Cheap Seats 2016
The Winnable War - 04/13
By Rich Trzupek
The next President of the United States, whomever he or she is, will face a number of challenges, one greater than all the rest. No, it’s not the silly idea that the new President will “bring the country together”. With the exception of brief intervals in the early nineteenth century and during World Wars One and Two, we have always been a divided nation. None of the candidates running will change that and I doubt that there is anyone alive who could.
The challenge I speak of is the one that our current Commander in Chief refuses to call by name: the rise of radical Islam, or as it often referred to, “jihad”.
Jihad is an interesting word, as it can mean different things. It can simply refer to a struggle of any type. But, when a radical, fundamentalist Muslim uses the word, he is referring to a holy war whose sole purpose is to unite the world under Muslim rule.
President Obama does not speak of radical Islam in those terms, apparently believing that: a) Americans are too stupid to understand that distinguishing this particular brand of Islam as an evil does not mean that we will conclude that all Muslims are its practitioners, b) if he pretends there is no religious element to the jihad, it will go away, and c) if he were to identify the religious element, it would somehow increase recruitment among radical groups like ISIS.
This is a convoluted, idiotic world view. Obama speaks of the war with radical Islam in terms that make it plain that he has accepted the asymmetrical warfare the jihadists are engaged in as a fact of life, much like gang-crime in Chicago or drug use in our inner cities. It’s unfortunate that people die, but what are you going to do? In the scheme of things it’s just an occasional annoyance, something that we have to live with.
Obama, and his supporters, have given up. They believe there is no way to win the war with the jihadists, so we must be happy with containing it. There are no better options.
But there are options and Obama has been presented with and rejected those options, largely because they don’t fit in with his liberal, Harvard-professor’s view of the world.
I will not claim to be a Middle East expert, but having spent a fair amount of time there over my professional career I’ll flatter myself to claim I understand the region better than most Americans, and a damn sight more than our current President.
Imagine, if you will, that America had reliable allies in the Middle East whose governments longed for the eradication of radical Islam every bit as much as we do. How could we best utilize our relationships with such allies to achieve our common goal?
First and foremost, those allies would have to trust us to follow through. Everyone understands the immense value of having the support of the most powerful nation on earth in the war against the jihadists. What they don’t want – can’t afford – is to be left twisting in the wind if they openly and actively partner with us in this war.
Obama’s record is not one that engenders such trust. His deal with Iran, the early and complete pull-out in Iraq and his support of the radical Muslim Brotherhood regime in post-Mubarak Egypt are but three examples of how this President managed to alienate Middle Eastern moderates.
Assuming the next President can re-establish a trusting relationship with the moderates, one of the most important things he must do is to identify the enemy. If you’re a moderate in the Middle East you don’t want the President of the United States pussy-footing around this issue. They want us to call out the fundamentalists. They want us to say that, at its core, this war involves two conflicting portions of the Muslim world: the reformist elements who want to keep secular rule and religious belief separate, and the radicals who want to impose a world-wide theocracy and make no attempt to disguise their goal.
Obama’s policy of refusing to make that distinction has been entirely counter-productive. Rather than helping to enable moderates in the region to fight the radicals, it has had the opposite effect; causing them to retreat into defensive shells in part because their powerful ally doesn’t seem to understand that there are two sides in this war within the Muslim community.
Some Arab nations, like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, will likely remain in that shell no matter what we do. They may privately support our goals and they may quietly aid them from time to time, but they will never openly call out the radicals on religious grounds.
Other nations, like Somalia, Yemen and, most dangerously, Iran are in partial or total control of the radical elements at war with us. They will remain the enemy until regimes change or powerful warlords are defeated.
But there are moderate Arab states with whom a new President can forge new partnerships. King Abdullah in Jordan, President el-Sisi in Egypt, President al Nahyan in the United Arab Emirates and Emir al Thani in Qatar are among our most important, most valuable allies in the region. They can make all the difference, if the next Commander in Chief has the wits and the courage to understand that.