Failing to Know Our Enemies
Those committed to liberty are our friends for the long haul; those intent on destroying it are not.

Iranian troops on parade


Clifford D. May

Less than a generation after World War II, in the midst of a cold war whose outcome was far from certain, John F. Kennedy famously proclaimed that Americans would “support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” More than half a century later, in an era fraught with conflict and tension, it may be time to ask: Is that still our credo?

In particular, are Americans still committed to liberty — a word that has come to sound old-fangled? Can our friends still rely upon our support — even when the going gets tough? Do foes still have reason to fear us — or have we become too war-weary to effectively oppose them? And those nations that profess friendship but seek to ingratiate themselves with our foes — what are we to do about them?


These questions, I suspect, will require a great deal more study, thought, and debate before they can be adequately answered. But 34 years after the Iranian Revolution, and twelve years after the attacks of 9/11, we at least should know our enemies. And we should have settled on a strategy aimed at defeating them. But we don’t. And we haven’t.

Many of us turn away from an uncomfortable truth: The ideologies most hostile to America and the West have arisen in what we have come to call the Muslim world. These ideologies are not just intolerant but supremacist — which is why, within the Muslim world, religious minorities face increasing oppression and, in many cases, “religious cleansing,” a trend Western governments, the U.N., and most of the media avoid discussing.

Most Muslims do not embrace these ideologies. But for a host of reasons — fear undoubtedly high among them — neither are most Muslims battling them or even denouncing them publicly and without equivocation.

There is this positive development: In the media, resistance to calling a spade a spade is, finally, breaking down. Take, for example, this recent New York Times headline: “Mali: French Troops Battle Islamists.” That’s accurate: The French have not intervened in Africa to battle “violent extremists.”

Former British prime minister Tony Blair — no conservative — has been both candid and articulate in his criticism of those who insist that Islamism derives from “legitimate grievances” that the West needs to address. He does not hold with those who have convinced themselves that Islamists “are as they are because we have provoked them and if we left them alone they would leave us alone. . . . They have no intention of leaving us alone.”

Blair also has made clear that he does not see the Islamic Republic of Iran as a “normal” state, one seeking stability and interested in nuclear technology only to keep the lights on in schools and hospitals or, at most, in response to legitimate security concerns. Rather, the ruling regime, he has said, has an ideological agenda and is “prepared to back and finance terror in the pursuit of destabilizing countries whose people wish to live in peace.”

That leaves America and its allies with a choice that Blair phrased concisely: “to be forced into retreat or to exhibit even greater determination and belief in standing up for our values than they do in standing up for theirs.”

Blair made that statement in 2007. Over the years since, which alternative have Western leaders chosen? Recent negotiations between Iran, on one hand, and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia, and China plus Germany) on the other, have so far produced a “joint plan of action” that is intended to be developed into a comprehensive agreement in 2014. Iran is to get relief from the economic pressures imposed by sanctions. In exchange, according to Secretary of State John Kerry, Iran’s rulers are to make concessions that will ensure that they “cannot build a nuclear weapon.”


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