Sir Richard Dannatt, Britain’s most senior military officer, unburdened himself last Thursday of a powerful cri de coeur. It conveyed a warning from a professional soldier to his countrymen and all who love freedom, a message we ignore at our peril.
Unfortunately, amid a press and policy wonk-driven feeding frenzy about over one part of his comments — concerning the need for British forces to withdraw “sometime soon” from Iraq — his larger, and far more important, point has received scarcely any attention.
Specifically, few seem to have noticed Sir Richard’s profound concerns about a struggle between his country and nations similarly rooted in the “Judaic-Christian tradition” on the one hand and, on the other hand, the “Islamist threat.”
Of course, the appearance of an active-duty general sharply breaking ranks about the utility of one of his government’s principal foreign and defense policy initiatives is newsworthy. That is especially so given the categorical way in which Sir Richard advanced his views. He declared, “We should get ourselves out [of Iraq] sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems.” The general added, “I don’t say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them.”
Especially since Sir Richard has subsequently declared that his comments about getting out of Iraq soon were misunderstood — the general says he was simply opposing a British force remaining there “for years and years,” it is important to give careful consideration to the larger point he was making.
Particularly noteworthy is the danger General Dannatt sees arising from a “moral and spiritual vacuum” in his country, one that he says risks allowing “the Islamist threat” in Britain to make “undue progress.” He added, “We need to face up to the Islamist threat, to those who act in the name of Islam and in a perverted way try to impose Islam by force on societies that do not wish it.”
Sir Richard went on to observe: “Our society has always been embedded in Christian values; once you have pulled the anchor up, there is a danger that our society moves with the prevailing wind. There is an element of the moral compass spinning. I think it is up to society to realize that is the situation we are in.”
In short, even before General Dannatt clarified his remarks about bailing out of Iraq, the context in which he made them reflected an appropriate recognition of the threat Islamists represent to the foundational principles and values of Western societies. Our efforts to defeat such a threat can be greatly aided by reaching out to Muslims at home and abroad who genuinely accept these tenets and who want no more than we do to live under Taliban-style theofascistic rule.
What the general describes, with classic British understatement, as “the difficulties we are experiencing around the world” — i.e., the rising tide of Islamofascism — will, if anything, be made far less tractable if our British allies, to say nothing of the United States, throw in the towel in Iraq. Rather, our Islamist enemies would be reinforced in their confidence of ultimate victory and would redouble their efforts “around the world” to achieve it. And our potential Muslim and other allies will be demoralized and alienated from our cause.
It is clear from the logic of Sir Richard’s original statement that he appreciates that the dangers posed by the worldwide “Islamist threat” will be greater if we give support to the Islamofascists’ confidence that they will prevail. “We can’t wish the Islamist challenge to our society away and I believe that the army both in Iraq and Afghanistan and probably wherever we go next, is fighting the foreign dimension of the challenge to our accepted way of life.”
The bottom line is that the “situation we are in” will surely be “exacerbated” if we heed those whose moral compasses have been spinning out of control, unmindful of the larger war in which we are engaged and indifferent to the strategic implications of defeat in any front of this war for the free world.
Those who are suddenly (if highly selectively) enthralled with General Dannatt’s acumen had better appreciate that the non-Islamist Muslims at home and abroad will not be made more willing — or able — to resist our common foes by the sort of surrender in Iraq to which a superficial reading of his comments in the Daily Mail gave fresh impetus.
– Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a contributor to NRO.