Politics & Policy

Knowing Our Enemies

Our leaders shrink from confronting the threat that faces our nation.

The Baker/Hamilton Commission report on Iraq presents an understanding of the war on terror fundamentally different from the way the president has presented the war to the American people. The American people asserted their agreement with the president, and their trust in his efforts to prosecute the war, in the presidential election of 2004. This agreement is now in doubt.

The Baker/Hamilton report, however, is of minor significance; its predictable prescriptions are noteworthy only for the approach to the war that they reject. Of much greater significance were the elections of three weeks ago — they are the reason that a revised understanding of the war will likely have a predominant influence on the way in which the war is now carried out.

A day after the Democrats won both houses of Congress, President Bush accepted the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. The nomination for Rumsfeld’s replacement as secretary of Defense was Robert Gates, a cathartic election’s first fruits. Last week, Gates was confirmed by the Senate in a bipartisan vote that saw only two senators vote against him: Senator Bunning and myself.

The many failings of the administration in Iraq are well known. Ignored is the larger failing of our country’s leaders: their unwillingness to define, with clarity, honesty, and consistency, the enemy we face and the complex and enormous threat it poses to the lives and freedoms of all Americans.

If America were not at war, I would have deferred to the president’s judgment in his choice for secretary of Defense. Gates is a competent and experienced nominee. But we are at war, and we need exceptional leadership and insight. Gates unfortunately shares the view of the Iraq Study Group that we cannot win the battle in Iraq; at this point, our best option is to withdraw slowly and to negotiate with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran has been at war with us since 1979, and is today the principle instigator of systematic murder in Iraq; to negotiate a truce with that country at this point would be to negotiate our terms of surrender. This would be seen as an historic defeat for America – most assuredly, and notably, in the eyes of the radical Islamic world..

The Iraq Study Group and Secretary Gates see clearly the problems in Iraq and the contributions Iran makes to these problems. They do not think we can win in Iraq because they do not think that we can win in Iran; or, at least, they do not think that we must win in Iran. We must confront Iran to win in Iraq, and, more than that, we must confront Iran if we are to defeat Islamic fascism all over the world. The president’s nomination of Gates, and the Senate’s passive and overwhelming support of him, shows that our leaders have not understood the peril we are in and are not prepared to win the war that is being waged against us.

How could it be that a bitterly divided Washington has suddenly come to a consensus that will surely lead us on a path to failure in Iraq, and then to even more disastrous consequences? Can our country’s leaders really have concluded that the public’s discontent with the war in Iraq changes even one bit the nature of the threat our enemy poses to us? These are questions well worth asking our politicians, and first of all, our commander-in-chief, lest he contemplate changing his mind about the enemy we face.

The president is not unaware of the situation in Iran, but his view of the country is informed by the advisers who surround him, a collection of people from the various sectors of the foreign-policy establishment. His intelligence team, led by the director of National Intelligence, will advise him that the opposition in Iran is weak and divided and that there is no legitimate exile community; thus we have no real alternative to either bombing the country or establishing by diplomacy a modus vivendi. The Pentagon will advise the president that our already stretched forces are unable to engage in another conflict. The State Department and our new secretary of Defense do not think that there is a casus belli and that our best hope for mitigating the many crises of that region is to negotiate with Iran.

So, if we should not expect the president to explain why we must confront Iran, what of the Congress?

The Democrats of course would never confront Iran because they attribute their wins in November to America’s growing dissatisfaction with Iraq. If continued instability in Iraq works to their political benefit, why would they change the subject to Iran, particularly when they have no solution to propose and have always been skeptical that military force will do anything to stop Islamic terrorism?

Many Republicans understand the problems that Iran is causing in Iraq, but they have no wish to be portrayed as warmongers by the media and the Democratic party. If Americans have had enough with Iraq, it would be only too easy to characterize any confrontation with Iran as the United States becoming hopelessly and dangerously entangled in a region whose ills defy remedy.

Iraq is only one front in a larger war being waged against the Western world. We are under siege by people with an ideology, a plan, hundreds of millions of dollars, and an ever increasing presence on virtually every continent. Yet none of the decision makers in Washington is willing to confront Iran; the threat that Iran poses, as the standard-bearer of Islamic fascism, goes unacknowledged.

This is undoubtedly an unpopular war. Those who define the enemy as radical Islamic fascism are ridiculed by the media and others; the term is dismissed as inflammatory and inapt. It is not inapt, and thus it is not inflammatory. The term “Islamic fascism” is no harsher than those we used to describe our enemies in the Second World War. And just as we did not call all Italians “fascists” then, so too we do not call all Muslims “fascists” now.

Words define the enemy we confront. They help the American people comprehend what motivates the enemy. Without clear, accurate words, we cannot fight effectively: our own people become confused and divided, and the fascists are encouraged to believe that we fear them. When we fail to recognize the connection between Iraq and Iran, we postpone the day when we define a strategy to win the war, instead of a list of steps to retreat from the Iraqi theater.

The Gates nomination and confirmation show that our leaders do not understand the true dimensions of the war. So long as they do not understand this, how can we ever expect to win?

— Rick Santorum is the outgoing junior Republican senator from Pennsylvania.


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