It’s a reflection on the inherent goodness of most Americans that we are willing, in almost all cases, to make an effort to avoid offending Islamic sensibilities. When President Bush spoke recently at the D.C. Islamic center, the female staffers accompanying him donned headscarves. Suspected terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay receive prayer rugs and complimentary copies of the Koran, and large painted arrows point the direction of Mecca. Female soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia conform to the local laws forbidding women to drive. Politicians and the press alike are careful to distinguish jihadists from the ordinary practitioners of the “religion of peace.”
In fact, we pay the Islamic world every courtesy except the one that really matters: Too often, we simply refuse to take its most threatening leaders seriously. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for example, hasn’t been shy about defying every U.N. mandate forbidding Iran to develop nuclear weapons – or about expressing his contempt for Israel and the United States. The hateful rhetoric is reported (for the most part) – and nothing happens. It’s as if we simply don’t believe he means what he says.
The audiotape released late last week by Ayman al-Zawahiri – Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda deputy – is an even more stunning example. As in previous communications, al-Zawahiri described Iraq as the centerpiece of the fight against America, and portrayed Al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq as the vehicle for repelling the US military and establishing a caliphate of Islamic rule across the region. Again, not much opacity there – it should be crystal clear to every American that our enemies see the battle for Iraq as vital to their terrorist aims, and as a precursor to yet more aggression across the Islamic world and elsewhere. This is hardly the first time that such a message from Al Qaeda has been disseminated worldwide in plain and unmistakable language.
Even so, on the very day the al-Zawahiri tape was made available, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) threw in his lot with the majority of congressional Democrats, a group of “chicken littles” who are seeking little more than hasty withdrawal from Iraq, whatever the cost to the war on terror. Given that our enemies have made it clear that they will regard an American retreat as a victory of the first order and a vindication of their terrorist methods, it’s hard to understand how any elected official who purports to take America’s national security seriously would even consider it.
What’s even more amazing is that someone with Domenici’s experience – and, often, level-headedness – would decide simply to give up on the effort to stabilize Iraq and in so doing, abandon the opportunity to deal a stunning blow to the forces of Islamofascist terrorism worldwide. To the applause of much of the mainstream media, Domenici justified his decision on the failure of the Iraqi government to meet many of the benchmarks set forth for it by the American government.
By resorting to that rationale a year before his reelection in order to distance himself from the increasingly unpopular Iraq war, Domenici wilfully ignores what is really at stake. What’s happening in Iraq isn’t some innocuous American exercise in nation-building, where the developing nation can simply be abandoned when the going gets tough or the public grows restive.
In fact, in a real sense, the progress (or lack thereof) of the Iraqi government must be a secondary factor in America’s decision whether to continue fighting in Iraq. That’s because our paramount concern is less the details of Iraq’s governance than it is the national security of the United States. The former is relevant only insofar as it impacts the latter. And so long as a withdrawal from Iraq will be construed by our enemies as an emboldening victory for them and a humiliating surrender for us, it’s an option that must remain off the table.
On the Day of Prayer and Remembrance following 9/11, President Bush noted that, “This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing.” That’s still true. Let us simply hope that, despite the turnabout of leaders like Pete Domenici, Americans decide to resolve the conflict by defeating our enemies, not by futilely attempting to flee them.
What al Qaeda’s leaders have told us again and again and again is that, for them, Iraq is the central front in the jihadist war against the west. They have spoken as clearly as anyone can. The question is whether all those who scrupulously observe the politically correct niceties when it comes to worldwide Islam will likewise be willing to pay its most violent extremists the ultimate compliment: Taking them seriously, believing that they mean what they say, and responding accordingly.