What's missing in Obama's National Security Strategy
Michael Gerson Tuesday wrote about the absurdity of including “affordable health care” and “redeveloping our infrastructure” as part of the new National Security Strategy. Earlier, Jackson Diehl pointed out what is left out of that new strategy -- any meaningful discussion of the need to “combat tyranny or oppression, or promote democracy.”
Jackson’s critique touches on a deeper problem with this administration’s approach to what was once called the war on terror: It does not see this war as an ideological struggle. While there is a passing mention to “extremist ideologies,” the National Security Strategy explicitly states that, in the twenty-first century, “Wars over ideology have given way to wars over religious, ethnic, and tribal identity.” As a result, the administration refuses to even name, much less describe, the ideas that animate our enemies -- or how we intend to defeat them in the battle of ideas.
The National Security Strategy declares, “this is not a global war against a tactic -- terrorism -- or a religion -- Islam. We are at war with a specific network, al-Qaeda, and its terrorist affiliates who support efforts to attack the United States, our allies, and partners.” This is woefully insufficient. In the Bush administration, we struggled with what to call the enemy’s ideology. At one point, we even threw up our hands and went with “all of the above.” Speaking to the National Endowment for Democracy in 2005, President Bush declared: “Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology… exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom.”
Despite internal debates over what to call the enemy’s ideology, Bush made clear the enemy had one -- and was equally clear about how we intended to combat it. To mark the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Bush even dedicated an entire speech to discussing the ideology of the terrorists -- describing “in the terrorists' own words, what they believe, what they hope to accomplish, and how they intend to accomplish it.” He cited speeches by Osama bin Laden and captured enemy documents, explained “the threat posed by different strains of violent Islamic radicalism” and discussed how this informs “the strategy we're pursuing to protect America, by defeating the terrorists on the battlefield, and defeating their hateful ideology in the battle of ideas.”
He understood that America cannot stop the terrorists with Predator strikes alone; we need to defeat their evil vision for the world as well, by advancing an alternative vision -- the one Jackson explains is so woefully lacking in the Obama strategy document -- of democracy, hope, and freedom.
This is what America did in the ideological struggles of the last century. The Obama National Security Strategy correctly states that “When the United States encountered an ideological, economic, and military threat from communism, we shaped our practices and institutions at home -- and policies abroad -- to meet this challenge.” So why not the same in the war on terror? The administration does not say. In the Cold War, we were not simply in a struggle with “Russia” or even the “Soviet Union” -- we were in a struggle with the ideology of “Imperial Communism.” The same was true in World War II. We were not simply in a struggle with “Germany” -- we were in a struggle with the ideology of “Nazi Fascism.”
The same is true of the war on terror. We are not simply in a struggle with “a specific network, al-Qaeda, and its terrorist affiliates who support efforts to attack the United States, our allies, and partners,” as the Obama National Security Strategy declares. We are in a struggle with an evil ideology. Call it “Islamic radicalism,” or “Islamo-fascism,” or “militant jihadism,” or something else entirely. But call it something -- and explain what our strategy is to defeat it.
| June 3, 2010; 2:59 PM ET
Categories: Thiessen | Tags: Marc Thiessen
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