- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

President Bush asserts forcefully that the United States will prevail in the war against radical Islamists. He may be right. We pray he is right. However, it is also important to understand the strength of the forces arrayed against us.

There are at least five reasons why we may lose the war against radical Islam — which is in fact, a war for the Free World as we know it.

• First, the extraordinary advances in military technology we command are not necessarily advantages in an insurgency struggle. Suicide bombers, car, truck and airplane bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are simply more effective in guerrilla warfare than F16s. Their lethality, as they have been used by radical Islamists, is unprecedented. It is also increasingly likely the radicals will be able to procure and employ nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made a heroic effort at developing advanced weaponry that would be more effective against terrorists. Even so, by far the predominance of defense procurement dollars go for weapons that are, effectively, irrelevant to the war on terror.

The enemy has proven adept in using microprocessors in various terror devices. Similarly, jihadists use modern communications more effectively in Europe, the Middle East and even the United States than their American media counterparts who are inclined to criticize Bush-Rumsfeld policies or give equal time to opposition voices.

• Second, the United States is far more vulnerable to asymmetric warfare than are our enemies. We have rich targets all over the world, while our foes are shadowy and without a national fingerprint. If we are to be effectively counter asymmetric threats, we must strike at the sources of Islamic radicalism before they can be mobilized against us. The problem is that pre-emption is invariably criticized as provocation — despite the fact anticipatory self-defense is a well-recognized international precedent.

• Third, the enemy has more discretionary funding than we do. With the price of oil somewhere between $60 to $75 a barrel, funds are readily available for propaganda and recruitment in madrassas and mosques around the world. Huge sums are transferred to radical groups such as Hezbollah, which funnels funds into local charities to establish political influence. Virtually unlimited resources are available to buy and make bombs and IEDs, and compensate the families of potential martyrs.

• Fourth, radical Islam has instilled fear in the West and among moderate Muslims, which is manifested in the effort at appeasement. Mozart’s “Ideomeneo” was canceled by German music authorities for fear of reprisals since the play shows a bust of Prophet Muhammad. Theo Van Gogh got his throat cut for producing a controversial film about Islamic culture — but there was little outcry in the Netherlands. British leaders meet regularly with Islamic leaders in an effort to control anti-Western sentiment, though the July 7, 2005 bomb attacks were organized by home-grown Muslims and anti-British diatribes can be heard in mosques across the country.

And European leaders invariably attribute Muslim-initiated violence to poor housing conditions or income disparity rather than hatred directed against non-Muslims and promoted by radical imams.

• Fifth, arguably the most significant point, is that Islamists are united, notwithstanding the well-publicized differences between Sunnis and Shi’ites. Islamists believe the West has been weakened by cultural degradation. They also believe their goal of caliphates from Madrid to Jakarta is an inevitability. By contrast, the United States itself and its allies are divided on strategy and on the marshaling of resources to fight the enemy. The U.S. electorate wishes this war would go away. By contrast, the persistence and virulence of the Sunni Ba’athists reflects their efforts to regain punitive dominance. This needs to be understood in the context of the great wealth and power at stake. The Saddamists had a very good thing going when they controlled all the oil in Kurdish and Shia territories. To them, jihad is a desperate attempt to reassert their dominance, though they represent only about 20 percent of Iraq’s population. Thus they will keep fighting until they come to believe they cannot win. Only then will their interests lie in accommodation. Winning is essential to radical Islamists.

For most Europeans and about half of Americans, there is denial that we are in anything like an existential conflict. In an existential conflict, losing can be very costly. Benjamin Franklin famously said the American Revolutionaries had to hang together lest they hang separately. Hanging was not an abstraction to Franklin. He, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington and many other patriots would, likely, have been hanged if the Revolution had not succeeded.

Hanging together should not be an abstraction to Americans today. The onslaught of media and political criticism of the Bush war effort makes it obvious to our adversaries that we are not hanging together. In this environment, they expect to defeat us eventually, just as we were defeated in suffered a loss in Vietnam. Only this time we have no safe haven for retreat.

Our institutions are used against us in this war. Islamists hide behind the Constitution as they promote anti-American diatribes in many of their mosques. Our civil libertarians are eager to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and the pledge is not allowed in many schools. Left wing university professors decry every aspect of U.S. foreign policy and much of American culture. These conditions undermine national purpose and a patriotic sense that our values are worth fighting for.

In any war, decisions must be made on when, where and how to fight. If the enemy is allowed to choose the battlefield, he is awarded a significant advantage. If winning is critical, these advantages cannot be given away lightly. If the enemy has those advantages, greater sacrifice is required —in blood, treasure and priorities.

In this war, jihadists claim they want to destroy us. Many Americans maintain the threat is exaggerated. As a result, this war is regarded by many Americans as a police action requiring arrests and indictments, not serious efforts to root out the radical Islamists before they can strike us again.

Our allies and many Americans think appeasement of Islamists is a workable stratagem, oblivious to the lessons of Munich circa 1936. They say the jihadist attacks in Beirut, London, Madrid and Bali are morally equivalent to our effort to displace Saddam Hussein and liberate the people of Iraq. People who believe our actions in the war on terror are morally equivalent to Islamic terror apparently lack an understanding of our history and our governmental institutions. It is as though the attacks of September 11, 2001 were a distant memory and the persistent threats fabrications of television programming.

Throughout their history, Americans have demonstrated they have the moral strength to oppose and ultimately defeat totalitarian challenges on the world stage. Yet never before has the United States faced an enemy, with effectively unlimited resources, that is motivated by religious fanaticism, nihilistic impulses and implacable imperialistic goals with the proven ability to strike us in our homeland.

Moreover, the United States of 2006 is not the United States of 1941. The nation is divided politically and culturally. A military culture that still exhibits heroism and bravery is excoriated by liberal elites. A president who responds to attack and threats is criticized as a warmonger. And the media organs are far more interested in perceived internal threats to civil liberties than in mobilizing arguments against radical Islam.

We still hope Americans will rouse themselves from extended slumber. The sooner we face this challenge and deal with it directly, the lower the ultimate cost will be in blood and impoverishment. If we remain immersed in complacency, it is conceivable we will lose and we and the rest of the world will be transported to seventh-century barbarism.

Losing does not mean transporting troops back to the United States as in the Vietnam War. Losing means attacks on our homeland and on Europe will increase and we will be even more vulnerable in our space than we now are.

It is critically important to understand that this “war” is a war for Western civilization. Iraq is only the immediate venue, and terror is the technique the jihadists have chosen to wage this war. Losing means we will be seen as impotent and most probably without allies. Losing also means non-Muslim nations will become targets of intimidation.

Most significantly, losing means we will have defeated ourselves by refusing to recognize the enemy, his purpose and his serious advantages that put the outcome of this struggle in doubt.

Bernard Lewis has said, “Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us.” With more effective weapons than we have, more discretionary money, more advantages in asymmetric warfare, the power and will to strike fear in the hearts of those who do not comply and a seriously divided Free World, radical Islamists pose perhaps the most serious threat our civilization has known.

It is a long, hard slog to maintain liberty and freedom. It has been that way since 1776. We owe a debt to those who have carried the struggle for liberty and an obligation to ourselves and our posterity to carry it on again.

Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute and Linden Blue is the director of the Institute.


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