Michael is also a deep believer — much deeper than I am — in the power of freedom to overcome tyranny and cultural backwardness. He has, for example, long argued against a military invasion of Iran, opining that the regime is hollow and widely despised by the Iranian people. Providing the right kind of support — moral and material — to oppressed Iranians could bring about its demise. You may disagree; I myself am not convinced that the regime can be brought down from within. But I do know this: Michael has a better read on the challenge than most of the people we’ve hired to deal with it. It is the regime, not the nukes.
These points are worth stressing because, while Michael’s broad strategic approach is leaps-and-bounds superior to the wishful incoherence of American policy in the last decade-plus, it, too, has a critical blind spot. Moreover, I do not think he accounts for the principal freedom dynamic in the equation: the fact that we are losing ours, and losing it precisely because of the same deranged U.S. policymakers who would be responsible for, as Michael puts it, “shap[ing] the ideological outlook and future behavior” of Syria once we’ve helped the Muslim Brotherhood oust Assad.
Regarding the blind spot: Yes, Iran is the backbone of the jihadists, but Islamic supremacism is the backbone of Iran — the animating ideology of its revolution and the force that unites the region against the West. Michael says Iran is “the prime mover of radical Islamic terrorists.” I respectfully disagree. The prime mover is their ideology and the fact that it is undeniably rooted in Islamic doctrine — the veneration of which American policymakers promote, absurdly and tragically. To be sure, Iran is the most effective agent of this ideology, and thus, as Michael says, the “centerpiece of the enemy alliance.” Yet not all of our enemies are allied, the alliances that exist are not permanent, and the glue of those alliances is not Iran. Our enemies align because of a shared belief that Islam commands them to fight us — something that would not disappear with Iran’s defeat. Iran is not the reason the United States is despised in the region, including in places where Iran is also despised. Iran is not the reason Afghan trainees shoot their American mentors. The reason is the interpretation of Islam predominant in the Middle East.
Michael is quite right that the region is home to some “friends of America and even would-be democrats, too.” But how much more evidence do we need that these friends and democrats are vastly outnumbered by enemies and shariacrats? More Egyptian elections in which Islamists win 80–20? More polling that tells us 80 percent of Pakistanis want sharia or that a substantial majority of the Iraqis we liberated — who promptly installed a sharia government — still think Americans are legitimate targets for violent jihad?
Michael suggests it is unlikely that our policymakers — the guys who think the answer to jihadist atrocities is serial apologies and Koran-sensitivity training — could make the “real mess of statecraft” it would take to render post-Assad Syria worse for us. The grounds for such confidence elude me. Commonsense statecraft would at least tacitly acknowledge that Islam is a problem. Our regnant bipartisan approach holds that Islam is the solution and that its sharia law must be enshrined in new constitutions. That this arrangement inevitably results in the persecution of religious minorities, apostates, and homosexuals never seems to provoke any rethinking of the arrangement — only the slandering of anyone who inconveniently points out that the arrangement is lunatic.