The failed American approach to Islamic militancy in the 1990s can succinctly be summed up in one sentence: We didn’t understand we were at war.
We didn’t understand for a simple reason: We didn’t listen to our enemies. They told us time and again that they considered themselves at war with us. They were not nuanced about it. They did not send Delphic clues, or simply leave it for us to deduce from several monstrous attacks. No, the jihadists coupled the deeds with words. They didn’t just bomb the World Trade Center, our embassies, and the U.S.S. Cole. They told us again and again, fatwa after fatwa, that this was a war and that they were committed to doing whatever it took to win–including the annihilation of civilians.
We didn’t listen. It took 9/11, finally, for dawn to break on our slumber. It was a war and we needed to fight it like soldiers fight a war, not like the FBI disrupts a stock-fraud ring.
Now, although we inhabit a post-9/11 world, exactly the same mistakes are being repeated by the same redoubtable axis of denial: the media, academia, and the hard Left of the Democratic party. Yes, if you have the endurance to press them long enough and hard enough, you may actually get them to admit, kicking and screaming, that we are in some sort of war. But beyond that it’s the same old song: an ostrich-like refusal to acknowledge the nature of the hostilities and an incorrigible deafness to the very plain words of our enemies.
The latest twist, or flip, in the bizarre campaign of Senator John Kerry is a case in point. Once again this week, the candidate turned the kaleidoscope that passes for his “position” on American military operations in Iraq. Echoing that notorious fount of wisdom and judgment Howard Dean, Kerry said that President Bush had embarked on “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time”–a contention that, as Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol tartly observed, Kerry himself had sharply rebuked when Dean made it only a few months ago.
Let’s leave aside for the moment the dizzying inconsistency. After all, it is only midweek, and America’s Sybil could easily contort himself yet again by Sunday. More incongruous is that Kerry would render this judgment at the very moment the horror of Beslan–militant Islam’s latest stunning atrocity–publicly emerges in the form of climbing death tolls (now over 340) and harrowing pre-massacre images of barbarians stringing their explosives amid petrified children.
In his congressional testimony three decades ago, Kerry libelously tagged the American military as the army of Genghis Kahn. It looks, however, like he doesn’t recognize the real thing when he sees it. It has been ruthlessly plaguing civilization for decades, and it’s not just in Beslan. It’s in Fallujah, too.
Not for Kerry, though. He has decided, at least for now, that Iraq is the “wrong war.” If he’d listen to our enemies, and watch what they do everywhere they go, he might think differently. But he won’t. That makes him the wrong man, in this place and at this time.
Of course it’s hard to listen to the enemy when you resist identifying him. To be sure, our national obsession to obscure militant Islam and remain willfully ignorant of its tenets is not Kerry’s fault. He is far from alone in maintaining that we are fighting a war on “terror” rather than on jihadists. But for Kerry and his backers, things become even more attenuated. Whatever this “war on terror” may be, they insist Iraq is not a part of it.
But they are wrong. The war we must fight and win is in Iraq. It is also in Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Madrid, Instanbul, Bali, and elsewhere. That’s the way the enemy sees it.
The jihadists do not split their ambitions into discreet theaters to suit the rhetorical demands of American electoral campaigns. They don’t care about Iraq qua Iraq, or Chechnya qua Chechnya. They don’t recognize such political arrangements. They care about Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb: the domain of the Muslims and, tellingly, the domain of war–which is how they see the rest of the world. They care about infidels. Most especially, they care about the United States–not as a nation-state but as the agglomeration of infidels constituting the greatest obstacle to their vision of a pan-caliphate.
They go, irrespective of national borders, to the places where they believe they can do us the most harm, whether by fighting, or training, or acquiring weapons and recruits. If the United States is to win this war, it is to those places we must go, with constancy of purpose, to hunt them down and kill them. If we do not, they will grow stronger. Because toppling the United States is their highest aim, they will advance, rather than retreat. They will come here and they will kill us. And when history is written, 9/11 will be their opening salvo rather than our clarion call.
It will be months, if ever, before all the details of the Beslan massacre penetrate through the Soviet-lite that is Putin’s Russia. But one thing is already certain, no matter how understated by the mainstream American media: the catalyzing role of militant Islam. For over a decade, jihadists have flocked to Chechnya to fight. The reason would be well known to us now if we had accepted that our war was a war against Islamic militants and their unique worldview, rather than against nebulous “terrorists.” To the jihadists, Chechnya is not Chechnya but a Muslim land, and the Russians are not so much Russians as an occupying force of infidels standing athwart the spread of the militant creed.
