Five years into our “war on terror,” the Iraqi insurgency is raging, with no apparent end to the new recruits eager to wage jihad against the West. Support for offensive action has faded among a disheartened American public, while the terrorists are growing in number and in boldness.
Where have our leaders gone wrong? What kind of leadership failure can demoralize a whole nation of honest, productive citizens, while leaving suicide murderers stirred to righteous action?
The power that inspires righteous action — and which, by its absence, breeds discouragement — is the power of moral idealism. What has brought us to our present state is our leaders’ moral weakness in response to the jihadists’ moral zeal.
Observe that what draws the recruits to terrorist cells is a powerful ideal: the advancement of their religion. The jihadists believe fervently that Islam is the revealed word of Allah, that selfless submission to Allah is the purpose of life, and that all individuals should be subjugated to Islamic law under a theocracy. They believe in spreading the rule of Islam worldwide, and killing any “infidels” who stand in their way. They are morally outraged by the American ideal of individual liberty and regard our this-worldly, capitalistic culture as an evil that must be destroyed.
America can only defend itself against such a zealous, militant movement if we have moral confidence in our own ideals — and fight for them. We must repudiate the Islamists’ “ideals” of other-worldliness, of blind faith, of renunciation and suffering, of theocracy, and proudly uphold the superior, American ideals of reason, freedom, and the pursuit of worldly happiness.
But our leaders have not shown such moral confidence.
When the terrorists of Sept. 11 struck in the name of Islam, President Bush did not identify them as Islamic totalitarians and condemn their murderous ideology and its supporters. Instead, he painted the hijackers as a band of isolated lunatics who had “hijacked a great religion.” (Only recently has President Bush even acknowledged that our enemy is Islamic, with his use of the term “Islamic fascism.”)
In response to Muslim denunciations of America’s secularism, our leaders did not defend this attribute of America, but instead stressed Americans’ religiosity. A mere two weeks after Sept. 11, with the ruins of the World Trade Towers still smoldering, our planned Afghanistan campaign, “Operation Infinite Justice,” was renamed to appease Muslims protesting that only Allah can dispense “infinite justice.”
Unable to defend America intellectually, our leaders are unable to defend her militarily.
Have our leaders acted consistently against terrorist regimes? Consider our policy toward Iran, the primary state sponsor of terrorism. Refusing to identify Iran as the fatherland of Islamic totalitarianism, our president initially beseeched its Mullahs to join our “war on terror.” And he has consistently answered their chants of “Death to America” and their quest for nuclear weapons with negotiation and spineless diplomacy.
Have our leaders asserted that they will use America’s formidable military to secure our way of life by whatever means necessary? No. Lacking the moral confidence to defeat our enemies, they have instead squandered our military resources and sacrificed our brave soldiers in a futile quest to spread “democracy” around the globe — as though bringing the vote to Muslim mobs sympathetic to Islamic totalitarianism will somehow end the terrorist threat.
The reason the terrorists and their state sponsors are not demoralized is that our leaders have failed to demoralize them. Our leaders’ words and actions have signaled that we are not as morally committed to our lives and freedom as the terrorists are to our destruction.
We must make it clear to the jihadists that we will destroy anyone who takes up arms for Islamic totalitarianism. No one wants to fight and die for a hopeless cause. The jihadists will continue to be emboldened and to attract new recruits until they are convinced their goal is unachievable. They must see that we have the moral confidence to defend our lives — to answer their violence with an overwhelming military response, without pulling punches. They must see us willing to visit such crushing devastation on them that they fear us more than they fear Allah.
It is often said that we must win the “hearts and minds” of supporters of totalitarian Islam. Indeed we must: their hearts must be made to despair at the futility of their cause, and their minds must be convinced that any threat to our lives and freedom will bring them swift and certain doom.
The ideologues of totalitarian Islam have seized the power of moral idealism in the service of our destruction. It is time we reclaimed that power in defense of our freedom.