‘Let us avoid . . . suicide.”
William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn certainly know how to grab your attention. In their call to arms, The Fight of Our Lives: Knowing the Enemy, Speaking the Truth & Choosing to Win the War Against Radical Islam, they write, “We may soon find out whether we will take seriously our great moral and intellectual inheritance and so determine whether we indeed have the will, and the ability, to not only call this a war but to identify our enemy and to win it as well. Or, in the long run, will we be the authors of our own undoing?”
Bennett and Leibsohn, who are both affiliated with the Claremont Institute (though Leibsohn is currently on leave, working on Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign), are longtime collaborators. Leibsohn was the founding producer of the former secretary of education’s nationally syndicated radio show, Morning in America. They answer questions from National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez’s about The Fight of Our Lives here.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Is it really the fight of our lives? It looks as if only some of us got the memo, doesn’t it? How deep in denial are we?
WILLIAM J. BENNETT: Deep. Start with the leadership. This administration thinks Assad in Syria is a reformer and the Muslim Brotherhood is a largely secular organization. The attorney general isn’t sure if radical Islam has anything to do with the Times Square bomber or Abdulmutallab in Detroit. Confusions abound. What we have is a program of brutalization of women, minorities (including Jews, Christians, and other Muslims), and children — all because of a toxic ideology operating under the guise of a religion. People by the thousands are being killed while their attackers shout “Allahu Akbar,” and many leaders are scratching their heads asking what this is all about. We know what this is about. It is about radical Islam and we are not bigots for saying so.
LOPEZ: On September 11, 2001, could you have ever predicted we’d practically forget?
SETH LEIBSOHN: We actually did believe that. In early 2002, Bill, Jim Woolsey, Charles Krauthammer, a few others, and I thought we would see an erosion in our will to fight. We founded Americans for Victory Over Terrorism to fortify public opinion. Many at the time asked why this was necessary and some even said we were going after phantom opposition. We said, “Just wait,” and, well, here we are.
LOPEZ: Why is the name of the fight of our lives so important? Why have we been so timid in naming our enemy?
BENNETT: Many have been timid because frankly, to be fair, many are not sure who the enemy is. That’s unusual for us. We usually know who we are fighting and we usually have a leadership that is not afraid to call things by their proper name.
LOPEZ: Why was there confusion even from the Bush administration?
LEIBSOHN: I don’t know that there was actual confusion. What I think is that there was a concerted effort to try and figure out if softer language would bring about less violence. There was the thought that a more appeasing tone would win a lot of wavering Muslim hearts and minds. Most experts on Islam that we have read, as well as the results of that effort, show that didn’t work. It ended up coming across as what Bernard Lewis would call “anxious propitiation.”
LOPEZ: Are diversity and tolerance bad things?
BENNETT: It really depends on how and for what. But what is interesting is the odd cultural turn of intellectual thinking here about Islamism. Support for religious orthodoxies used to be opposed — but Islamism became a different thing here. It became exceptional. Orthodox Islam, unlike orthodox Christianity or Judaism, has come to be considered the new badge of diversity and its presence and verbiage the new emblems of tolerance, worthy of the utmost respect and protected from almost any criticism.
LOPEZ: On the Park 51 mosque, you write, “The fact that a Muslim leader such as Imam Rauf, with the views he has publicly espoused, could be held up as a model of ecumenical moderacy shows us where we are today.” Where is that exactly?
LEIBSOHN: We’re afraid to criticize Islamic leaders who engage in doublespeak, have worrisome backgrounds, and cannot bring themselves to condemn terrorism outright. That’s the least of it. On the other end, we have a political correctness that turns a blind eye and deaf ear to actual and outrageous threats and acts of terrorism.
LOPEZ: Are patriotic American Muslims being victimized by folks like yourselves who insist on putting radical Islam on the American enemies list?
BENNETT: No, they are not. We’re not anything to worry about. What they need to worry about are people whose violent actions are being committed in the name of their religion. Muslims are freer in this country than in any other country in the world.
LOPEZ: How important was Fort Hood?
BENNETT: Very. People died because political leadership in the military sent signals that to speak out strongly against a man like Nidal Hasan would violate the ethos of diversity. Here was a man who advocated the murder of infidels and too few were troubled. Here is a military fort, manned by people in uniform, in Texas. You’d think if any place were safe it would be here. It was not. And the belief given voice by the chief of staff of the Army — that the loss of diversity would be worse than the loss of human life — tells you how bad the willed confusion has become.
LOPEZ: What’s our crisis of will? How can we make a change?
BENNETT: The crisis of will proceeds from the intellect, goes through the chest, and enters the heart. We need to get the terms right, we need to get the realities right, we need to think clearly. Act with courage, and be not afraid. Many Muslims will be with us.
