The Left is in hysterics over John Bolton replacing H.R. McMaster as President Trump’s national security adviser: He will start a war with Iran! He once wrote a foreword for a book written by Pamela Geller and me! He is a right-wing extremist! Back in the real world, however, Bolton replacing McMaster is a victory for realistic analysis of the jihad threat, and a defeat for the fantasy-based policymaking that has prevailed throughout the Bush and Obama eras, and beyond.
McMaster has insisted: “The Islamic State is not Islamic.”
A source that has asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals informed me that he was present in August 2014 when McMaster was the featured speaker for the President’s Lecture Series at National Defense University in Washington, D.C. McMaster addressed an assembly of all the students in the colleges of the National Defense, including the National War College, the College of International Security Affairs (CISA), the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy (formerly the Industrial College of the Armed Forces), and the others. In his address, McMaster said flatly: “The Islamic State is not Islamic.”
That was during the Obama administration. One may forgive McMaster for following the company line, but McMaster did not change his tune when Donald Trump became president. On the contrary, he doubled down.
In February 2017, according to CNN, “at an all-hands meeting of the National Security Council,” McMaster “said jihadist terrorists aren’t true to their professed religion and that the use of the phrase ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ doesn’t help the U.S. in working with allies to defeat terrorist groups.”
Speaking in May 2017 about President Trump’s trip to the Middle East, McMaster dug even deeper, observing that “the entire civilized world expects our Muslim allies to take a strong stance against radical Islamist ideology.” Those who were aware of how badly U.S. foreign policy has run off the rails over the last fifteen years should have been deeply disturbed. McMaster added that jihad terrorists were operating according to “an ideology that uses a perverted interpretation of religion to justify crimes against all humanity.”
How many times since 9/11 has an American spokesman declared that “the United States and the entire civilized world expects our Muslim allies to take a strong stance against radical Islamist ideology”? And what do we have to show for this expectation?
How many years must we expect this before we realize that our “Muslim allies” have vastly different priorities from what mainstream counterterror analysts would wish to believe?
McMaster’s pollyannish views were a holdover from the Obama regime, which established fantasies about Islam having nothing to do with terrorism as the official policy of the U.S. government. This was in contrast to President Trump, who repeatedly criticized his predecessor (and his 2016 election opponent) for not being willing to call the problem of jihad terror by its right name.
McMaster was therefore a disastrous pick as national security adviser. He continued the willful ignorance of the Obama administration, hamstringing efforts to understand, and counter effectively, the motives and goals of the enemy.
Enter John Bolton. The incoming national security adviser has not said much about the ideological roots of the jihad threat, but what he has said indicates that he will be a clear departure from McMaster’s fantasy world.
In a 2009 interview with Pamela Geller, Bolton made it clear that he disagreed with Mitt Romney’s contention that jihad terror had nothing to do with Islam. Said Bolton: “As the saying goes from the Franklin Roosevelt era, somebody said, ‘not all Democrats are horse thieves, but all horse thieves are Democrats.’ Taking that forward, the terrorists today are Islamic fundamentalists, that’s where the threat lies, worldwide, and the worst threat of all, is obviously getting nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.”
You cannot defeat an enemy that you don’t understand, much less refuse to understand. We can only hope that this change will lead to a more realistic appraisal of the jihad threat.