Politics & Policy

The ISIS Threat Represents a Clash of Civilizations, and Hillary Won’t Admit It

Clinton at the Council on Foreign Relations, November 19, 2015. (Spencer Platt/Getty)

Has Hillary Clinton separated herself from President Obama by taking a tougher and more realistic position on the threat from ISIS? That’s what many in the news media are saying based on some of her recent foreign-policy statements, such as her remarks in a November 19 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations:

ISIS operates across three mutually reinforcing dimensions: a physical enclave in Iraq and Syria; an international terrorist network that includes affiliates across the region and beyond; and an ideological movement of radical jihadism. We have to target and defeat all three, and time is of the essence.

This portrayal of the ISIS threat sounds like an improvement over the awkward rhetoric used by President Obama to discuss what he insists on calling ISIL or Daesh, and his refusal to use words such as “jihad” and “jihadism.” But Hillary’s rhetorical improvements were offset by caveats indicating that she actually has not moved very far from the president and has a worldview that is just as incoherent.

For example, Clinton criticized “the obsession in some quarters [meaning Republicans] with a clash of civilizations.” Clinton also echoed Obama’s frequent claims that the United States is not at war with Islam when she said, “I don’t think we’re at war with all Muslims. I think we’re at war with jihadists.”

RELATED: Why Does the Left Continue to Insist that Islamic Terrorism Has Nothing to Do with Islam?

Clinton’s dismissal that the threat from jihadist groups represents a clash of civilizations is troubling because it indicates that while she says ISIS is motivated by a radical ideology, she does not understand what this ideology is. Its adherents — including many authorities of Islam — believe in sharia, which amounts to a global operating system for jihad, a holy war with infidel societies explicitly seeking to impose, by violent or stealthy means, an Islamic caliphate worldwide.  

Clinton also apparently does not realize that the clash-of-civilizations concept is not a Republican talking point but a well-known theory developed by two giants in the history of the Middle East and political science, Drs. Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington.

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This term, first used by Lewis in a 1990 Atlantic Monthly article and then by Huntington in a famous 1993 Foreign Affairs article, exactly describes sharia ideology. Believing that this ideology is a war being waged against the West by Islamic fundamentalists in retaliation for purported efforts to undermine Islam and the Muslim world through secularism and modernity, Lewis concluded that:

We are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies of governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations — the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.

Huntington discussed several coming clashes of civilizations in his Foreign Affairs article but highlighted a potential clash between the West and the Muslim world as the most serious. According to Huntington:

The centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent.

President Obama’s approach to the threat posed by ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other jihadist groups — including the Muslim Brotherhood — is doomed to fail to protect this country and its interests insofar as it refuses to recognize that they are all based on a global ideology at war with Western civilization.

#share#Clinton’s dismissal of the clash-of-civilizations concept indicates she is also adhering to Obama’s erroneous view and that her reference to an “ideological movement of radical jihadism” is as meaningless as “violent extremism,” the euphemism the president uses to lump together perceived threats from veterans, Constitutionalists, Tea Party members, anti-abortion activists, conservatives, and foreign or domestic Islamist terrorists.

Clinton’s statement, “I don’t think we’re at war with all Muslims. I think we’re at war with jihadists,” is similar to President Obama’s claims that global jihadist groups and their ideologies have very little support in the Muslim world. Last week, the president said 99.9 percent of Muslims reject terrorism.

Obviously the U.S. is not at war with all Muslims. But by making this false argument, Obama and Clinton are ignoring the reality that the global jihad movement is such a difficult threat to counter because it has the support of more than a small minority of the world’s Muslims.

Josh Gelernter addressed this in an excellent November 21, 2015, National Review article in which he debunked President Obama’s “99.9 percent” claim. Citing Pew Research polling figures, Gelernter wrote:

In surveys of the Muslim populations of nine majority-Muslim countries, plus Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank, an average of 57 percent have an unfavorable view of al-Qaeda, not 99.9 percent. Thirteen percent have a favorable view of al-Qaeda, not 0.1 percent.

There also are disturbingly high levels of support for the global jihadist ideology among Muslims in the United States. According to a June 2015 online survey conducted by The Polling Company and sponsored by my organization, the Center for Security Policy, a majority (51 percent) agreed that “Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to shariah” and nearly a quarter believe “it is legitimate to use violence to punish those who give offense to Islam by, for example, portraying the prophet Mohammed.” The survey also found that 25 percent agreed fully or in part that “violence against Americans here in the United States can be justified as part of the global jihad.”

RELATED: Obama’s Increasingly Surreal War on ISIS

By claiming the United States is at war only with jihadists, Clinton is making the same mistake as President Obama by ignoring the sizeable number of the world’s Muslims who sympathize with them and their ideology. They are ignoring how this reality is a clash of civilizations and that the real war is an ideological one.

To win the war against the global jihad movement, the United States needs to combine military, diplomatic, and intelligence measures with aggressive efforts to challenge and discredit the jihadist ideology worldwide. This must include embracing and empowering Muslim moderates who want to reform Islam, such as Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sissi as well as Muslims and former Muslims who have been persecuted by jihadists such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

#related#It is outrageous that President Obama has never invited President Sissi, Dr. Jasser, or Ms. Hirsi Ali to the White House to discuss the threat from ISIS and the global jihad movement. Instead, he relies on counsel from American Muslim Brotherhood front groups such as the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization with connections to Hamas that has, according to Daniel Pipes, a “malign, terroristic quality.”

At the last Democratic presidential debate and in recent foreign-policy speeches, Clinton defended her decision not to use the term “radical Islam” because she does not want to offend Muslim societies or make it appear the United States is at war with Islam. This was the wrong answer, since defeating ISIS and the jihadist ideology requires risking offending some in the Muslim world by pressing for reform of Islam and promoting Muslim reformers.

Moreover, given that this is a problem within Islam, it’s absurd to avoid using terms that label it as such, a point Senator Marco Rubio made in this brilliant retort to Clinton:

That would be like saying we weren’t at war with the Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi party but weren’t violent themselves.

Repairing the damage done to international security and America’s global security interests by President Obama’s feckless “leading from behind” foreign policy will take a new president with leadership, vision, and an understanding of global threats. Defeating ISIS will require a new president who will acknowledge that ISIS is simply one manifestation of the larger problem we face from Islamic supremacism, a sharia-driven movement that is very much at war with Western civilization, and who will fight it on that basis.

Hillary Clinton’s recent statements about the ISIS threat fall far short of these requirements and suggest that, although Clinton wants to sound tough on how she would deal with ISIS, her approach would be just as dangerously ineffective as President Obama’s.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff.

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