They’ve taken down General Michael Flynn. The former Trump national-security adviser resigned under fire when a false narrative — his purported collusion with election-hacking Russians — was inflamed by criminal intelligence leaks, exacerbated by his poor judgment (or, at the least, poor execution of his duty to brief senior administration officials). Now, the swamp is after its next scalp, Sebastian Gorka, a White House counterterrorism adviser. If the White House is wise, they won’t get it.
Seb is a friend of mine. He is also an accomplished scholar of jihadist ideology and methodology. A series of transparently coordinated hit pieces against him has issued from the usual mainstream-media sources. They have been ably rebutted, among other places, here at National Review Online, in a column by Colin Dueck, and at the Washington Free Beacon, in reports by Bill Gertz and Adam Kredo. The notion that he is racist, “Islamophobic” (as opposed to anti-jihadist), or uninformed is absurd. I wish only to add a couple of observations to the mix.
First, Washington’s government-centric clerisy has forged its own counterterrorism industry over the years, consisting of former investigators and intel analysts, along with the academics who collaborate with them. Much of the work they have done is very solid. But some of it has been highly politicized — in the Bush years, when the powers that be took umbrage at any suggestion that Islamic culture and some mainstream currents of Islamic thought are inherently resistant to Western democracy; and in the Obama years, when any whisper of the nexus between classical, scripture-based Islamic doctrine and terrorism committed by Muslims was a firing offense.
Gorka, an American citizen who grew up in London and holds a doctorate in political science from the Budapest University of Economic Sciences and Public Administration, is an outside-the-Beltway academic. His clear-eyed understanding of totalitarian ideology, as we shall see, is largely based on having experienced its wages. In short, he is a gate-crasher who does not share the industry’s presumptions. Worse, from the industry’s perspective, he is an extraordinarily effective speaker and writer, who connects well in the classroom, on the page, in the council hall, and at the television studio. He is anathema to an expert class that has spent years willingly putting itself in the service of such farce as “countering violent extremism,” “workplace violence,” “Arab Spring,” “religion of peace,” and other manifestations of willful blindness.
There is thus a target on his back. The Trump administration’s quick cashiering of General Flynn has convinced establishment Washington that it may not take much character assassination for the next guy to be thrown under the proverbial bus.
Second, Flynn was replaced as national-security adviser by General H. R. McMaster, a commendable warrior but one lodged firmly in the Bush/Obama see-no-Islam mindset, which is at odds with Trump’s oft-stated determination to recognize the connection between Islam and terrorism. General McMaster evidently objects to Trump’s naming of “radical Islamic terrorism” as the enemy. As I’ve contended, naming the enemy is necessary but not nearly sufficient; it is but a first step toward the real necessity of understanding the enemy. I have expressed my own reservations about the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” so I can hardly fault McMaster on that score. I can quarrel, though, with his reportedly Obama-esque position that the Islamic State is not Islamic. That is no more sensible than saying that the Islamic State is perfectly representative of Islam.
There is wide diversity in the observance of Islam, and significant diversity — though less of it — in Islamic doctrine. If that were not the case, there would be no Muslim reformers, since there would be nothing objectionable to reform. I’ve argued that there is enough internecine conflict among Muslims to call into question whether there actually is a “true Islam”; and that it has thus been a waste of precious national-security energy to debate for nearly the last 40 years whether jihadists — who are practicing a scripturally endorsed form of warfare — are “un-Islamic.” From the perspective of Americans concerned about security and liberty, what matters is that (a) a sizable plurality of the world’s 1.5 billion-plus Muslims believes classical sharia — which fundamentally contravenes our Constitution — is the required framework for governing society, and (b) some percentage of that plurality is active in the pursuit of that belief, including a small but not insubstantial subset of violent jihadists. Whether these sharia-supremacist Muslims are faithful or heretical is not something non-Muslims are going to decide for Muslims, nor are Muslims much interested in our meanderings on the subject.
There is not only diversity in Islam, there are salient contextual differences in how we must deal with this diversity. There are places in the world where American interests are at stake and where Islamists are the only game in town — such that alliances with unsavory elements are unavoidable if worse elements are to be quelled. Warriors like General McMaster were thrust into such situations and could not have carried out their missions otherwise. Understandably, they have a perspective on the prudence of going the extra mile not to give offense to Muslims that is apt to be different from, say, a federal prosecutor whose case hinges on a jury’s understanding of the nexus between the defendants’ fundamentalist Islamic doctrine and their terrorist actions. It ought, moreover, to be common sense that how we should deal with Islamists on their turf when our security requires it may be markedly different from how we should deal with them on our turf when they are making demands that run counter to our principles and culture.
If an administration is going to meet our challenges effectively, it needs General McMaster and Dr. Gorka.
What these and other permutations ought to tell us is that group-think burdened by political correctness is the enemy of security. If an administration is going to meet our challenges effectively, it needs General McMaster and Dr. Gorka. It needs patriotic experts whose goal is the same — to protect the United States — but whose well-grounded views and experiences of what that requires may be very different. To untold millions of Muslims, jihadist terror is an abomination. But if the president is hearing only that terrorism is “un-Islamic,” he is missing a big part of the picture, and he can never “know thine enemy.”
Seb Gorka is far from an extremist. His short, accessible, best-selling book Defeating Jihad is a good, macro-level primer on the Islamic doctrinal and scholarly roots of jihadist terror. He is quite clear in it, as he has been in his public presentations, that Muslims are, by far, the most numerous victims of jihadism. Indeed, while I see the focal point of the threat as adherence to classical sharia, Seb emphasizes takfiri jihad, which targets Muslims who do not adhere to the brutal al-Qaeda and ISIS construction of Islam.
There are three major takeaways from the book, all rooted in Seb’s argument that the threat against us is ideologically-based. First, the ideological challenge is as much within Islam as about Islam, so it is critical that we empower our Muslim allies. Second, it is an ideological challenge of a nature we have successfully dealt with before (the book seeks a modern analogue to the Cold War containment doctrine championed by George Kennan and Paul Nitze). Third, it is an ideological challenge rooted in totalitarianism, a subject Seb grasps with particular clarity. The most riveting part of the book is the prologue, in which he relates the story of his own father, an operative in Hungary’s anti-Soviet resistance, who was detained for years and tortured after being double-crossed by Britain’s traitorous Philby spy ring. The elder Gorka made his way to the West, and to freedom, in the chaos of the 1956 uprising, even as the Kremlin crushed it.
Seb Gorka has valuable insight about the need for clarity and resolve in confronting a determined, remorseless enemy. He is a resource the Trump national-security team is fortunate to have. They’d be well advised to keep him, regardless of the Swamp’s preferences.