One of the axioms of war is that victory depends on understanding your enemies and what motivates them. This wisdom has been overlooked by President Obama, judging by his circumlocution regarding the nature of the present conflict.
Obama described our foe in his inaugural speech as an unnamed but “far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” He mentioned Iraq and Afghanistan, but of course we are not warring against those countries, only within them. He correctly identified “fascism” and “communism” as previous adversaries we had faced down. But he didn’t come close to putting his finger on the ideology we are fighting today–radical, violent Islamic fundamentalism.
This inability did not afflict other wartime presidents. Franklin Roosevelt confronted the blackest of evil by calling it what it was–“Nazism” or, lest there be any confusion, “the present government of Germany.” Harry Truman understood “there can be no peace in the world until the military power of Japan is destroyed.” In describing the terrorist forces at work in the world, George W. Bush generously gave us a choice of names: “Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism.” Even Mickey Rourke gets it, although, sadly, most of his Hollywood co-stars do not.
It’s not solely al-Qaeda we are fighting. Bin Laden and his henchmen are one faction, but not the only one. They call themselves by other names, such as Hamas or Hezbollah. Anjem Choudary, who spews anti-western hate in Britain, exemplifies the psychology of these zealots. Following the terror attacks in Mumbai, Choudary threatened more “blood in the streets” and said he looks forward to the day when non-Muslims in the United Kingdom have to wear signs identifying themselves as nonbelievers. His rants leave very little room for Obama’s hoped-for “mutual interest and mutual respect.”
It took almost three decades after the taking of the U.S. embassy in Tehran for Americans to realize that the repeated and seemingly isolated attacks on our interests abroad are part of a larger war. After 9/11–the second attack against the World Trade Center–it began to dawn on most Americans that we were facing a single ideological enemy with many adherents.Still, there persists a politically correct prohibition in the media and in liberal foreign-policy circles against linking Islam with terrorism.
Obama has inspired a nation with his words. He understands the importance of language. If Obama were to call out our enemy for what it really is, and show he truly understands what moves them, then we “need not fear the result of a hundred battles,” as Sun Tzu taught. Otherwise, the sage warned, “for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”
–Eric Fehrnstrom is a former journalist and communications adviser to Mitt Romney.