Believing in the War on Terror

Has it ever happened before, in the history of the world, that almost six years into a major conflict, half of the intelligentsia of a nation fighting the war was not convinced that there was even a war on? Such was the implication of a moment during Thursday’s Democratic presidential candidates’ debate. When asked, “Do you believe there is such a thing as a Global War On Terror,” candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, and Christopher Dodd raised their hands. John Edwards, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel kept their hands down.

Edwards explained shortly thereafter: “America needs to use the tools that are available to them so that these people who are sitting on the fence, who terrorists are trying to recruit, the next generation, get pushed to our side, not to the other side. We’ve had no long-term strategy, and we need one, and I will provide one.”

One of those tools would be to identify the enemy properly. Republican candidate Mitt Romney did so when commenting on the Democrats’ debate: “I wish they’d have spent more time as a Democratic field talking about the threat of global jihad, talking about what specifically they would do to prevent the nuclear armament of Iran.”

The global jihad — that is what those who would conquer and subjugate us call their activity. For what we are fighting today is not precisely a “war on terror.” Terror is a tactic, not an opponent. To wage a “war on terror” is like waging a “war on bombs”: it focuses on a tool of the enemy rather than the enemy himself. A refusal to identify the enemy is extremely dangerous, as it leaves those who refuse vulnerable to being blindsided by attacks coming from quarters they did not think could possibly be threatening — as the White House access granted by both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to now-jailed jihadists such as Abdurrahman Alamoudi and Sami Al-Arian abundantly attests.

A forthright acknowledgement that we are facing a renewed jihad would go a long way to preventing that sort of diplomatic and intelligence embarrassment. This is not really as far-fetched as it may seem. Jihad terrorists have declared war on the United States and other non-Muslim nations; all the U.S. and Western European countries need to do is identify the enemy as they have identified themselves.

During the Democratic debate, no one bothered to ask the candidates an even more important question than whether or not they believed in the War on Terror, as if it were a matter of subjective fancy like believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. They should have been asked: “How will you adjust current American foreign and domestic policies, particularly in regard to border control and immigration, in order to defeat the goals, not just the tactics, of our jihadist opponents? What is your position on the monitoring of mosques? And if you believe that all mosques should not be monitored, how do you propose to distinguish without such monitoring between those who may host jihadist speakers and teach the jihad ideology, and those that do not?”

The difference between the statements of Edwards and Romney is not just one of terminology. It goes to the heart of what we are trying to accomplish in the present War On Terror, and how we can best ensure the survival of our nation and our civilization. If the enemy were correctly identified, we could put pressure on our putative allies, such as Egypt and Pakistan, to end jihadist preaching in their schools and mosques or risk losing American aid. This could go a long way toward accomplishing Edwards’ goal of keeping the “people who are sitting on the fence” away from the jihadists.

We can only hope that in future debates, someone will dare ask the candidates, “Do you know what jihad means to those who are waging it against us? Do you know the goals of the global jihad movement? How do you propose to defend us against this global jihad?”

Then we might be getting somewhere.