While any given terrorist attack is largely unpredictable, long and bitter experience with jihad does allow us to identify certain trends — certain laws of jihadist behavior. First, it is quite clear that jihadist success tends to breed more jihad. And second, when terrorists possess safe havens, they have time to plan, execute, and — crucially — inspire new acts of terror.
Consider what’s happened in the United States and abroad since ISIS launched its blitzkrieg in 2014. It didn’t just gain a small nation’s worth of territory, population, and resources, it also inspired jihadists the world over. In America, we’ve confronted actual or attempted jihadist mass shootings in Chattanooga, Garland (Texas), San Bernardino, and now Orlando. This list doesn’t include less deadly individual Islamist attacks like we’ve seen at the University of California, Merced, and in the attempted police officer assassination in Philadelphia.
Overseas, the toll has been even worse. With Paris and Brussels wracked with violence, a Russian jetliner bombed out of the sky, Turkey and Beirut bombed, and with ISIS-inspired violence reaching all the way to Australia, jihad has spread like a deadly virus.
This is what happens when the world gives jihad oxygen. It thrives on carnage, and each new attack is seen as a glorious victory for the cause. But when we inflict the carnage, jihad tends to retreat. Americans have an exactly opposite understanding of the role of death in the jihadist project. We think that our military success merely creates more martyrs. This is wrong. Jihadists love their own deaths when it is in a victorious cause, not when they are pulverized and defeated by superior forces. So long as they have hope and can create the impression of momentum and success, recruits will flow. When they flee the battlefield, and their black flags burn, the cause craters.
We know this because we’ve done it before. We’ve seen it happen with our own eyes. By the close of the Surge in Iraq, the enemy was spent — demoralized and on the run. Recruits weren’t flowing in, suicide bombers were more difficult to recruit, and a shattered nation began to return to its own version of normal. Our own country enjoyed a period of relative peace.
To be clear, the jihadist impulse in Islam waxes and wanes. It never entirely disappears — which is exactly why a nation cannot ever relax its vigilance and give jihad room to grow. But that’s exactly what we did. And now jihad reaches further and inspires more people than it did even in the days leading up to 9/11, when al Qaeda And the Taliban ruled Afghanistan.
It’s time to remove the inspiration. It’s time to show the world that jihadists are paper tigers. It’s time to make them run in terror. Until we do, there will continue to be men and women the world over who rally to the black flag, and — as they rally – Orlando will become just another city on an ever-growing list. We need to crush the head of the snake. Only then will the long tail that stretches through the west finally wither and die.