National Security & Defense

It’s Time for a Long-Term Strategy to Utterly Crush Islamic Terrorism

Law-enforcement personnel in Orlando, Fla. (Steve Nesius/Reuters)

Sunday morning’s horrifying attack on an Orlando gay club is not only the worst mass shooting in America’s history; it is the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. It should be treated as such.

According to officials in Orlando, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen — a 29-year-old U.S. citizen born to Afghan parents — opened fire on more than 200 people at a nightclub called Pulse around 2 a.m. on Sunday morning. A hostage situation ensued. When Orlando SWAT entered the club, nearly three hours later, more than 50 people were dead and another 50 injured. Mateen was killed by police.

Mateen, a security guard with the international-security firm G4S, was known to the FBI as one of a number of Americans potentially sympathetic to the Islamic State, but it’s not clear if the attack was coordinated by the terrorist organization. In either case, two things are clear: Islamic terror’s war on the West has returned to American shores, and the United States must respond accordingly.

The U.S. can no longer treat the Islamic State, a resurgent al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations as distant enemies.

November’s attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, in which ISIS-affiliated terrorists killed 130 people, demonstrated the capacity of Islamic terrorists to strike the heart of the West. At that time, the Islamic State promised that it would soon export its violence to the United States. Three weeks later, Islamic terrorists — who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during their attack — killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif.                      

The U.S. can no longer treat the Islamic State, a resurgent al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations as distant enemies. Islamic terrorists’ war on us has returned to American shores, and it will continue here as long as we refuse to exercise the tactics necessary to stamp it out.

The Obama administration, despite engaging in a drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan that has helped make those countries safe havens for terrorists, is now quietly returning American troops to those countries. Those efforts must be more robust and deliberate, rather than a shame-faced attempt to do a little bit more as quietly as possible. Meanwhile, although Syria remains a tangled mess, we at the very least can do more to aid our Kurdish allies there. This administration has refused to craft a coherent plan for defeating our enemies abroad, preferring to engage in small, disconnected missions on an as-needed basis. It is time for a long-term strategy. As long as terrorists have sanctuaries in which they can train, and from which they can recruit, Americans will continue to live under threat.

#share#But the power of the Islamic State is not just in its materiel. Its success in evangelizing its murderous ideology is a problem the United States national-security apparatus has failed to address. Convincing young, disaffected, Muslim men and women that terrorism is not a bright future will require more than “positive messaging” from government Twitter accounts. It will require discrediting the ideology that has appealed to so many in the West and the Middle East. And it will require demonstrating that we will deal swiftly and pitilessly with those who engage in, or support, terrorism.

Terrorists do not care about diversity and inclusiveness. They hate the most progressive Democrat as much as they hate the most conservative Republican.

This is, after all, a war, and that is how wars are won. And the stakes of this fight could not be higher. This is a contest between those who champion freedom and pluralism and those who would impose tyrannical theocracy. It is worth remembering that not just the Islamic State and similar outfits but the largest state backers of international terrorism — Iran and Saudi Arabia — regularly torture and execute gay men and lesbians. Terrorists do not care about diversity and inclusiveness. They are not interested in “dialogues.” They hate the most progressive Democrat as much as they hate the most conservative Republican. The ideology responsible for this barbarism cannot be negotiated with; it must be defeated.

Orlando, like Paris and San Bernardino and London and Madrid and countless other attacks, is an attack on a way of life, painstakingly built up over centuries, that cares first and foremost for freedom. Now more than ever the West must uphold that way of life — and take the fight to those who seek to destroy it.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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