The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Best Way to Deal With “Lone Wolf” Terror Is to Grind ISIS into the Dust

In the aftermath of successful terrorist attacks, it’s infuriating to watch so many members of the political and intellectual class wring their hands and ask, “How can we combat this ideology? How do we win the war of ideas in the hearts of these young men?” They wonder about messaging, they parse the words of politicians, and they (sometimes) call on Muslim leaders to “step up” and do a better job condemning violence. That’s all meaningless, irrelevant to the ultimate outcome of this long war.

News flash: The single-most persuasive thing you can do to “win the war of ideas” is obliterate ISIS. To the jihadist mind ISIS’s success is the best argument for more jihad. ISIS’s success inspires new foot soldiers, leading radical Muslims to believe that finally the tide is turning in their favor, that the caliphate is upon us. Jihad thrives on success. Conversely, it withers in the face of defeat. This should be a matter of common sense, but too many Americans misunderstand martyrdom, believing that successful military operations are self-defeating because they “create martyrs.” No, martyrs are only truly inspiring (on a large scale) when they succeed, not when they fail. 

Presidents can laud Islam as a “religion of peace,” they can host Muslim celebrations in the White House, and they can wage propaganda war all they want, yet absolutely none of it will matter so long as ISIS appears to prevail on the battlefield. Our current military campaign — while enjoying some tactical successes — fuels ISIS recruiting not because we’re killing Muslims but because ISIS is seen as confronting American might and prevailing. 

Destroying ISIS means more than routing it in its Middle East strongholds, it also means killing terrorists here at home. And that brings us to yet another aspect of the tragedy of our idiotic military and civilian “gun free zones.” The flip side of costing American lives is granting jihadists a victory. If more jihadists are gunned down before they can take a life — as in Texas earlier this year — then other young radicals will understand that martyrdom is futile, that they face inevitable defeat.

I’ve seen with my own eyes what the perception of inevitable defeat does to the jihadist mind. By late summer 2008 — at the apex of the Surge – the jihadists we faced in Iraq were dispirited, with some even turning themselves in — weary of a seemingly futile fight. Certainly some few fought on (and later formed the core of ISIS), but for a time jihad as a true movement was over. All that was left was a relatively impotent gang of the last remaining holdouts. But when we took the boot off their neck, they could once again breathe the oxygen of victory, and they came roaring back.

Jihad will always be with us. It’s always been present in Islam. But it waxes and wanes, and the best way to diminish it is to defeat it on the field of battle. Propaganda is largely a waste of time. Only military victory truly matters now.

David French — 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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