As a result, Chechnya has long been of immense importance to the al Qaeda network. The Chechen militants are a near-perfect analogue of Ansar al-Islam, which operated for years in Iraq with the complicity of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Just as Ansar has its Abu Musab Zarqawi–the al Qaeda-affiliated commander whom Saddam coddled long before our invasion and who has led the terrorist resistance ever since–the Chechens have their Abu Omar as-Seyf (also known as Mohammad bin Abdullah al-Seif). Reared in Saudi Arabia, as-Seyf has been al Qaeda’s main man in Chechnya since 1995, the formative figure in establishing a region-wide Sharia court and the backbone of the struggle–the jihad–to establish Chechnya as an independent Islamic state.
As-Seyf is considered a scholar of Salafism (like Wahhabism, a militant strain of Islam). He rejects all secular forms of government–whether American-style democracy, Soviet-style tyranny, Arab-style despotism, or otherwise–as profoundly sinful means of inculcating non-Islamic laws, values, and cultures. He believes in violent jihad as the required route to the founding of a theocratic Muslim state in which Sharia is imposed and those governed have no say. The jihad, moreover, is not war between nations; it is a series of shifting fronts in a battle between Islam on one hand and a perceived alliance of infidels and apostates on the other–a battle that rages until one side (as he sees it, his side) achieves total victory.
Reports are already rampant that as-Seyf was a prime mover behind the bloody siege of Beslan. Even Kerry’s staunchest ally, the New York Times, was forced to admit as much this week–although the Gray Lady took pains to bury deep in the 24th paragraph of its analysis any allusion to the creed that knits the global jihad together. It doesn’t help Kerry peel Iraq from the rest of the war if voters are shown how the militancy and inhumanity there are the same as in Chechnya and Afghanistan and every other battlefield where this enemy stalks.
But the enemy knows. Militant Islam understands that Iraq is not only an integral part of the war but has, in fact, become the stage for its signal showdown. That’s why as-Seyf, even as he wages an unspeakable jihad in Chechnya, exhorts his confederates to get themselves to Iraq. As he urged in a widely circulated recording last year:
Regarding the situation in Iraq and the guerilla war: There must be there a political element, an information element, and a preaching element alongside the military front. The lessons of the past in fighting the colonialists is [sic] that those who receive the state are the secularists and the apostates. We must not repeat this mistake.
Therefore, it is essential that the jihad groups there unite and not separate, and that they have the political dimension to assemble the Sunnis, including the Kurds, the Arabs, and the Turkmenis. All must be united under the same political power. Similarly, there must be an information and a religious preaching arm.
My recommendation is that a fatwa be issued, to be signed by a large number of clerics, and to be directed at the jihad groups, advising them to unite and to learn the lesson from the cases in the past when the secularists took the regime.
Similarly, I recommend to the Mujahideen that instead of engaging in clashes and warfare against the Saudi government, it is better to go to Iraq. There, there are weapons aplenty and there they can fight the Americans. It is no secret that great damage will be caused the Americans if the Mujahideen turn to Iraq to fight them.
As-Seyf understands what Kerry once pretended to understand when Dean voiced the “wrong war” rant that Kerry has now recycled as his own. He understands what Zarqawi tried to assure his al Qaeda superiors of in a letter our troops intercepted back in January. [See here.] He understands that Iraq is the key. And that alone would be enough to make Iraq the right war. It is the war that has to be fought, and won. It is where the enemy is assembled and determined to make his stand.
Kerry says he will get our forces out of Iraq. President Bush is promising to win. If we leave Iraq without winning, we lose. Militant Islam grows stronger, and bolder. It moves on to the next front. There are more Beslans, more 9/11s. It’s that simple: We can defeat them there, in Iraq, where they are massed against us; or we can duck and meet them in Manhattan–once again–when they are stronger, and when they have been fortified in the conviction of our weakness and their own invincibility.
Kerry has told us what he thinks of Iraq. Our enemies have told us what they think. We should listen to the enemy–militant Islam’s position is unlikely to change.
–Andrew C. McCarthy, who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others, is an NRO contributor. McCarthy is reachable through www.benadorassociates.com.