Our presidents and diplomats exhibit bottomless capacity to believe that by portraying jihadist violence as “anti-Islamic activity,” and mainstream Islam as “moderate” and “tolerant,” we will somehow make it so. And as for shaping the region’s ideological outlook: How’s that going? We’ve been in Afghanistan for more than a decade, and as soon as the current round of mayhem ends, next on tap is a negotiated settlement with the Taliban — which our statecraft guys are orchestrating. After eight years of shaping Iraq, we’ve left behind an Iranian satellite. And the same people responsible for our statecraft in Libya and Egypt would be in charge of Syria policy. In Libya, we’ve replaced a dictator who was actually helping us against terrorists with an Islamist regime rife with al-Qaeda elements, one that instantly installed sharia while systematically slaughtering black Africans. In Egypt, where we spent 30 years and tens of billions of dollars cultivating the military as a bulwark against an Islamist ascendancy, we’ve got an Islamist ascendancy. What reason is there to believe our Syria statecraft will be any better?
Michael maintains that by getting “engaged in the fight” in Syria “we have a better chance of keeping the likes of [al-Qaeda leader Ayman] Zawahiri from penetrating the opposition.” But we did get involved in the fight in Libya, and far from being marginalized, the al-Qaeda operatives rose in the rebel ranks. This was inevitable given our policy: If we are going to farcically genuflect to the Koran, we naturally enhance the prestige of those who claim — with accurate citations of scripture — to fight the West based on the Koran’s injunctions; if we are going to encourage Islamists to rise up against dictators, then those trained, ruthless fighters are apt to become heroic figures.
Michael portrays our challenge as “an apocalyptic/messianic movement of the sort the bin Ladens, Zawahiris, and Khameneis [as in Iran’s “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] lead.” This, however, is just a part of the challenge, and not necessarily the most threatening part — at least where our liberty is concerned. To suggest otherwise is reminiscent of the Bush and Obama administrations’ myopic focus on “violent extremists,” which assumes the rest of the ummah is “moderate” and “largely secular” — to borrow the infamous meanderings of James Clapper, our incumbent national-intelligence director.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation are not apocalyptic. They are the patient variety of Islamic supremacist. They are determined to defeat the United States and the West through an incremental campaign — one that complements terrorism with the march of sharia through social institutions. While we worry about Iran and al-Qaeda, it is the Brotherhood and the OIC who co-opt our military, intelligence, and law-enforcement agencies, which then persuade our policymakers that appeasement is the answer to murderous offense and that Israel (an authentic, pro-Western democracy) is the real problem in the Middle East. It is the Brotherhood and the OIC who collaborate with the administration to curtail the First Amendment.
When the war began, our goal was to protect American freedom. A decade later, we find presidents, secretaries of state, commanding generals, senators, and various other officials positing that the cause of Muslim atrocities is not Islamic ideology but American free expression. Islamists here — not in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria, but here — have intimidated American government officials from uttering the word “Islam” in any discussion of Muslim terrorism; intimidated the U.S. military into avoiding mention of Islam in a report on the Fort Hood jihadist massacre; intimidated the FBI into excluding information about Islamist ideology in its counterterrorism training materials; and are currently trying to intimidate the New York City Police Department — guardians of the nation’s No. 1 terror target — into ceasing its surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods.
What is the rationale for buckling under the intimidation? The notion that upsetting Muslims will trigger the violence to which they are prone in that part of the world, endangering our troops and undermining our precarious efforts to remake the region. But who asked anyone to remake the region? The American people never called for that — there is certainly nothing about it in the authorization for the use of military force.
Like most Americans, I am all for crushing our enemies. I fully agree with Michael that Iran is already at war with us whether we like it or not — and, unlike Michael, I am pretty convinced that the regime cannot be toppled unless we resort to military force. Nevertheless, I want to defeat our enemies and be done with them. I do not believe we owe it to them to rebuild their societies. The Marshall Plan is not the default model. Nation-building in Islamic lands does not make us safer, its costs in blood and treasure are prohibitive, and it does not work because they don’t want what we’re offering. Our security does not hinge on their freedom; it hinges on their knowing that we are not to be trifled with. If they square off against each other, the best thing for us to do is stay out of the way. I am not going to worry about freedom and security in Syria when freedom and security in America are being stripped away. That is a direct consequence of enmeshing ourselves ever deeper in the Muslim morass. We should stop.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.