September 6, 2006 | National Review Online

Saying What Needs To Be Said

That's the guy I voted for.

President Bush's speech yesterday was simply stellar. Would that he gave it every day.

He didn't back down to pressure from Muslim interest groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The president clearly and repeatedly named names. Our enemy, he declared, is “violent Islamic radicalism,” which comes in both Sunni and Shiite “strains.” Gone was any suggestion that they are deranged or disconnected from a coherent belief system:

    The terrorists who attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, are men without conscience — but they're not madmen. They kill in the name of a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs that are evil, but not insane. These al Qaeda terrorists and those who share their ideology are violent Sunni extremists. [The president later added that the Iranian regime and its proxy, Hezbollah, were “Shia extremists.] … They hope to establish a violent political utopia across the Middle East, which they call a “Caliphate” — where all would be ruled according to their hateful ideology…. This caliphate would be a totalitarian Islamic empire encompassing all current and former Muslim lands[.]… In pursuit of their imperial aims, these extremists say there can be no compromise or dialogue with those they call “infidels” — a category that includes America, the world's free nations, Jews, and all Muslims who reject their extreme vision of Islam.

He urged Americans to listen to our enemies and take them seriously, imploring us not to repeat the historic blunders of failing to listen to Lenin and Hitler before it was too late. We must listen to bin Laden's lieutenant, Ayman Zawahiri, when he declares that al Qaeda intends to impose its rule in “every land that was a home for Islam, from [Spain] to Iraq…. The whole world is an open field for us.” We must listen to Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, when he admonishes: “Let the entire world hear me. Our hostility to the Great Satan [America] is absolute… Regardless of how the world has changed after 11 September, Death to America will remain our reverberating and powerful slogan: Death to America.” We must listen to the mullahs' bullhorn, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when he warns that the “goal” of a “world without the United States and Zionism can be achieved”; when he adds that America's “doomed destiny will be annihilation”; and when he dares to threaten that our citizens must “bow down before the greatness of the Iranian nation and surrender[,]” or else “the Iranian nation will… force you to surrender and bow down.”

In his clarion call, the president insisted that Americans grasp the stakes of Iraq, now the heart of the greater war. Because the enemy sure does. Al Qaeda, he pointed out, has

    made clear that the most important front in their struggle against America is Iraq — the nation bin Laden has declared the “capital of the Caliphate.” Hear the words of bin Laden: “I now address… the whole… Islamic nation: Listen and understand… The most… serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War… [that] is raging in [Iraq].” He calls it “a war of destiny between infidelity and Islam.” He says, “The whole world is watching this war,” and that it will end in “victory and glory or misery and humiliation.” For al Qaeda, Iraq is not a distraction from their war on America — it is the central battlefield where the outcome of this struggle will be decided. [Emphasis added.]

This is the challenge for every “phased withdrawal” proponent of cut-and-run. And they should be made to answer it — every last one of them.

Many patriotic Americans opposed the invasion of Iraq. More still are angry over missteps and misplaced priorities in the occupation. And, yes, few outside the administration are sold on Nouri al-Maliki, the Iran-friendly Hezbollah-phile who is prime minister of the new Iraq — where Islamic law is enshrined in the constitution, and where the cleric over whom the administration oddly gushes, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is a pillar of the very intolerance that animates the radicals.

But all of that is secondary now.

“The war.” Bin Laden has concluded, “is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever.”

He's right. We are there. They are there. And we have to win. Period. As the president bluntly put it, defeat would mean our enemies

    will have an open field to pursue their dangerous goals. Each strain of violent Islamic radicalism would be emboldened in their efforts to topple moderate governments and establish terrorist safe havens. Imagine a world in which they were able to control governments, a world awash with oil and they would use oil resources to punish industrialized nations. And they would use those resources to fuel their radical agenda, and pursue and purchase weapons of mass murder. And armed with nuclear weapons, they would blackmail the free world, and spread their ideologies of hate, and raise a mortal threat to the American people. If we allow them to do this, if we retreat from Iraq, if we don't uphold our duty to support those who are desirous to live in liberty, 50 years from now history will look back on our time with unforgiving clarity, and demand to know why we did not act.

