The presidency’s most crucial duty is the protection of American national security. Yet, interviewed by Hugh Hewitt months into his campaign, Donald Trump did not know the key leaders of the global jihad. The man who would be commander-in-chief was unfamiliar with Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader who has been murdering Americans for over 30 years; Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s longtime deputy who has quite notoriously commanded al-Qaeda since the network’s leader was killed by U.S. forces in 2011; and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State (ISIS) and a jihadist so globally notorious that many teenagers are aware of him.
Of course a man who wants to be president should make it his business to know such things. But even the casual fan who does not know the players without a scorecard at least knows who the teams are and why they are competing. Trump failed even that basic test, confusing the Kurds (a minority ethnic group beleaguered by ISIS) with the Quds Force (the elite operatives of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps).
The global jihad is complex, comprising terrorist organizations and abettors that include rogue nations and other shady accomplices. Their fluid alliances and internecine rivalries often defy the Sunni–Shiite divide. Matters are complicated further still by ideological allies such as the Muslim Brotherhood that feign moderation while supporting the jihadist agenda. The threat is openly aggressive on its own turf but operates by stealth in the West. A president may not have to be good with names to oppose it effectively, but he has to grasp the animating ideology, the power relations, and the goals of the players — and how weakening one by strengthening another can degrade rather than promote our security.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a contributing editor of National Review, is a former chief assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted terrorism cases.