Say this much for Washington: The Swamp knows how to do pageantry. Beginning on Thursday afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery, the solemn and joyful rituals of a presidential inauguration overwhelmed the clown show — on Capitol Hill, where brickbats aimed at Trump’s cabinet nominees left marks mainly on the Democrats who hurled them, and on the streets, where the radical Left’s tantrums couldn’t even sour the mood, much less spark the revolution.
As Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States, American pride in peaceful transfers of power, so historically remarkable, seemed to melt away the rancor. Self-absorbed House Democrats who skipped the proceedings — confounding a celebration of America with an endorsement of a president they reject ex ante — rendered themselves invisible beyond their intentions.
In the two and a half months since President Trump’s stunning victory on November 8, speculation over how he would manage those divisions — or pour more gasoline on them — has dominated the public debate. That is to be expected. It has been an anxious interregnum: one presidency winding down, unconstrained by political concerns and unabashed about its inner radicalism; a new presidency in waiting, making a splash here and there but powerless to direct policy.
Much of the speculation is idle. Yes, there are matters of enormous consequence before us, the collapse of Obamacare perhaps the most immediate. But presidencies are never judged by what is on the president’s desk when he first enters the Oval Office. Donald Trump’s presidency will be judged by things that haven’t happened yet, by how he reacts to events, especially the unexpected — the Pearl Harbor, the Cuban missile crisis, the 9/11.
So, let’s talk security.
In his ambitious inaugural address, President Trump vowed that the United States would “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth.” That is ambitious, to say the least. What we call “radical Islam” is not so radical on much of the earth. What makes it “radical” here in the West is the subject of dispute. According to Washington, it is the practice of violent jihadism. For those with eyes willing to see, though, it is the ideology that animates the jihad: the belief in a divine mission to implement sharia — Allah’s law and blueprint for how life is to be lived, as classically understood for more than a millennium.
A bedrock of that ancient law is “oneness.” From a theological standpoint, the oneness and indivisibility of God. From a philosophical standpoint, the oneness of and indivisibility of life — the rejection of the Western principle of separate political and spiritual spheres. And from a strategic standpoint, the oneness and indivisibility of the mission: jihadists, jurisprudents, imams, and activists all working toward the single aim of governance by sharia norms.
The mission does not accept such Westphalian impediments as national boundaries. It seeks a global caliphate. It grasps that tactics must vary from place to place — in Islamic societies, an iron fist works best; in the West, stealth attacks and exploitation of civil liberties to advance sharia’s anti-liberty agenda, each reinforcing the other. But the objective never changes.
A unitary enemy is not effectively fought, let alone eradicated, by a compartmentalized response. Yet that’s what we’ve tried.
It is crucial to understand this because a unitary enemy is not effectively fought, let alone eradicated, by a compartmentalized response. Yet that’s what we’ve tried: A counterterrorism that walls the jihad off from its sharia-supremacist inspiration. A counterterrorism that for too long walled intelligence agents off from criminal investigators, ensuring that neither side saw the full scope of the threat. A counterterrorism that must be dragged kicking and screaming to the term “radical Islam,” and to this day cannot agree on what it means or to whom it applies.
Rest assured, the enemy labors under no such self-imposed confusions.
President Trump takes the helm with the high confidence of a man unafraid to speak hard truths, unbound by tried-and-failed approaches. That is reason for hope. Yet there is also reason for worry.
If media reports are to be believed, there is already some dissension in the national-security ranks. Competing power centers in our multi-layered counterterrorism agencies are a fact of life in every administration. But indications are that the Trump administration is resolving them by contriving divisions of authority that may make org-chart sense but could undermine security. Instead of one national-security adviser responsible for a comprehensive assessment of the threat, responsibility is to be divided between one adviser for foreign counterterrorism and one for protecting the homeland.
Here’s hoping the new administration rethinks that arrangement. It is a poor fit for what we are up against. The enemy uses its foreign jihadist operations to inspire domestic attacks. It exploits the atmosphere of intimidation generated by both to demand concessions in foreign negotiations, international tribunals, and the councils of our government. It is a unitary, global threat. It has to be seen as such and confronted as such.
Today is a day of hope. In due course will come the events by which our new president is judged. Our sharia-supremacist enemies will test him, and he will need to respond, fully aware of who they are and what they are trying to achieve. He campaigned promising to “Build That Wall.” No doubt, some walls are required for America’s protection. When it comes to radical Islam, though, President Trump will find that walls are often the problem, not the solution.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.