Has anyone noticed the difference in the way America's two wars are approached?
When the subject is Iraq, the U.S. government is proactive, articulate and specific. But when it comes to militant Islam, officialdom is reactive, awkward and vague.
Take the issue of preventive security. To stop Iraqi sabotage and terrorism, The New York Times recently reported, Washington tracks thousands of Iraqi citizens and Iraqi-Americans who might pose a domestic risk. It even has plans in place to arrest Saddam Hussein's sympathizers suspected of planning terrorist operations.
No comparable program exists in the war against militant Islam. (I define militant Islam as not Islam, not terrorism, but a terroristic reading of Islam). Fearful of being accused of "profiling," law enforcement treads super gingerly around those who back this totalitarian ideology. Thus, the airline security system randomly harasses passengers instead of looking for travelers known to sympathize with the likes of Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama bin Laden. Immigration officials focus on superficial characteristics (nationality, criminal record) and ignore what is truly relevant (ideology).
The White House would not consider inviting apologists praising life in Iraq to festive functions. But it welcomed many of militant Islam's sympathizers at a Ramadan dinner hosted by the president earlier this month.
Or consider this: When did you last hear praise for Saddam's regime on an American television talk show? It does not happen. But media outlets routinely offer a platform to those promoting militant Islam.
If "war on Iraq" is easy to say, "war on militant Islam" is not. Instead, the Bush administration adopted the euphemistic "War on Terror."
Why the readiness to confront Iraq head-on but reluctance to do so when it concerns militant Islam?
Because militant Islam benefits from two factors - political correctness and lobbying - that Saddam lacks. Iraq is a country ruled by an obviously evil megalomaniac. Militant Islam is an ideology grounded in a major religion. Saddam has few supporters in the United States; the Islamist vision has many convincing spokesmen.
Although everyone knows the enemy is motivated in something having to do with Islam, the United States and other governments refuse to say this out loud. Instead, they repeat pleasant statements disassociating the religion of Islam from violence.
Here is President Bush on the subject some days ago: "Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others." Fine, but that completely avoids the tough issues facing his administration.
Not acknowledging militant Islam impedes the war effort in several ways:
- Understanding the enemy's motives: A virtual taboo exists in official circles about Islam's role in the violence; in the words of one senior State Department official, this subject "has to be tiptoed around." As a result, the violence is treated as though it comes out of nowhere, the work of (in Bush's description) "a bunch of cold-blooded killers."
- Defining war goals: The U.S. government's stated objectives in the war are operationally vague - Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once described them as preventing terrorists "from adversely affecting our way of life." Only by naming militant Islam as the enemy is it possible to see the goal of defeating and marginalizing this ideology (along the lines of what was done to fascism and communism in World War II and in the Cold War).
- Defining the enemy: Right now, it's just "terrorists," "evildoers," "a dangerous group of people" and other non-specific monikers. Naming militant Islam as the enemy reveals that the problem goes beyond terrorists to include those who in non-violent ways forward the totalitarian agenda - this includes its funders, preachers, apologists and lobbyists.
- Defining the allies: Allies are currently restricted to those who help prevent terrorism. Naming militant Islam clarifies the ideological dimension and points to the crucial role of Muslims who reject this radical utopian ideology. They can both help argue against it and then offer an alternate to it.
A war cannot be won without identifying the enemy. If the U.S. government intends to prevail in the current conflict, it must start talking about the war against militant Islam. This will then make it possible for others - the media, Hollywood, even academics - to do likewise. At that point, both war efforts will be on the right footing.