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An Understanding of Islamic Supremacism Must Drive U.S. National Security and Foreign Policy

The Trump administration’s new National Vetting Center, housed within the Department of Homeland Security, could provide a needed boost to our defenses if it streamlines and coordinates the information collection and sharing processes between relevant immigration and national security agencies, rather than adding to the bureaucratic thicket.

While it is critical to get the mechanism for keeping harmful actors such as jihadists out of the U.S. right, equally if not more important is that we get right the vetting process itself. On this, the executive memorandum is silent.

What does the administration believe about vetting? The first iteration of President Trump’s terror entry executive order, inaccurately maligned as a “travel ban,” sheds light on his thinking.

The purpose of that executive order was to

…ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.

The executive order echoed a statement President Trump made while on the stump in a pivotal August 2016 speech on fighting Islamic terrorism. Emphasizing the ideological nature of this struggle, then-candidate Trump stated:

In the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test. The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today.

In addition to screening out all members or sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles – or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law.

Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into the country.

In that same speech, the president declared that one of his first acts if elected would be to establish a “Commission on Radical Islam,” the express purpose of which would be two-fold: (i) To “identify and explain to the American public the core convictions and beliefs of Radical Islam, to identify the warning signs of radicalization, and to expose the networks in our society that support radicalization;” and (ii) To “develop new protocols for local police officers, federal investigators, and immigration screeners.”

The lack of such a top-down analysis has plagued America since before 9/11. One wonders, how could our national security and foreign policy apparatus not study what President Obama himself termed the “one organizing principle” among the jihadist enemies facing us, of Islam? Moreover, how could U.S. government officials, notably including former FBI Director Robert Mueller, possibly purge the lexicon intrinsic to and trainers steeped in the theopolitical, Sharia-based threat doctrine motivating Islamic supremacists? You must understand your enemy’s animating ideology if you wish to defeat him. Conducting an honest study of Islamic supremacism, and the goals, tactics and strategies of its adherents would seem to be the essential first step to developing a strategy to comprehensively counter them.

When it comes to vetting to prevent Islamic supremacists from entering the homeland, third-party analyses based in such an understanding of the enemy – dishonest and determined though he may be -- provide promising recommendations for keeping us safe.

The Trump National Security Strategy itself rightfully recognizes the importance of understanding Sharia supremacism in fighting jihad.

But there appears to be inconsistency among the various branches of the national security apparatus, with the U.S. Intelligence Community’s newly released worldwide threat assessment devoid of language indicating an understanding of the nature of the threat. You cannot fight jihad if you will not recognize it.

A political correctness-free study of Islamic supremacism by the U.S. government is not a mere academic exercise. Such an inquiry is urgently needed if we are to have coherence in national security and foreign policy in hot spots from Iraq and Afghanistan, to Lebanon and Syria, to Turkey and the increasingly aggressive Iran that looms over the entire region.

In August 2016 then-candidate Trump said that if he was president the era of nation-building would be over. “Our new approach,” the president said, “must be to halt the spread of Radical Islam.” Absent a “Commission on Radical Islam” whose recommendations have teeth, and buy-in from the personnel crafting and executing policy, America may win battles against individual jihadist groups, but Radical Islam’s war against the West will continue apace. We will lack the moral clarity and concomitant policy consistency to defeat it, to the detriment of the president’s America First goal of eradicating Radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the Earth.