How is our nation dealing with the continuing menace of Islamic supremacism, the ideology that catalyzes the jihadist and cultural threat to the West?
At the Freedom Forum in Iowa last Saturday, Newt Gingrich drew an apt analogy to the period from the end of World War II through 1948, as the Iron Curtain consigned half of Europe to tyranny: Imagine that the president of the United States had been not Harry Truman but Stalin’s useful idiot, Henry Wallace – the former vice president whom FDR thankfully dumped from the Democratic ticket in 1944.
Had that happened, Gingrich opined, our president would have been assuring us, “There is no KGB. There is no Comintern. The Soviet Union is not a threat. Communism is okay. I don’t think you should be worried about all these things.”
Meaning: What we’d have had is defeat in the Cold War.
Newt’s admonition was clear. In a rousing speech about “America’s survival,” the former House speaker argued that, after being at it for fourteen years, we are losing “the war with radical Islamists.”
His main point, one very similar to the contention advanced by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal (in a recent London speech that was the subject of my NRO column last weekend), is that we are at war with an enemy that seeks to destroy the West, and that we cannot win the war without telling the truth about the enemy — indeed, “without admitting it’s a war.”
In the interest of candor, then, I will concede that I am not crazy about the term Newt uses to describe the enemy: “radical Islamists.” The right term is “radical Islam.” An Islamist is a Muslim who wants repressive, discriminatory sharia imposed. In the West, an Islamist is radical by definition.
It is not pedantry to raise this difference. When we say “radical Islam,” we concisely divide our enemies – extremist, sharia-supremacist Muslims, violent or nonviolent – from the rest of Islam, with which we would like to live amicably. But saying “radical Islamist” implies that there must also be “moderate Islamists.” There aren’t, of course, but the progressives’ insistence that there must be has led to exactly what the former speaker is rightly concerned about: paralyzing political correctness and reckless policy errors (e.g., Obama’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood) – the things that obscure the threat to us.
Still, any difference of opinion on this point is narrow. “Radical Islamist” is geometrically more clarifying than the Beltway’s willfully blind preference, “violent extremist.” Moreover, in invoking “radical Islamists,” the former House speaker is clearly referring to violent jihadists – i.e., Islamists who commit terrorism. Terrorists are radical even among Islamists – although Islamist support for terrorists (at least moral support and often material support) is alarmingly high.
Our bipartisan ruling elite attempts to minimize the ideological underpinning of the Islamist threat as well as its geographical scope. Gingrich was firm that the jihad is formidable, unified and global. In its blatant contempt for our government, the Iranian regime locks up a journalist and enables its proxies to rout Yemen (which Obama had touted as a counterterrorism success) — confident that the Obama administration will keep talking to them and appeasing them no matter what they do. ISIS, of course, has obliterated the border between Iraq and Syria even as Western leaders grope for country-specific policies based on a map that no longer exists.
But that’s not the half of it. As Gingrich elaborated, Western intelligence estimates about ISIS in Syria and Iraq warn us of at least 1,000 jihadists from France, 600 from Britain, and 100 from the United States. Many if not most of these Islamists will return home not just with training and combat experience but with an enhanced prestige that comes with taking part in the jihad – a prestige that makes them more effective recruiters, fundraisers, and practitioners of domestic jihad.
Meanwhile, as the threat intensifies, Western governments, led by our own, continue to lie about it. The ruthless Boko Haram jihadist organization in Nigeria has 10,000 fighters (and, as the Wall Street Journal reported this week, it eyes conquest in nearby Chad, Cameroon and Niger). Yet, under Hillary Clinton, the State Department would not even designate it as a terrorist organization – even though, Gingrich sharply observed, Boko Haram named one of their main training camps “Afghanistan” in honor or the Taliban.
