- - Sunday, July 31, 2016

The president’s “strategy” to defeat ISIS has five major parts: 1) support an international coalition to degrade and destroy it, 2) pursue ISIS leadership and safe havens, 3) secure the homeland, 4) expand humanitarian support and 5) solve diplomatic conflicts that feed terrorism. The list drives much effort, but it’s not a strategy because it fails to attack the political and social objectives that motivate ISIS fighters. Arguing about whether or not it’s a strategy is meaningless because whatever it is, the CIA says it isn’t working.

One reason it’s failing is because the president and Hillary Clinton refuse to identify Islamist terrorists as the nation’s main enemy. Their justification for doing so is that it will be perceived as an attack on Islam. It is a specious argument, disrespectful, disdainful and elitist. Apparently, they believe nobody is smart enough, or fair enough, to distinguish between extremists who slaughter innocents and people who follow their religious beliefs without harming others.

The consequences of this political correctness go well beyond semantics. It undermines trust in the government’s ability to handle the threat, the Department of Justice being its most recent victim. Referring to the Orlando terrorist attack, a New York Sun editorial said: “It’s hard to recall a moment when the American Justice Department has looked so ridiculous as in its censoring transcripts of the 911 calls from the gunman at Orlando. George Orwell couldn’t have made it up.” From “workplace violence,” to “man caused terrorism,” to “violent extremism,” the euphemisms used to obfuscate Muslim involvement in terrorist attacks raise questions of the administration’s competence. To win, we must have faith that our institutions know what they’re doing. That’s hard to do when they’re constantly manipulating the facts.

Political correctness is preventing the emergence of a counterterrorism strategy because it ignores why Muslims are becoming terrorists. Our laws recognize terrorists use unlawful, coercive violence “in furtherance of political or social objectives.” In short, they kill because they believe it furthers their agenda. In ISIS‘ case, the objective is a caliphate based on strict interpretations of Islamic law. It doesn’t matter if the caliphate, or the beliefs of those pursuing it reflect true Islam. What matters is that the terrorists believe they do, and to defeat them, we must attack and discredit the legitimacy of that belief. The president’s answer is to declare by decree that terrorists are not Muslims and therefore we shouldn’t talk about it. Mum’s the word, and ISIS continues to fester, while we listen to happy talk about progress.

This creates paralysis because people, inside and outside government, don’t know how to deal with Muslims, and they fear being accused of bigotry and Islamophobia. Doing nothing or hiding facts becomes the default option. Neighbors of the San Bernardino killers didn’t report the couple’s suspicious activities because they feared being called racists, and government officials, like those in the Justice Department, neuter facts to avoid incurring the president’s wrath for using the words Islamist and terrorist in the same sentence. Washington has forgotten that identifying an enemy specifically also sets limits that protect people who are not the enemy, in this case the vast majority of Muslims.

The fiction that terrorists are not Muslims is one reason why more Muslim leaders haven’t spoken out to condemn the violence, and to discredit the religious beliefs that motivated it. Turkey’s head of religious affairs recently used the president’s logic to counsel American Muslims against condemning terrorists violence because “We all know that all the crimes that are committed against humanity can never find any justification in Islam,” So despite the fact that terrorists call themselves Muslims, and Allahu Akbar is their war cry, many Muslim leaders remain silent, victims of the same political correctness that prevents people from reporting suspicious activities. The illogic of this is furthered by the chant that only Muslims can talk about reforming Islam. Apparently, if there is to be a discussion about whether Islam permits the killing of non-believers, non-believers shouldn’t be allowed to have a seat at the table.

Rather than deny their existence, it would be better to acknowledge that Islamist terrorists believe they are following true Islam, and then discredit their beliefs, and distinguish them from the religion’s peaceful adherents. In short, we should attack their ideological justification, isolate them from other Muslims, and then destroy them piecemeal. It is divide and conquer, a concept as old as conflict itself.

We ought to establish as national policy that Islamist terrorists, and all those who support them, are our enemy. We should treat terrorist violence as a crime against Islam, because it is. We should engage the ideological fight, demonstrate why Islam and terrorism are incompatible, and showcase ISIS‘ inability to create sustainable, prosperous societies. We should encourage an interfaith dialogue about the perversion of religion to justify slaughter, and give the many Muslims who wish to speak out a forum to do so. And we should focus all the elements of national power on supporting Islam and defeating Islamist terrorists.

George Orwell could not make up some of what we are seeing, but concerned by political spin, he wrote in 1946: “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” It is time for the political correctness to stop.

Bruce M. Lawlor, a retired U.S. Army major general, is a former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and chief of staff of the Department of Homeland Security.

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