Politics & Policy

Naming Names

Straight talk@war.

It all began on Sept. 11, 2001. Or so goes the conventional wisdom.

Of course, that is not completely true. A war against America was already in full swing by then. Osama bin Laden, in fact, was on record having declared war on the United States in 1996. But once the towers fell, once there was a gaping hole in the Pentagon, once brave Americans died in a Pennsylvania field (possibly saving the lives of many more), that’s when we started to get serious about fighting terrorism.

The degree to which we are serious varies. We have miles to go in protecting our borders, for example. Intelligence reform is going slower than anyone has patience for (or should have patience for, for that matter). Terrorists, we know, run rampant in much of Iraq. They’re in power elsewhere in the Middle East.

Actions in the war on terror are crucial. (As imperfect as it is on the ground, the bad guys don’t have the keys to the city in Baghdad anymore, for instance, since Saddam Hussein was toppled.) But words aren’t trivial.

Which is why President George W. Bush’s early October speech to the National Endowment for Democracy is an important one, not to be forgotten. By American policymakers. And by the world leaders he spoke directly to and challenged. And by Joe Muslim American, who has a religion to fight for–out of the hands of the barbarous extremists who kill in its name. And, by any of us who has a stake in this war–in other words, every one of us.

For those who would cut and run in Iraq, a recent message from the enemy–in this case al Qaeda’s No. 2 guy, Ayman al-Zawahiri–makes clear that that’s not really an out option for us. Zawahiri recently wrote: “The mujahedeen must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons and silence the fighting zeal.” They want us more than out of Iraq.

For his part, our president noted, “The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror.”

The Bush speech was judgmental, and so not “Oprahy”–as it should be. When ruthless villains want us and our way of life, obliterated, there’s really no reason to tiptoe around what’s going on.

So the president told it like it is (and he did it again yesterday, speaking to military wives)–no small thing as successes like Iraqi voting. He pinpointed the enemy we are fighting as Islamic radicalism–not exactly politically correct, but true. “The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century. Yet in many ways, this fight resembles the struggle against communism in the last century.” Bush emphasized our need to stick with it, challenged nations who use this perversity to hold onto power, challenged non-radical Muslims to fight for their religion. And he named the name–Islamic radicalism. This isn’t a war about a random terror. A very specific kind of war is being waged–calling on Muslims to wage a jihad against us infidels.

Naming the problem is important. In 12-step programs and in war.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a potential candidate for the presidency in 2008, has recently been doing just that, and taking heat for it in the process–the kind that would make lesser leaders cower. In a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., last month, Romney said “How many individuals are coming to our state and going to (academic) institutions who have come from terrorist-sponsored states? Do we know where they are? Are we tracking them? How about people who are in settings–mosques, for instance–that may be teaching doctrines of hate and terror. Are we monitoring that? Are we wiretapping? Are we following what’s going on?”

Good common sense from a state chief executive and increasingly national political player. Predictably, almost immediately, there were hysterical cries for him to apologize. He has done no such thing. To the contrary, Romney has stuck by his remarks–emphasizing that good common sense of it. Militant Islamic terrorists recruit at radical Muslim mosques more than they do at “the 4-H Club,” he said on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Rather than outrage, you’d think that would bring on a collective “Duh.” It’s just obvious and sensible.

We’re at war. We don’t have time not to make sense.

Are Bush and Romney profiles in courage? We shouldn’t even have to go that far. They are doing something fundamental here. It’s gutsy, but it is the stuff of leadership. This kind of clear thinking is something to be encouraged–a little support for a few good speeches could go a long way toward inspiring more folks to constructively speak the name of the evil we’re up against. We owe the men and women putting it all on the line on the action frontlines nothing less.

(c) 2005, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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