During the Cold War Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
If America loses the War on Terror it will be because many Americans—possibly most Americans—do not really believe those words. They do not really believe them because they do not understand the nature of the Enemy, or they do not wish to understand it.
The Enemy, you see, is Terror, Intimidation and Hate. The Enemy is people who have learned to use Terror and Intimidation to control whole societies and nations, and who know that teaching their followers and subjects to hate outsiders—like America and the West—or insiders—like Shiites or Sunnis—is the surest way to stay in power, the surest way to divert attention from their own utter failure to improve life in the societies which they control. The Enemy has always known, throughout history, that with Terror, Intimidation and Hate, a very small group of people can control a very large group, or a nation, or a continent, or half the world.
The Enemy succeeds, at bottom, when too few people in their societies—and in the countries which might stand against them—believe Reagan’s words, and are willing to fight.
This quality—the willingness to fight—is a great divider of people. Those who are not willing to fight are always strongly inclined to rationalize, because people do not like to admit to themselves that they are afraid to stand and fight. The “enemy”, for them, becomes people who have been misunderstood or victimized themselves, and who basically need our charity, cooperation and diplomacy to coax them into less anti-social behavior. People who have that vital willingness to fight for what really matters, however, see such attitudes for what they are: offering to pay off the bullies, and hoping they will leave you alone.
President Bush declared America’s War on Terror, and brought the war to Afghanistan and Iraq, because he understood that we had only two choices: to hunker down within our borders, waiting endlessly to be attacked; or to go to the sources of the Terror, Intimidation and Hate and help their own societies stamp them out. He chose the second, because it offered the only possible long-term solution, and because after 9/11 America’s mood seemed to support the long, tough, stubborn fight which it required. What he surely did not anticipate, however, was the eagerness and speed with which politicians and the press have catered to those inclined to rationalize away the threat which the President understood to be so pervasive and dangerous.
Nearly every day the front page of the New York Times features an article critical of some aspect of the War on Terrorism. From the handling of accused terrorists at Guantánamo (usually innocuously labeled “international detainees”) to troop levels and American funding in Iraq, the Times seldom misses an opportunity to criticize and second-guess American counter-terrorism policy. The fundamental nature of the Enemy and the context of the total struggle are simply ignored in favor of endless criticism of details and side issues.
When the mainstream media deigns to run a positive article on the War on Terror, it usually highlights the tear-jerking success story of an individual soldier or a brave Iraqi democrat. Such anecdotes quickly become minute bright points in a dark and foreboding sea of defeatism. These same media sources seldom, if ever, run an article with a positive strategic viewpoint on the War on Terror or the War in Iraq. The same editorial pages that routinely lambaste Bush policy in the War on Terror are astonishingly short on their own suggestions for how to carry on the struggle. They parallel, of course, the Democratic Party’s platform toward the War, which has consciously avoided offering its own action plan (until its recent “let’s just quit” plan) in favor of criticizing every aspect of the President’s plan.
Hilary Clinton’s most recent initiative has been to propose a congressional vote to repeal the authority that Congress granted President Bush to invade Iraq in 2003. “It is time to reverse the failed policies of President Bush and to end this war as soon as possible,” Clinton told media representatives on May 3. Senate majority leader Harry Reid pronounced to journalists in late April that he believed the War in Iraq to be lost, and the surge not to be accomplishing anything, based on the amount of violence in Iraq in the preceding week. Award-winning Hollywood director Oliver Stone has added his own input to the popular clamor against the War by working with MoveOn.org and VoteVets.org in an ad that calls Americans to “Support our troops. Bring them Home.” On college campuses across the country using the term “Iraq” in any kind of a positive context is akin to a four-letter word—much worse, in fact.
Positive strategic guidance is also sadly lacking in the vast majority of our political leaders. Liberals in general seldom have anything good to say about the War in Iraq; and most now view it as an embarrassing and harmful misstep in the War on Terror (if they speak at all about the War on Terror.) Even many Republicans are beginning to view US presence in Iraq as only a hindrance—a situation which must simply be endured. Very little of this criticism is actually constructive with respect to the War on Terror. Few Republicans, and even fewer Democrats, offer a comprehensive positive vision of how to fight and win the War on Terror.
America as a nation has long reaped the benefits of its isolated geographic position relative to the Old World powers. Two oceans kept the United States from involvement in WWI until the last moment, and sheltered the American homeland from the devastation that befell much of Europe during WWII. The American people have historically resisted involvement in any kind of a war which has not shown up right on their own doorsteps. The popular backlash against American involvement in Vietnam is only one of the more recent examples of America’s isolationism. Liberal pundits and MSM journalists who scorn the War in Iraq love comparing it to the “quagmire” of Vietnam, using the analogy to encourage a rapid pullout.
The War on Terror is fundamentally different from the Vietnam War, however. The Vietcong were unlikely to ever bring their battle to the streets of Washington. Islamic terrorists have already proven their eagerness and ability to do so. Conservatives say, quite often, that Islamic terrorists are intent on destroying the fabric of free Western civilization. Unfortunately, despite its truth, that kind of sweeping statement triggers an inner sneer from activist liberals and passive mainstream voters alike. It seems like a tall order, after all. What the activists and passives don’t understand, though, is that if we lose the war in Iraq, Islamic terror and intimidation will be used, step by step, against America, whittling away at our freedom and wealth exactly as it is doing now in Europe. Are European media and politicians so reluctant to criticize or even uphold the rule of law against the criminals within their Islamic minorities because they believe it is somehow wrong to do so, or because they saw the murders of some of their own outspoken citizens, and got the message?
Terror, Intimidation and Hate weren’t invented in the Middle East. They’ve been used with appalling success throughout history, everywhere in the world. If America loses the will to fight our War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will find that Terror, Intimidation and Hate can work quite well on Main Street.