A commentary from Cumberland Advisors
In the wake of the beheading of Steven Foley and the subsequent admission of Hamas that they kidnapped and murdered the three Israeli teenagers, headlines abound about the risk posed by radical Islam. The Western world has witnessed murder and massacre in this gruesome form.
Reaction worldwide is mixed but is more galvanized in America. The video of American journalist Brigitte Gabriel’s intense answer to a question posed at a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation is capturing an American mood. We expect politicians be observant of this mood change. We further expect that will translate into action. In the Obama White house it already is changing the policy.
A dramatic headline was in the weekend edition of USA Today. It appeared across the entire front page: “How dangerous is Islamic State?” The subtitle was “Returning Western militants pose threat to homeland.”
While the US president, British prime minister, and other authorities are intent on identifying the single executioner in the Foley beheading, the thoughtful Western world is focused on the 10-15% of the Islamic world that is radicalized and cheering the results of activities perpetrated by organizations such as Hamas, Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and others of the same ilk. The question: can Western governments and leaders organize themselves and establish that the war is with terrorists and their groups, and not with “terror” as imprecisely expressed by President Bush? Organizations like al-Qaeda or ISIL have members, supporters, and financial sources. They are out to kill Americans and our allies in any manner they can. Can there be a sustained action plan to be launched by Western governments.
Those governments have to confront several issues. The first, as Ms. Gabriel outlined, is the notion of “political correctness.” How do we launch a targeted and effective attack on radical Islamic groups that condone violence and death while maintaining respectful and cordial relations with the more peaceful Islamic elements that compose the majority? Gabriel cites percentages throughout history, noting how the majority in almost all of history was peaceful, yet the radical minority, time and time again, wrought death and destruction. She enumerated case study after case study. It is not important that her percentage estimates are correct. The point is that the militant minority has often been substantial enough to do material and ongoing harm. Therefore, it defines the enemy.
We are at war with an enemy. Our political leadership must now change. Beheadings and public assassinations may galvanize citizens and may mark an inflection point.
I would expect our president and the Democratic and Republican houses in our national legislature to unite on this issue. In order for them to do that, there must be action from the president. He has established himself for years as a reluctant and pacifist warrior. He has attempted dialogue and delivered rhetoric for almost six of the eight years he will spend in office. He has attempted to maneuver in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the world. His policies of slow and soft have not worked.
Now he has a chance to salvage his presidency and career. It will require him to change the way he presents himself to the US and the world and then to take action. One recommended action would be to convene a joint session of Congress in order to outline a program that would establish new and improved levels of surveillance and precision technologies that will let the military and intelligence communities augment and intensify their work. He must ask Congress to fund it. He can declare the current situation a state of emergency and ask Congress to ratify it. He can point to 9/11 as a failure to act preemptively. He can point to the facts as we now know them about Islamic State’s notorious behavior and say that this is an enemy, even if it’s not a traditional country.
We have to define this enemy not by its borders but by its activist members, its intellectual leaders, its financing sources and its supporters. We must consider them to be enemies opposing us in a state of war. When we are in a state of war, it is kill or be killed, shoot or be shot. We know what happens when we wait. We have learned that the hard way, from 9/11 through to the beheading of James Foley.
My view is that if the president took this stand and announced an inflection change, he would get overwhelming bipartisan support in the country. No Congressman or Senator could dare go home to his constituency having supported a path of silence or passivism. A public beheading of a journalist is sufficient evidence worldwide. In other countries there would be a similar response.
There would be issues involved with political correctness. How to respect the sensitivities of the peaceful portions in the Muslim world? How can we demonstrate our ongoing respect for them at the same time we are attempting to deal decisive military blows to those extremists who have declared themselves our mortal enemies?This Bloomberg article, which focuses on one Muslim-dominated London neighborhood that contains both peaceful and radical elements, paints the issues in sharp relief.
History suggests that we often fail to make such distinctions well. In WWII, Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized an executive order to relocate Japanese American citizens to internment camps. Their properties were appropriated for far below market value, and they were imprisoned during the war, even as many Japanese Americans helped the American war effort. Similar instances can be found throughout history. The nature of sorting out the militant minority from the peaceful majority is a complex political and military problem. It is not something we human beings have done well.
Israel, in the defense of its territory and in an attempt to silence ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza, faces the difficulty of distinguishing between innocent civilians and Hamas militants. Hamas has only one tool to further its own political power. That is murder and mayhem. Israel then has to deal with the hiding of rockets in schools and hospitals. It has to deal with the kidnapping and murder of teenagers by Hamas. What is it to do? How long can a nation under attack choose to remain passive? At what point does it reach an inflection point and declare that this ongoing rocket fire must stop?
The leadership of Israel has decided that the inflection point has come. It made that declaration. Israel must now persist until its mission is completed. That is not a pretty picture. The US and the rest of the Western world who care about the long-term safety and security of their populations, their allies, and their activities must view radical jihadist Islam in this context. That means our target is not just one person who beheaded an American journalist. Our target may be hundreds, thousands, and maybe millions who are parts of organizations that help maneuver, shoot, kill, fund, assist, and give political support. A US declaration of war on Islamic State is now called for.
I admit that this is a controversial statement to make. I say it as an American citizen who at one point wore an army uniform and who walked with colleagues out of the World Trade Center on 9/11. I have a bias, and I admit it. It is time for change in American policy. The time is now. Food for thought on Labor day weekend?