It is often said that the United States has neither a long-term strategy in this larger war against terror nor an immediate one in Iraq.
Both are unfair charges, since we seem to have both.
Against the terrorists, our strategy is a six-pronged approach:
1. Beef up security to such a degree at home that it would require far more training and expertise to penetrate our defenses than what was necessary for the September 11 attacks;
2. Arrest, imprison, and kill enough Islamic terrorists in the United States and abroad to make it nearly impossible for them to carry off another September 11-like attack;
3. Take out the worst authoritarian regimes in the Middle East that sponsored terrorism and attacked their neighbors, while pressuring others like a Saudi Arabia and Egypt to cease funding terrorists;
4. Support the creation of democracies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon to offer Muslims choices other than autocracy or Islamic radicalism, while trying to encourage reform in the Middle East at large;
5. Wage a worldwide war of ideas that frames the struggle as the freedom of the individual, liberal values, and Western economic prosperity against the Dark-Age nihilism of the world of the caliphate and Sharia law;
6. Hope that while our enemies’ world is static, ours is not. In other words, while they endlessly redefine the 7th century, we use reason and science to wean us off dependency on their oil, seek sophisticated missile-defense systems, and hope instant global communications (which also facilitate their televised beheadings) can undermine their entire hierarchical society of imams and patriarchs.
Whatever the recent criticisms of George Bush or the difficulties in Iraq, we haven’t had another attack at home. In the last five years, we have killed and jailed tens of thousands of jihadists and replaced the Taliban and the Hussein regimes with struggling democracies — at a cost of fewer lives than were lost on the first day of this war.
But what of our enemies’ present strategy?
Since they cannot defeat Western forces directly, nor offer anyone the prosperity or freedom of the West, they have been reduced to essentially two approaches: first, on the frontlines, make life miserable for all Muslim civilians and third parties to this war, so that, in their exasperation, our newfound democratic friends in Kabul and Baghdad might ask us to give up, and leave things as they once were before the latest round of violence.
Second, recycle the arguments of global critics to demoralize the Western public into thinking that their own governments are worse than the radical Islamists, and hence they should quit the struggle.
So, on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq, the jihadists hope to blow up enough electrical transformers, schools, water plants, and police stations, along with killing enough school teachers, policemen, government officials, and women and children, that the population at large will blame the chaos on the war in general. By extension, they will then conclude that, if the Americans just left, calm at least would return under the Taliban or some autocratic theocrat in Iraq.
Our allies in places like Jordan, Lebanon, the Gulf, or in Iraq in theory enjoy the opportunities that globalization has brought, and the chance for Western-style health care, science, and freedom. But emotionally, they recognize that such appetites also represent a desire for something foreign, something antithetical to traditional Arab culture and conservative Islam.
So while their heads tell them to ally with the West, their hearts are not averse to seeing us take an occasional fall. Torn as they are between reason and emotion, even most “moderates” in the Middle East simply wait to see who is going to win — George Bush or his multifarious enemies.
If the jihadists prove ascendant, then the larger humiliation of the West will serve to energize millions in the Middle East to recognize the successes of Islamism, which, in turn, might in some fashion come to power in the Gulf. Such theocracies, as we see in the ambitions of present-day Iran, could then soon use the petro-wealth of the Middle East to acquire nuclear weapons, destroy Israel, and force concessions from the West.
Secondly, our enemies likewise see a war of ideas. In the infomercials of bin Laden and Zawahiri, as well as other Islamists who use the Middle East media, both the Arab and Western world are reminded of America’s sins. And our errors are not just fighting Muslims in Afghanistan or Iraq, or supporting Israel, but include, according to the al Qaeda communiqués, everything from not signing the Kyoto accords to the lack of campaign finance reform, East Timor, the Patriot Act, Halliburton, and the usual generic charges of racism and imperialism.
That these ostensibly leftist critiques are mouthed by Middle East fascists, and are made from the shamelessly recycled material of a Michael Moore or a Noam Chomsky, matters little, since the aim is not really conversion of Westerners to Islam, but an insidious weakening of the Western spirit of resistance.
We already see this desperation in Europe, where novelists, cartoonists, opera producers, and film makers censor themselves or go into hiding, either in fear of real harm or, equally likely, in worry that they might appear apostates from the religion of multiculturalism. Ask the overseers of St. Andrews University in Scotland or the Council on Foreign Relations why they welcomed a former high official from the Iranian theocracy that kills and brutalizes its opponents, and which is seeking nuclear weapons in part to fulfill past promises to wipe out Israel.
As the United States and the Islamic fascists each respectively pursue their own strategies, the constituencies that matter — the Western and Middle Eastern publics — watch the battlefield, adjusting their outlooks to the perceived victory or defeat of either side. When we are doing well, a Bob Woodward writes Bush at War rather than State of Denial, a Chris Matthews sputters that “We are all neoconservatives now,” and enemies in Syria and Iran show real apprehension. But when we seem stalled, suddenly Democratic senators compare our soldiers to Nazis and worse, Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan start appearing with mainstream Democrats, and Hezbollah’s Nasrallah comes out of hiding to brag of his hatred of the U.S.
So the uncertainty is not whether the United States has a sound strategy in this long struggle against savage enemies of the Dark Ages — we have many wise ones — but rather whether we still have the will or the desire to see the war through to the bitter end.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, most recently, of A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.