POV: Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World
by Ayn Rand | 1960
Three Things We Must Know in Order to Stop Jihadists
by Elan Journo | December 23, 2016
15 Years After 9/11, We Still Don’t Understand The Enemy
by Elan Journo | September 11, 2016
Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism: From George W. Bush to Barack Obama and Beyond
by Elan Journo | September 07, 2016
How the U.S., and Israel, Wage Self-Crippled Wars
by Elan Journo | October 8, 2015
The Israel-Palestinian War
by Elan Journo | July 28, 2014
How the International Laws of War Abet Hamas, Undercut Israel
by Elan Journo | July 17, 2014
Book Review: “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes”
by Elan Journo | June 02, 2014
World Upside Down
by Elan Journo | November 27, 2012
Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand and U.S. Foreign Policy
by Elan Journo | October 19, 2012
Our self-crippled policy encouraged the deadly embassy attacks
by Elan Journo | September 28, 2012
Galt Goes Global
by Elan Journo | August 28, 2012
Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism
by Elan Journo | 2009
Our Self-Crippled War
by Elan Journo | September 10, 2009
An Unwinnable War?
by Elan Journo | Fall 2009
The Road to 9/11: How America's Selfless Policies Unleashed the Jihadists
by Elan Journo | September 10, 2007
The Real Disgrace: Washington’s Battlefield “Ethics”
by Elan Journo | July 28, 2007
Neoconservative Foreign Policy: An Autopsy
by Yaron Brook | Summer 2007
The “Forward Strategy” for Failure
by Yaron Brook | Spring 2007
What Real War Looks Like
by Elan Journo | December 07, 2006
Democracy vs. Victory: Why The “Forward Strategy of Freedom” Had to Fail
by Yaron Brook | September 12, 2006
Washington’s Failed War in Afghanistan
by Elan Journo | June 08, 2006
“Just War Theory” vs. American Self-Defense
by Yaron Brook | Spring 2006
The Foreign Policy of Guilt
by Onkar Ghate | September 29, 2005
Neoconservatives vs. America: A Critique of U.S. Foreign Policy since 9/11
by Yaron Brook | September 15, 2005
The Failure of the Homeland Defense: The Lessons from History
by John David Lewis | March 23, 2005
America’s Compassion in Iraq Is Self-Destructive
by Elan Journo | January 12, 2005
Morality of War
by Yaron Brook | September 09, 2004
The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America
by Peter Schwartz | May 2004
Don’t Blame Our Intelligence Agencies — Blame Our Unprincipled Foreign Policy
by Onkar Ghate | April 02, 2004
Diverting the Blame for 9/11
by Onkar Ghate | March 31, 2004
America vs. Americans
by Leonard Peikoff | April 21, 2003
America Is Not Winning the War
by Onkar Ghate | August 29, 2002
Innocents in War?
by Onkar Ghate | January 18, 2002
War, Nuclear Weapons and “Innocents”
by Onkar Ghate | September 28, 2001
The Wreckage of the Consensus
by Ayn Rand | April 16, 1967


Foreign Policy in Voice for Reason
Foreign PolicySelf Defense & Free Trade

America Is Not Winning the War

by Onkar Ghate | August 29, 2002

As we pause on September 11 to remember the stockbrokers, policemen, firefighters and many other fallen Americans, it is vital also to reflect on the progress of the war. For it was precisely to prevent future September 11ths that America responded with force. How goes the war?

Tragically, not well.

