For almost two generations, since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, self-proclaimed jihadis have been fighting to re-establish Islamic supremacy and domination in the world. Leaders of the nations they have been targeting have regarded them as a problem — but mostly not as dangerous enemies who must be decisively defeated. And so their numbers have grown and their ability to project power has increased.
The Islamic State, an al Qaeda splinter that arose after America’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, was quick to take responsibility for last week’s carnage in Paris. This follows by less than a year its attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a French Jewish supermarket. Also attributed to the Islamic State: a double suicide-bombing in Beirut on Thursday and, in October, a bombing in Ankara and the blowing up of a Russian passenger jet.
The Islamic State’s rival is the Islamic Republic of Iran, which prefers to pretend it was not behind such attacks as those in Beirut in 1983, Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994, Berlin in 1992, and Burgas, Bulgaria, in 2012; not to mention the failed plots to bomb New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2007 and a restaurant in Washington, D.C., in 2011.
Also alive and well and lethal: Nigeria-based Boko Haram, Somalia-based al Shabaab, Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. I could go on.
As the blood ran red in Parisian streets, President Obama responded with expressions of sympathy and support for the victims. He should not be faulted for that. Nor should he be expected, at such moments, to say anything incisive or insightful. What is disappointing — though no longer surprising — is how reflexively he distorts reality to conform to his unwavering preconceptions. The attack in Paris, he insisted, was directed against “all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”
By now it should be fairly obvious that the terrorists are targeting only specific subsets of humanity: e.g., Christians, Jews, secularists and other “infidels,” along with any Muslims who refuse to embrace their medieval reading of Islam. And self-evidently, the jihadis and those cheering for them do not share Mr. Obama’s values, which means, by definition, those values are not “universal.”
Time and again, the jihadis have demonstrated that they have other values and that they are willing — indeed, eager — to both kill and die for them. Ignoring that, Western leaders have prattled on about “countering violent extremism” through jobs programs and foreign aid. They have maintained that “there is no military solution” and that we can rely on diplomats to effectuate “conflict resolution” employing “soft power” and “smart power.” Mr. Obama has reassured us: “The tide of war is receding.”
Will Nov. 13, 2015 prove to be a wake-up call? French President Francois Hollande said: “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless.” On Sunday, French planes bombed Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State.
The jihadis, however, are confident that France doesn’t have the stomach for a long war — what the bumper stickers call an “endless war.” They view not just France but also the European Union and NATO as spent forces — weak and war-weary, weighted down by the ever-burgeoning demands of the welfare state. I’m afraid they have a point.
Ironically and inconveniently, the Paris attacks took place just hours after President Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that, thanks to his policies, the Islamic State had been “contained.” He elaborated: “They have not gained ground in Iraq and in Syria.” That must seem cold comfort to the people of Paris’s 10th, 11th and 18th arrondissements.
Over the weekend, the Islamic State issued “A Statement on the Blessed Onslaught in Paris against the Crusader Nation of France.” The “believers” who carried out the attack, it says, regarded Paris as “the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe.” The goal of the young warriors, it added, was “to be killed for Allah’s sake, doing so in support of His religion, His Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), and His allies.”
When our enemies are more honest about who they are and what motivates them than most of our political leaders, academics and journalists, we have a problem. Who is prepared to begin fixing it?
Among those vying to succeed Mr. Obama is there anyone who strikes you as having the courage and the leadership skills necessary to facilitate what Churchill, at a moment when the Third Reich seemed unstoppable, called “a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor”? (Would most Americans today even understand that phrase?)
The next commander in chief must resume leadership of the Free World (another phrase that, sadly, has come to sound archaic) and develop a comprehensive strategy to defeat jihadism in all its forms — Sunni and Shia alike.
Such a strategy will need to include a muscular military component. That necessitates rebuilding, rather than continuing to diminish, the armed forces of both America and Europe. Immigration reform is urgent — with national security as the top priority, not an afterthought. Nations willing to fight jihadi forces require much more support from Washington than they’ve been receiving over recent years. A war of ideas — a war against jihadism and Islamic supremacism — is long overdue. Such endangered Western values as freedom and tolerance must be defended. Currently, that’s not even happening on American campuses.
If you can identify such a candidate, he (or she) deserves your vote. The alternative is to forget Paris and let this cancer metastasize for another generation or two. By then, however, our children and grandchildren will be living in a very different world from the one our parents bequeathed to us.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.