By Joseph Loconte, Ph.D
"With a decade of experience to draw from, now is the time to ask ourselves hard questions -- about the nature of today's threats, and how we should confront them," explained President Obama in the first major foreign policy speech of his second term in office. "A perpetual war ... will prove self-defeating and alter our country in troubling ways."
With those words, Mr. Obama effectively announced the end of America's "war on terrorism" -- a return to the strategic posture of the United States before the attacks of 9/11. The president is surely right to worry about the effects of war on American democracy. In the throes of the Cold War, a commander-in-chief as hawkish as Dwight Eisenhower warned of the distorting effects of the "military-industrial complex."
Yet, if Mr. Obama truly intended to educate the American people about the nature of the terrorist threat facing the United States, he would have mentioned some unpleasant facts.
For starters, he would have turned our attention to the streets of London. The day before the president spoke, a pair of young men armed with butcher knives and a meat cleaver hacked a British soldier to death, attempting to decapitate him. Quoting from the Quran, they remained at the scene to flaunt their horrific handiwork. "We swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone," one of the attackers told an onlooker. "Your people will never be safe."
Here, for the entire world to see, is the remorseless malevolence that threatens not only the United States or Great Britain, but civilization itself. Here is an ancient barbarism, rooted in an extremist form of Islam, which demands complete submission to its perverted will.
In his speech last week at the National Defence University, Mr. Obama made no mention of the attack in London. His State Department declined to even describe the assault as an act of terrorism. Despite "a decade of experience to draw from," the president continues to dissemble about the religious source of this threat. Indeed, he can hardly bring himself to name it.
Instead, Mr. Obama referred to "extremists," "violent extremism," "radicalized individuals" and "deranged or alienated individuals" as the culprits fomenting international terrorism. He admitted that "some extremists" believe Islam is in conflict with the West, but he failed to explain their theological inspiration, the ideology of Islamist jihad.
Under this vision, the "House of Islam" exists in a state of war against all those who reject the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad. Their war must continue until Islam has "liberated" the entire world from darkness. Nevertheless, Mr. Obama likened these true believers to "the extremists who killed 168 people at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City." Yes, we are asked to believe that right-wing, anti-government militants pose as serious a domestic problem as home-grown jihadists.
This liberal narrative fits a doleful pattern of self-delusion. It was apparent in Mr. Obama's much-lauded 2009 speech in Cairo, addressed to Muslims worldwide, where he repeatedly ignored the Islamist character of modern terrorism -- especially its anti-Christian and anti-Semitic rage: "Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace."
The many Muslims around the globe who embrace pluralism, universal human rights and liberal democracy are welcome allies in advancing the cause of peace. But "with a decade of experience to draw from," it is categorically clear that political Islam -- at least as it is preached and practiced in the Middle East and elsewhere -- lies near the heart of the terrorist threat. After all, its adherents borrow Islamic imagery, quote from Islam's sacred books, invoke an Islamic past and proclaim a beatific Islamic future: a transnational religious dictatorship, governed by the Quran.
Hence their culture of violence and victimhood, for it is the West that blocks their utopian dreams. Bernard Lewis, the renowned scholar of Islam, summarized it thus: "If the peoples of the Middle East continue on their present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region, and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate."
Brushing aside these realities, Mr. Obama codified his secular storyline in the 2010 National Security Strategy. Phrases deemed offensive to Muslims -- such as "Islamist terrorism," "radical Islam" or "Islamic jihadists" -- do not appear anywhere in the text. Instead, the reader is informed of "the dangers of violent extremism," but those dangers are not placed in any larger ideological context. Thus the document concludes: "Terrorism is one of many threats that are more consequential in a global age."
That's right: Terrorism -- a tactic, not the political theology behind it -- is simply one of many dangers. It is no more fearsome, we are told, than America's dependence on fossil fuels, the threat of natural disasters, climate change, or the existence of "global criminal networks." Apparently the Italian mafia is as worrisome as al Qaeda and its affiliates.
It is worth recalling that the widely praised, bi-partisan 9/11 Commission Report rejected these equivocations as dangerously misleading:
"But the enemy is not just 'terrorism,' some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism -- especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology ... [The] Islamist terrorists mean exactly what they say: to them America is the font of all evil, the 'head of the snake,' and it must be converted or destroyed."
Conversion to Islam or annihilation -- those are the stated objectives of the enemies of America and the West. It was this realisation that put the United States on a war footing against the forces of radical Islam in the days after 9/11.
President Obama now believes -- without offering much evidence -- that the United States no longer faces a "catastrophic threat" from Islamist extremism. Perhaps this helps explain the failure of his administration to adequately protect U.S. citizens in Benghazi, Libya, a stronghold of jihadist militants. It surely informs his decision, also announced last week, to significantly reduce the use of drones to seek out and kill al Qaeda operatives. "And before any strike is taken," he said, "there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured -- the highest standard we can set."
If all of this constitutes the Obama Doctrine, it creates a standard for military action which no nation has ever adopted. It is, in truth, an impossible standard --one that will play into the hands of the extremists, who have no qualms of conscience about using civilians as human shields.
Here, then, are some "hard questions" for Mr. Obama and his administration:
• How will America's reversion to a pre-9/11 mindset make our security and intelligence agencies more vigilant to prevent terrorist plots against U.S. citizens?
• How can the United States "win hearts and minds" in the struggle against terrorism without honestly confronting the Islamic roots of its ideology, which continue to captivate and enslave so many minds?
• How will America's new posture toward terrorism be interpreted by our enemies, who remain determined to acquire the most destructive weapons possible in their war against us?
If history is any guide, the forces of barbarism are surely watching and taking the measure of our democratic leadership.
Recall that in the 1930s, the democracies of Europe -- not to mention the United States -- looked supine in the face of Nazi aggression. A British parliamentarian, almost alone and excluded from government, nonetheless saw with utmost clarity the moral and spiritual threat of fascism to civilization and urged his nation to marshal every resource to resist it. As he told the House of Commons in 1936: "I ask all who are concerned with peace to rise to the level of events, and to trifle no more on the edge of the abyss, but to embrace the sacrifices and discipline of mind and body which the cause requires."
Thus, in 1939 in Berlin, when Nazi leader Hermann Göring learned that Winston Churchill had returned from political exile to become First Lord of the Admiralty of Great Britain, he grew sombre. Slumping heavily into his chair, Göring muttered: "Churchill in the Cabinet. That means war is really on. Now we shall have war with England."
President Obama appears ready to declare an end to America's war on radical Islam. Yet the jihadists -- who view the beheading of infidels as an act of worship -- remain at war with us. In time, we will learn whether the Obama Doctrine puts the United States, and her allies, on the winning side of this epic conflict.
Joseph Loconte, an associate professor of history at the King's College in New York City, is the author of 'The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt.'