LOPEZ: How and why are schools so important?
BENNETT: Plato said the two most important questions in society are who gets to teach the children and what we teach them. Tolerance and diversity are taught incessantly if inconsistently now. But higher virtues are not. And neither is America or her cause.
LOPEZ: Is Obama’s kinder, gentler approach to the war a complete failure?
LEIBSOHN: Mostly. Of course it is too soon to know the full outcomes. But as of now, it does not look good. Our overtures to the Iranian leadership have led to less chance of a domestically inspired regime change there. Our refusal to call the enemy by its proper name has led to more terrorism. And just now, the world at large — including allies and enemies — is confused about what America stands for and whom it stands with.
LOPEZ: Is there anything he’s doing right?
BENNETT: Yes. His Afghanistan surge was something I applauded, though I have some questions now. His drone attacks in Pakistan are welcome. And I have no objection to taking out Qaddafi — but he should actually do it and not subordinate that interest to an international committee.
LOPEZ: What is going on in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, maybe Syria?
LEIBSOHN: These could be — emphasis on “could” — examples of a Freedom Spring. But the truth is we have to see what blooms. There are a lot of troubling signs that what could replace the current regimes will be worse. In a line of Yeats, the beggar and the man on horseback may change places but the lashes continue. It looks as if that will be the case with Egypt, except worse, and we were too quick to seek regime change there — too slow elsewhere.
LOPEZ: Are we doing the right thing in Libya?
LEIBSOHN: No. We are repeating mistakes of the past. The president said Monday night that the only reason he would not commit to taking out Qaddafi was because it would not receive international approval. How about American approval? Our foreign policy should not be subordinated to the Arab League. Wasn’t this precisely the problem after the first Gulf War? Didn’t that concern lead to tens of thousands of deaths and twelve more years of Saddam?
LOPEZ: Can Iran be next?
BENNETT: One hopes. My concern is we may have had our best opportunity in 2009, and at that time, the president said we should not meddle.
LOPEZ: Why a whole chapter on Iran?
BENNETT: It is the biggest threat on the horizon with nuclear weapons for the future and terrorism currently as well as in the past.
LOPEZ: How should history treat the issue of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction?
BENNETT: Honestly. The best intelligence in the world had it that Saddam was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. It turned out he was lying but we got the blame. By the way, President Obama’s arguments for Libya are a retroactive rationale for what President Bush did in Iraq: a humanitarian war against a tyrant and absent weapons of mass destruction.
LOPEZ: Why is (the National Review Institute’s) Andy McCarthy so important?
BENNETT: He is one of the teachers of our age on both the level of intellectual analysis and real-world action. We ignore what he has to say at our peril.
LOPEZ: And Zhudi Jasser? (He and Andy don’t always agree.)
LEIBSOHN: Dr. Jasser is a rare and courageous voice. I realize he and Andy may not always agree. Smart, independently minded thinkers will have their differences.
LOPEZ: How should a 2012 Republican presidential candidate lead your call to arms? Must he?
BENNETT: Yes, he must — the first responsibility of the president is the defense of our country and the war the Islamists have declared on us is the greatest threat we face. How should he talk about it? With clarity, both moral and specific.
LOPEZ: Should this fight be essential to the Tea Party, to anyone concerned about the very future of the republic?
LEIBSOHN: Absolutely. We are talking about saving our country after all.
LOPEZ: Do our movies and arts even begin to appreciate that we are in the Fight of Our Lives? Do you see some serious attempts, even if it’s not a mainstream Hollywood or publishing reality?
BENNETT: There have been a few good cable efforts, but by and large Hollywood has been absent when in the past it has given what George Washington called its effectual support of the cause.
LOPEZ: Is there anything you co-authors disagreed on in putting this together?
LEIBSOHN: There were a few disagreements at the beginning on where the emphasis should be, but we talked them through and came up with what we hope is a coherent narrative that we think has not been told before.
LOPEZ: What would Lincoln do?
BENNETT: Lincoln’s first and foremost concern was always the preservation of the Union. I think he would be as eloquent and active for his country today as he was in the 1850s and 1860s. He would see a threat poised to blow out all the moral lights around us just now.
LOPEZ: Not to go all greatest hits on you, but is there anything from the Book of Virtues that is appropriate to a call to arms like this one?
BENNETT: Yes, I would recommend the chapter on courage and knowing what to fear, what to stand against, and what to stand for.
— Bill Bennett, the host of Morning in America, and Seth Leibsohn, a fellow of the Claremont Institute, are authors of the newly released The Fight of Our Lives: Knowing the Enemy, Speaking the Truth & Choosing to Win the War Against Radical Islam.