To wage a war in self-defense you must know who your enemy is. But our enemy remains unidentified and, therefore, untargeted. Ours is a war against “terrorism” — a form of violence, not an ideological opponent intent on killing us. Our enemies, however, are dedicated to a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, which extols faith, mindless obedience, sacrifice to state and God, primitivism, theocracy. This is why they are at war with the “Great Satan,” America, the foremost embodiment of the opposite values: reason, individualism, the selfish pursuit of happiness, secularism, capitalism. Bin Laden understands this: “Hostility toward America,” he declares, “is a religious duty.” But our politicians, schooled in pragmatism and range-of-the-moment non-thinking, cannot conceive of an ideologically motivated conflict. An individual terrorist brandishing a bomb, like bin Laden, may still be real to them, but the movement for which he fights, Islamic fundamentalism, is not. Thus, we try to kill a few terrorists — but leave untouched the main militant Islamic states breeding the terrorists. We have no long-term plan to achieve victory in the war because we cannot identify the enemy that must be incapacitated. Ask yourself: Would America have been victorious in WWII if our goal had been to destroy “kamikaze-ism,” not Japanese totalitarianism?

Worse, to the extent that our policy makers glimpse the mystical ideology operative in the Middle East, they consider it a positive force. As pragmatists, they are intellectually blind to the historical evidence of centuries of religious wars and are led, instead, by their own religious feelings. They can grasp no connection between faith taken seriously as the ruling principle of every aspect of man’s life — and the attempt to physically force such dogma on nonbelievers. The terrorists, on this approach, are inexplicable aberrations, deluded interpreters of true faith, who, mysteriously, try to spread their mystical doctrines by appeal not to a rational argument but to a gun. We therefore treat as allies such enemies of reason as Saudi Arabia, which spawns Islamic fundamentalists and finances their suicide bombers, and Pakistan, which trained the Taliban and punishes blasphemy with death. Our government even courts Iran, the spearhead of militant Islamic fundamentalism, and works with Iranian officials to foster “religious values” at U.N. conferences.

Predictably, the administration’s actions, guided as they are not by reason but by emotion (including emotions of outrage), are chaotic and contradictory. No one knows what — if anything — America will do next in the war because we ourselves don’t know what we’ll do or why. Bush pays lip service to the correct idea that you are either for America’s ideals or against them, but undermines our strongest ally in the war, Israel. He even promises the Palestinians a provisional state, thereby teaching every would-be killer that to the terrorist go the spoils. In typically empty rhetoric Bush declares that there is an axis of evil in the world, but allows Syria to head the U.N. Security Council and pursues dialogue with axis-of-evil-members North Korea and Iran — all terrorist states according to his own government.

Without actual principles, where will such a mentality turn for moral guidance? The answer is: to others and their moral views. So Bush — programmed by feelings formed from millennia of assertions that it is evil to uphold one’s own interests, that the strong must sacrifice to the weak, that the meek shall inherit the earth — undercuts any genuine action taken in America’s self-defense. In Afghanistan, for instance, morally unsure of his right to safeguard American lives, Bush feared world disapproval over civilian casualties. He would neither commit the number of American ground troops required to capture the enemy nor authorize the kind of massive bombing necessary to kill the enemy before it fled. The result: hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda escaped to plot further American destruction. In the Middle East, uncertain of America’s right unilaterally to defend its interests, the administration obsesses with “coalition-building” (which includes shunning Israel and courting Saudi Arabia) and refuses to proclaim the superiority of America’s ideals over those of medieval barbarism.

Lacking the moral conviction to uphold its values abroad, America increasingly and self-destructively turns inward, shifting its focus to such relatively trivial questions as whether airline pilots should be armed or government bureaucracies reshuffled. Because of our inaction on foreign soil, we resign ourselves to more terrorist attacks like that of September 11.

How then goes the war? An objective answer must be: badly. But our cause is not yet lost. We lack not the wealth nor the skilled military necessary to defeat the enemy, only the ideas and the will. If we articulate and practice a rational foreign policy, one actually premised on America’s self-interest, we will prevail. Nothing more is needed to achieve victory than to replace the pragmatism and self-sacrifice now dictating America’s actions with the principles of reason and rational self-interest; nothing less will do.

About The Author

Onkar Ghate

Chief Philosophy Officer and Senior Fellow, Ayn Rand Institute