that battle:
A commitment in favor of toleration is not the same as a commitment against examination. We have been so paralyzed by the fear of being portrayed as an enemy of Islam — as an enemy of a creed practiced by perhaps a billion people worldwide — that we’ve lost our voice on a very salient question: What will be the Islam of the 21st century? Will it be the Islam of the militants, or the Islam of the moderates? That’s the reality we need to grapple with.
Let’s make no mistake about this: We have a crucial national-security interest in the outcome of that struggle. We need the moderates to win. And here, when I speak of moderates, I am not talking about those who merely pay lip service to moderation. I am not talking about those who take advantage of America’s benign traditions and our reluctance to examine the religious practices of others. I am not talking about those who use that blind eye we turn as an opportunity to be apologists, enablers, and supporters of terrorists.
I am talking about authentic moderates: millions of Muslims who want an enlightened, tolerant, and engaged Islam for today’s world. Those people need our help in the worst way. They are losing the battles for their communities. The militants may not be a majority, but they are a vocal, aggressive minority — and they are not nearly as much of a small fringe as we’d like to believe.
I think McCarthy has nailed the real issue here, and understands that the larger context of our war on militant Islam is a war within Islam between modernists and reactionary anti-modernists. It’s a point I made a couple of months ago in an article identifying those moderate Muslim groups and the importance of supporting them.
I think he is also right to point out that many on the left fail to understand this crucial reality, in part because they engage in a false cultural relativism that makes them automatically equate criticism of an oppressed group with bigotry and xenophobia. But as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out so many times, reactionary Islam stands for everything that authentic leftists should despise and fight against – outright theocracy enforcing a brutal and misogynistic legal code that destroys women as well as religious and ethnic minorities.
In our highly divided and partisan political system, people tend to lack the ability to understand a complex reality. Both sides paint in broad strokes of black and white. For many on the left, the US is evil and imperialistic and anything it does militarily or through the CIA and other intelligence services must be done solely for the purpose of securing the profits of multinational corporations or our own international dominance. For many on the right, the US is Reagan’s shining city upon a hill, a beacon of peace and freedom to guide the rest of the world, and the only reason people hate us, in the utterly idiotic words of George W. Bush, is because they hate freedom. And on both sides, they simply cannot admit that anything the other side says is even partially true. But reality just doesn’t worry about staying within partisan boundaries.
Yes, the US has a long history of foreign policy decisions that were short-sighted at best and downright barbaric at worst. In terms of fueling Islamic hatred of the US, our overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 stands as a monument to stupidity. We overthrew the only democratically elected leader Iran ever had and installed one of the most brutal dictators of the last century. The Shah’s secret police force, SAVAK, would kidnap people off the streets of Teheran and use electric drills on them. He was every bit as brutal as Saddam Hussein, yet we put him in power and kept him in power on top of a mountain of US financial aid and weaponry. Did that create the reaction to him that led to the Ayatollah Khomeini seizing power in 1978? Absolutely. It was stupid and short sighted and absolutely contrary to our stated ideals and the results were very predictable. If you oppress a people, you radicalize them. Always. Everywhere. Period. On this, the left is absolutely right, and the right’s vision of the US government being the world’s beacon of freedom is nothing short of delusional.
But here’s where the left goes wrong. Does that mean that we should allow them to take out their wrath on American citizens? Does this mean that a well-financed and fanatical movement that is now spread around the world and has shown absolutely no hesitance to slaughter thousands and thousands of innocent people in a single stroke, and even give their own life in the process, is not a huge threat to our very survival that must be stopped? Regardless of the mistakes our government has made in the past, we now face an enemy that is capable of cutting a man’s head off and posting it on the internet for the world to see. They are people who see themselves quite literally as acting by the very command of God, and they are people who find glory in the massacre of innocents. These people cannot be deterred and they cannot be reasoned with. In their eyes, we are Satan himself and we must be destroyed.
The fact is, both sides have a point to make but neither side will admit that. We must absolutely resolve to never again violate our own principles to achieve short term economic and diplomatic goals. We must never again provide support for brutal dictators anywhere in the world, regardless of whether they play ball with us. That goes for thugs in Latin America and it goes for Saudi Arabia too. But at the same time, we must take seriously the threat from Islamic radicalism and we must use every tool at our disposal to defeat it. On the diplomatic front, that means building bridges to moderate Muslim countries, communities and organizations, strengthening them and defending them against assault from the reactionaries.
On the military front, it has to mean more than just invading countries. In fact, I fear that the invasion of Iraq has only made things worse in terms of fomenting Islamic radicalism. I think that the most effective use of our military assets in this battle will involve primarily our special forces troops working with a vastly ramped up intelligence apparatus, particularly human intelligence. Search and destroy missions using Delta Force and our other special forces units, following the lead of human intel operations, in Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and even in the US (replace military special forces with law enforcement swat teams and assault teams in domestic operations) will likely be far more effective in destroying terrorist groups than massive wars and invasions.
In terms of intelligence, the CIA must go back to gathering as much human intel as possible. That means working with some bad guys sometimes, but it has to happen. Infiltrating radical groups is extraorinarily difficult, but these groups are not totally isolated. They tend to live in Muslim communities that will include a good many reasonable people who can help us, or at the very least can be bribed to provide information. We must redouble our efforts to work with law enforcement and intelligence organizations around the world, but especially in countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan. All of this is undoubtedly going on behind the scenes, and it must continue. We must also continue to use legal tools to cut off the sources of funding for our enemies.
Most importantly, we must not fall for the argument that being at war with militant Islam means that we are at war against Islam itself. We must view moderate Muslims not only as our allies in this battle, but as people we are defending as well. They are victims of intimidation and violence and in fighting for our own survival, we fight for theirs as well. McCarthy estimates that there are tens of thousands, perhaps more, of the radical Islamists around the world that we must defeat, and in fact must destroy. And they no doubt have millions of sympathizers within Islam as well. But there are a billion Muslims on the planet, the vast majority of whom are viewed as enemies by the radicals, just as we are.