All of a sudden everybody’s asking, “Who are we fighting anyway?” It’s an interesting question, but it’s not nearly as important as many of the debaters believe. The 9/11 Commission tells us we’re fighting Islamists, or Islamist terrorists, and David Brooks has cooed over this, because he likes the notion that we’re fighting an ideology. The White House has devoted lots of man-hours to this matter, trying to figure out how we win “the battle of ideas,” and the Internet is full of people who argue, variously, that we’re fighting “radical Islam,” “Saddam’s die-hards,” “foreign fighters,” or even “Islam itself.” All of these “Islamic” definitions guide us back to Samuel Huntington’s thesis that there is a war–or at least a clash–of civilizations underway. Most share the conviction that we’re fighting something that is unusually dangerous because not a traditional enemy, that is to say, a state. It’s much more than that, or so they believe.
I wonder. An awful lot of our enemies’ ideology comes from us, as several scholars–Bernard Lewis and Amir Taheri, for starters–have stressed. The virulent anti-Semitism at the core of the (Sunni and Shiite) jihadists is right out of the Fuhrer’s old playbook, which helps understand why jihad and the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe are running along in tandem. Sure, there’s ample xenophobia in Islam, and Bat Yeor’s fine work on dhimmitude abundantly documents the Muslim drive to dominate the infidel. But the kind of anti-Semitism–hardly distinguishable from anti-Americanism nowadays–that we find in Middle Eastern gutters has a Western trademark. It started in France in the 19th century, got a pseudoscientific gloss from the Austrians and Germans a generation later, and spread like topsy.
Notice, please, that many scholars at the time insisted that Nazism was first and foremost an ideology, not a state. Indeed, Hitler was at pains to proclaim that he was fighting for an Aryan reich, not a German state. And if you read some of the literature on Nazism or for that matter the broader work on totalitarianism produced by the “greatest generation,” you’ll find a profound preoccupation with “winning the war of ideas” against fascism. Indeed, a good deal of money and energy was expended by our armed forces, during and after the war, to de-Nazify and de-fascify the Old World.
But the important thing is that when we smashed Hitler, Nazi ideology died along with him, and fell into the same bunker.
The same debate over “whom or what are we fighting” raged during the Cold War, when we endlessly pondered whether we were fighting Communist ideology or Russian imperialism. Some–mostly intellectuals, many of them in the CIA–saw the Cold War primarily in ideological terms, and thought we would win if and only if we wooed the world’s masses from the Communist dream. Others warned that this was an illusion, and that we’d better tend to “containment” else the Red Army would bring us and our allies to our knees.
In the end, when the Soviet Empire fell, the appeal of Communism was mortally wounded, at least for a generation.
You see where I’m going, surely. The debate is a trap, because it diverts our attention and our energies from the main thing, which is winning the war. It’s an intellectual amusement, and it gets in our way. As that great Machiavellian Vince Lombardi reminds us, winning is the only thing.
That’s why the public figure who has best understood the nature of the war, and has best defined our enemy, is George W. Bush. Of all people! He had it right from the start: We have been attacked by many terrorist groups and many countries that support the terrorists. It makes no sense to distinguish between them, and so we will not. We’re going after them all.
Yes, I know he seems to lose his bearings from time to time, especially when the deep thinkers and the sheikhs and the Europeans and Kofi Annan and John Paul II insist we can’t win the hearts and minds of the Middle East unless we first solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. But he has repeatedly pulled himself out of that trap very nicely, and he invariably does so in terms that show he has a uniquely deep understanding of our enemies.
He says the way to win the war is to liberate the Middle East from the tyrants who now govern it and sponsor terrorism.
And that’s exactly right. There are plenty of terrorists out there who aren’t Islamists. (There are even some suicide terrorists who have been forced into it; Coalition commanders are reporting the discovery of hands chained to steering wheels in suicide vehicles.) But all the terror masters are tyrants. Saddam didn’t have any religious standing, nor do the Assads, but they are in the front rank of the terror masters. Ergo: Defeat the tyrants, win the war.
And then historians can study the failed ideology.
Machiavelli, Chapter Two: If you are victorious, people will always judge the means you used to have been appropriate.
Corollary from Lyndon Baines Johnson: When you have them by the balls, the hearts and minds generally follow.