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The Foggiest War
We don’t know the enemy. What’s worse: We don’t want to.

Detail of portrait of Carl von Clausewitz

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Clifford D. May

The “fog of war” is a concept derived from the writings of Carl von Clausewitz, the great 19th-century Prussian military theorist who recognized that those leading troops into battle often lack data, perspective, and situational awareness. Enveloped within this “fog of uncertainty,” they may not know whether they are winning or losing, and they may take actions that weaken their position and strengthen their enemies. 

Would Clausewitz not be fascinated by the war dominating the 21st century, a conflict so murky we can’t even agree on its name? Is it the “War on Terrorism” or the “Long War” or the “War Against al-Qaeda” or just “Overseas Contingency Operations”?

Over at Foggy Bottom — an apt nickname if ever there was one — an unnamed “senior State Department official” told National Journal’s Michael Hirsh that “the War on Terror is over.” He (or she?) elaborated: “Now that we have killed most of al-Qaeda, . . . people who once might have gone into al-Qaeda see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism.” A White House spokesman later issued a “clarification”: “We absolutely have never said our war against al-Qaeda is over. We are prosecuting that war at an unprecedented pace.”

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Both statements miss — if not the elephant in the room — the guerillas in the mist. Yes, Osama bin Laden sleeps with the fishes and many of his lieutenants have learned the hard way how accurate American-made unmanned aerial vehicles can be. But as Rand Corporation scholar Seth Jones recently noted, with “a handful of regimes teetering from the Arab Spring, al-Qaeda is pushing into the vacuum and riding a resurgent wave as its affiliates engage in a violent campaign of attacks across the Middle East and North Africa. . . . Al-Qaeda is regrouping.”

Nor have we defeated al-Qaeda’s many affiliates and allies. Among them: the Taliban, the Haqqani network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

And, most significantly, there is Iran, which the State Department itself has for years designated as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. Iran’s rulers do not think their war against “the world of arrogance” is over. And they have standing on this issue.

As for “legitimate Islamism,” that is meant to imply the Muslim Brotherhood — whose members may indeed believe that elections are preferable to violence as a path to power. But if the Brothers differ with the jihadis over means, they sing from the same hymnal when it comes to ends. Both believe in Islamic supremacy; both are committed to the establishment of Islamic hegemony over the Middle East and, eventually, well beyond; both seek the power to silence critics at home and abroad; both are engaged in persecuting religious minorities in “Muslim lands”; both are committed to the destruction of Israel, the only Middle Eastern nation not ruled by Muslims.

And, as Andrew C. McCarthy recounts in The Grand Jihad, American Muslim Brothers meeting in Philadelphia in 1991 produced an internal memorandum candidly proclaiming their mission: “eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house.” Should we really be calling this “legitimate Islamism” — and should we really be comfortable with it?



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