The Corner

National Security & Defense

September 11 — A Terrible Day in the Eternal War

Fifteen years removed from 9/11 it has become fashionable to decry politicians who allegedly embroil the United States in “endless wars.” Whenever I hear this critique, it’s a clear signal that the speaker neither fully understands our enemy nor fully understands the obligations of the American commander-in-chief. 

In one sense it is correct to say that America’s war on terror began on 9/11. After all, our nation came under direct attack, Congress authorized force in response, and we began a distinct series of military operations that continue to greater and lesser degrees even today. But in a broader sense, 9/11 represented nothing more and nothing less than an escalation of a war that began when Muhammad launched his first violent jihad more than a thousand years ago. 

Violent jihad may or may not represent “authentic” Islam (I’ll leave Muslims to define their own faith), but it is indisputable that jihadist theology has been present within broader Islam since its founding. It waxes and wanes in violence and intensity, but it is there. America confronted it within years of its own founding (on the “shores of Tripoli“), Europe has faced numerous existential threats to its very civilization, and the once-thriving Christian civilization of the Middle East is nearly extinct. 

While no one wishes for endless war, our government has a permanent obligation to defend the Constitution and our citizens. When the architects of centuries of aggression confront permanent resolve, war is the result – and there is no end in sight. We can’t solve the problem of jihadist Islam, but we can defend our nation. And if defending our nation requires another 15 years of combat (or another 150 years) then so be it. 

It is a great blessing that the United States has the power to keep the jihadist threat largely suppressed while exerting but the smallest fraction of our military strength, but exerting that strength still requires courage. It still requires young men and women to take their turn as the guardians of our Constitution. God bless them this September 11. We need them every bit as much as we did fifteen years ago today. 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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