That outcome is not acceptable. The nation owes its commitment to victory in Iraq. And the administration, mutually, owes its best effort to win. To make our first, unshakable priority the crushing of al Qaeda and the Shiite militias, and the influence of Iran — regardless of how uncomfortable that makes Maliki and Sistani. On that score, the president sensibly adhered to democracy-promotion in the region as a long-term goal, but he subordinated it to more immediate imperatives.

P.C. Creeps IN
To be sure, there is still reason to be concerned that the administration is underestimating the degree of support our enemies enjoy in Islamic countries — and overestimating how “radical” the radicals really are. Thus, the president insists they are driven by a “perverted vision of Islam that rejects tolerance, crushes all dissent, and justifies the murder of innocent men, women and children in the pursuit of political power.”

I respectfully suggest that he is seeing the Islam he wants to see, not the one that is. Islam is intolerant. Non-Muslims, for example, may not enter Mecca and Medina. That is not bin Laden's idea, or Nasrallah's. It is mainstream Islam (rooted in the Koran's Sura 9:28, among other scriptures). Homosexuals are even now being murdered in Iraq on the authority of a disgusting fatwa from Sistani. In Afghanistan, five years after the United States deposed the Taliban, the government attempted to put a man to death for the “crime” of apostasy — the renunciation of Islam being a capital offense under Muslim law. In Egypt, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, as close an analogy to the papacy as there is in Sunni Islam (translation: very mainstream), instructs that Jews are “enemies of Allah [and] descendants of apes and pigs,” views he expressly attributes to the Koran.

That, like it or not, acknowledge it or not, is normative intolerance. It is a real question whether such a belief system and culture — one which enjoys, at the very least, tens of millions (probably hundreds of millions) of devotees among the world's approximately 1.3 billion Muslims — even desires reform into something we would recognize as democracy, let alone whether it is capable of the transition.

Still, the president continues to pepper his rhetoric with dubious claims that popular elections are indicators of democratic transformation; and there remain other disturbing markers of p.c. slavishness — like the preposterous assertion, set forth in the administration's new “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism” (p.5), that “terrorists distort the idea of jihad into a call for violence and murder against those they regard as apostates or unbelievers, including all those who disagree with them.” (A topic for another day, but that's like saying “four” is a distortion of “two plus two.”) Clearly, the president is navigating a tough course — betting he can peel secular Muslims away from the jihadists, and hoping (perhaps against hope) that there are enough of them to make the effort worthwhile. But all that aside, the president seems to be settling into the view that a necessary precondition for the “spread of freedom” — which he plainly believes to his core will take hold — is the defeat of our enemies.

Victory is an enormous undertaking — even more enormous than the president suggests, especially if, as I believe, the radicals are far less radical than he allows. But it is essential to our security.

The Talk & the Walk
As the president's soaring rhetoric is measured against the administration's recent performance, there are yet other things with which to quibble. The speech, for example, contained a striking internal contradiction. President Bush quite rightly said, “It is foolish to think you can negotiate with” Islamic extremists. Yet later, when he addressed the pursuit of nuclear weapons by an Iranian regime he aptly portrayed as paradigmatically extremist, he stated: “We'll continue to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution.” Though the president maintains that “[t]he world's free nations will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” it's fair to ask: If you can't negotiate with them, how exactly the mullahs are going to be denied by diplomacy?

And, yes, it was welcome to hear the president reaffirm the Bush Doctrine. Not one of the revisionist Democracy Project overlays, but the real Bush Doctrine, which the president succinctly stated as: “America makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror, and those that harbor and support them, because they're equally guilty of murder.” Yet, as the president sounded the alarm about Hezbollah — “the source of the current instability in Lebanon”; “kill[ers of] more Americans than any terrorist organization except al Qaeda”; “directly responsible for the murder of hundreds of Americans abroad”; “behind the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans”; “behind the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans, an attack conducted by terrorists who we believe were working with Iranian officials” — it was impossible not to recall that only a few weeks ago the administration was coddling and praising Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora even as he coddled and praised Hezbollah.

We have a ways to go before our actions match the president's inspiring rhetoric — and it's our actions, not our rhetoric, from which our enemies take their cues.

These concerns aside, however, the president's speech was the one we needed to hear, and the one he needs to live up to. As he stirringly demonstrated, our enemies fully understand what hangs in the balance. For a day, at least, it seemed that we do too.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

 

Read in National Review Online

Issues:

Hezbollah Iran