March 6, 2006
Fighting the Ideological War

By Jed Babbin

We aren’t fighting a war against terrorists to win the hearts and minds of the Middle East. We are fighting it to end the threat of terrorism. Victory can’t be achieved with bullets and bombs alone. This is, at its core, an ideological war. Just as we defeated communism by defeating the communists’ ideology, we need to attack and destroy that of the radical Islamists.

To do that, we first have to understand that radical Islam – the Islam of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Usama bin Laden and the rest – isn’t a religion. It is an ideology that cobbles totalitarianism together with a messianic vision of religious nationalism. Radical Islam (unlike the actual religion) tolerates no other religion, and demands that its adherents give up the basic human freedoms enshrined in our Bill of Rights. No freedom of speech, no free press, no fair trials by a jury of your peers, only enslavement. Like the Nazis, the radical Islamists play on the sense of persecution and cultural inferiority that many people in underdeveloped nations have because they are truly oppressed. And, like the Nazis, the Islamists have convinced their followers that the problems of their world are the fault of others. The Islamists blame every ill of their world on America, the West, the Jews and Israel. Like the Soviets, the Islamists believe that their enslavement of the world is inevitable (though, unlike the Soviets, they believe it is God’s will that they must succeed). Its adherents, like the Nazis and the Communists before them, believe their victory is both inevitable and irreversible. That is a powerful ideology which we have yet to engage with the necessary weapons.

We fought the Soviet ideology from 1946 to 1989. In those years, we rode our own ideological roller coaster. For many Americans – and many more Europeans, Africans and others around the world – the only weapon in that ideological battle was self-criticism. They were willing to confuse healthy criticism of our own system of government with praise for the Soviet counterparts. They were even willing to deny the horrific repressions, mass murder and subjugation by force of other peoples.

The Soviet ideology was defeated, and the Cold War won, by the Soviets’ self-imposed poverty, our military buildup, and by the fact that we proved to the world – by objective comparison – that their enslavement of people was inferior to our freedoms. It was neither fashionable nor even polite conversation to say, as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher did relentlessly, that our system of freedom was objectively superior to Soviet oppression. That constant ideological pounding, coupled with the physical courage and intellectual mastery of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Lech Walesa, won the ideological battle of the Cold War. We have to do the same in this war, and in much the same way.

Our military – comprised of many of the best people our country has ever produced – is winning every fight it enters. But it can’t win the war alone. Our politicians have to do that by fighting the ideological war. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Peter Pace, understands this better than any of our pols. In his “guidance” to the Joint Staff, published right after he took the job, Pace said that, “Our enemies are violent extremists who would deny us, and all mankind, the freedom to choose our own destiny. Finding this distributed, loosely networked enemy is the greatest challenge we face. We must find and defeat them in an environment where information, perception, and how and what we communicate are every bit as critical as the application of traditional kinetic effects.” So how do we do it?

President Bush needs to lead us in the ideological fight just as Ronald Reagan did in the Cold War. We need to hear from him – and the rest of our leaders – the kind of blunt comparisons we heard from Reagan. Radical Islam enslaves people. It robs them of the inalienable rights endowed by their creator that our Declaration of Independence described, and our Constitution protects. Our society is as prosperous as any in the world, and that is a direct result of the freedoms we enjoy. Radical Islam condemns its adherents and its slaves to poverty and suffering. And the nations that support it are our enemies.

We have the ability to tell right from wrong and good from evil and there is no need for us to apologize for that. Nor should we twist our relations with other countries to suit some false moral equivalence. Those who say, for example, that if India or Israel can have nuclear weapons why shouldn’t Iran are guilty of illogic. It is permissible for us, and the rest of the free world, to say that some countries are evil and others are not, and to condition our relations with them all on the basis of our own judgment. To deliver that judgment, and act upon it, is the job of the president.

In time of war, the President of the United States has to be the boldest spokesman for freedom in the world. President Bush needs to be fighting this ideological battle with all the energy and relentlessness of a Marine sergeant assaulting a bunch of terrorists holed up in a cave. In the Cold War, Ronald Reagan stood fast, and spoke clearly without fear of offending the enemy because he knew that a war between ideologies cannot be fought with soft words and euphemisms. What was true for the Cold War is no less true today. It’s not enough to say that we fight tyranny. It is essential to say that we fight for what is right, and what is by any measure better than the enemy will ever deliver to even its most loyal followers.

Mr. Babbin is a former Deputy UnderSecretary of Defense (Bush 41) and now Contributing Editor of FamilySecurityMatters.

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