Again, that’s not the half of it. Under Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton, the State Department has declined to designate the Afghan Taliban itself as a terrorist organization. This underscores Newt’s on-target assessment that, when it comes to obfuscation about Islamic supremacist ideology, the State Department was nearly as bad under Bush as under Obama. And while Bush at least included the Taliban as a terrorist organization in a 2002 executive order, Obama spokesmen have spent this week spinning the risible yarn that the Taliban is not a terrorist organization but a purely domestic “insurgent” group.
In truth, as the former speaker asserted, we have an elite in both parties that is unwilling to tell the truth. You can’t win the war without telling the truth and without admitting it’s a war. As he put it, there is a common thread that unites the enemy, wherever on earth the enemy operates: They “hate our civilization and would impose their religion by force.”
This cannot be blinked away – neither by what Gingrich tartly but accurately diagnosed as Obama’s “pathological incapacity to deal with reality,” nor by the ineffable John Kerry’s insistence that jihadist terror has nothing to do with Islam – that these atrocities are committed by “specific, unique, random individuals” who just happen to be Muslims bent on imposing sharia.
From his national security right perspective, Newt anticipated and dismissed as “Baloney!” an attack on his position from the strange-bedfellow alliance of antiwar leftists and extremist libertarians who see U.S. counterterrorism as a greater threat than the jihad. It is the claim that what Gingrich is really calling for is “an army of 7 million” so we can “occupy everywhere” in the Middle East.
As he countered, we are talking about defeating an enemy whom we must identify. And in identifying that enemy “we can draw a clear distinction.” To wit:
If you are a Muslim, and you want to live in peace with your neighbors, and you have no problem with people converting in both directions, and you’d like to be allowed to have a mosque but, by the way, they can have a synagogue, a temple, or a church – I have no problem with Muslims who are prepared to live in diversity. But if you’re a Muslim who believes you are going to impose sharia by cutting off my head, I have a desire to kill you before you cut off my head.
The ensuing standing ovation from Freedom Forum attendees carried a salient message for the GOP’s field of would-be presidential nominees: A Republican will not win the White House in 2016 unless national security is a major issue and one on which Republicans hold a decisive edge.
The keys to gaining that edge are candor, clarity and courage. As Newt recounted, Churchill took the time to read and understand Mein Kampf. He was unafraid to call the threat to civilization what it was, even when no one in England or Europe wanted to listen. Reagan – “not having gone to Harvard Law School and been thoroughly educated in how to avoid reality” – understood that when Stalinists said they wanted to conquer the West, what they meant was … that they wanted to conquer the West. In his “magnificent” post-9/11 speech to a joint session of Congress, George W. Bush warned rogue regimes that they had a choice to make: With us, or with the terrorists?
It is again time – past time – to be bold in calling the threat against us what it is, and in understanding why it seeks to conquer us (i.e., in grasping that it is about their ideology not our flaws). That has been the essence of self-defense throughout history, and it hasn’t changed.
Among the best parts of Newt’s excellent speech was its call for practical action. With Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress, he argued that conservatives can serve the cause of national security by demanding months of hearings to examine, to speak bluntly about, the Islamist challenge to the West. Gingrich’s suggestions along these lines tracked his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed:
- Appraise the strength and growth rate of the enemy.
- Assess the danger on a country-by-country basis, through each jihadist hub – Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.
- Shine a spotlight on the Muslim Brotherhood – the enemy’s theoretical backbone that is “so little understood by Washington elites that it deserves its own set of hearings.”
- Identify the primary sources of funding, especially in the Gulf.
- Learn from Arab countries that have successfully contained the radicals.
- Study the radicalization process, particularly the role of mosques and social media in recruiting young Muslims into terrorism.
- Tackle “the Islamist cyberthreat” – in fact, as Gingrich declared (to much applause), we should be “driving them off the Internet.”
The recent barbarities in Paris, the stepped up pace of al Qaeda and ISIS atrocities, must be a wake-up call. For Newt Gingrich, conservatives do not just have an opportunity to lead the way. If America is to survive as we know and love her, conservatives must see that opportunity as a duty. The hour is growing late.