Churchill wrote and spoke much of World War Two, but one conclusion he reached about that war should be on every American’s mind today: "There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action." None of us is his equal, but we all must try to understand the lessons he taught, and to apply them as well as we can.
Americans are great talkers, but too often we don’t listen very well. And what we do hear, we often mistake because we tend to see our adversaries in the same terms we see ourselves. When some dictator threatens to end our way of life, to destroy our economy or end our influence over his nation we characteristically either ignore him or rationalize his statements in our own context rather than judging them in his. He can’t be evil, can he? He and his people will only act in their enlightened self interest, won’t they? But he can be, and they may not.
A few weeks ago, I heard a presidential aspirant say some very hard words about the CIA. To those of us who spend most of our time thinking of how to make America more secure, his statements were obvious, what we have been saying to each other for years. He said that the CIA is dangerously inept and that the next president won’t be able to rely on it (and really our whole intelligence community) to produce the accurate intelligence necessary to deal with a world at war.
Even if Congress undertook to fix what’s broken in the intelligence world (which would require undoing much of what it has done since 9-11) it would be years before the improvements could take hold. So what is left? We are at war. Like it or not, that war will continue for decades, and the next president will have to make life-or-death decisions based on what he knows. What we are left with are the words of our adversaries.
It’s not easy to hear or read the enemies’ words. The mainstream media are too lazy to report them. It takes money and effort to cover the rantings of Iranian ayatollahs, government-sponsored Saudi clerics and translate them into English. If we don’t delve into translations of the speeches of Hu Jintao and his military commanders, how can we discover that, in 2005, the Deputy Political Commissar of the PLA Air Force said, “…when a nation grows strong enough, it practices hegemony. The sole purpose of power is to pursue even greater power…Geography is destiny…?"
The media are so busy painting Vladimir Putin as a shrewd politician, they don’t report the speeches he gives that reflect his support for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Did you hear or read that on February 7, 2007 Putin — in an interview with Al-Jazeera, when asked about the Iranian nuclear program — said, “We know the position of our Iranian partners.” No, you didn’t.
The purpose of my new book, “In the Words of Our Enemies,” is to help us understand our enemies better. If we take their words seriously — and exert ourselves to understand those words in the context of the enemy’s position in the world — we may be able to avoid future wars or at least position America to win them more quickly at the cost of fewer American lives.
Why, then, can’t we look closely at Iran, and judge it by its leaders’ words? Throughout the Clinton years, we were assured that Iran was being governed by moderates. Now, the public face of Iran is Ahmadinejad. His words — forseeing a world in which both America and Israel have been destroyed — are, we are told, just those of one man, and that the moderates still hold sway. But we almost never hear the words of those who really control Iran, such as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei?
Such as those of January 26, 2005, when he spoke of a great “Islamic awakening” that will shake the world and result in imposition of Islamic rule on the entire world?
"The U.S. and the Western imperialists have finally concluded that Muslim countries and nations, especially those of the Middle East, form the core of this awakening and resistance to their plans for global domination. They foresee that if they fail to control or suppress this Islamic awakening in the next few years with political and economic measures, through propaganda, and as a last resort through military aggression, all their plans for absolute global hegemony and control of the most vital oil and gas resources, which constitute the sole powerhouse of their industrial machinery and [the sole] cause of their material edge over the rest of humanity, will come to nothing.
"If that happens, the big Western and Zionist capitalists, who are the real backstage players in all imperialist governments, will fall from the height of their power and their domination over the nations.
Or the statement he made on the Iranian New Channel on June 4, 2006 that if America, “…make[s] the slightest mistake regarding Iran, the flow of energy in this region will surely be jeopardized seriously…”
We cannot know how many wars can be avoided if we listen to our adversaries, take them at their word and assert our own interests as we are entitled to do. The number of lives saved will be uncounted. To demand answers to those questions is a foolish diversion.
We know the price of not listening. In his book “Mein Kampf”, published in 1924, Adolph Hitler wrote that Germany couldn’t rely on the League of Nations or prayers to the Almighty to regain its “lost territories”, and called on Germans to take up arms. We didn’t listen to bin Laden’s 1996 “fatwa” against America. We indicted him, but didn’t act against him.
We didn’t listen — and act — even after bin Laden’s 1998 “fatwa” in which he said, “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it…in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim," and "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah."
Now, and for the foreseeable future, Americans and our presidents won’t be able to rely on our intelligence agencies to warn of the dangers our enemies pose. We had better listen to our enemies’ words, understand them, and act.