Cliff May

Here, in my view, is what that misses: Ideas matter. The Nazis had ideas — vile ideas, but ideas nonetheless. Not even the most rabid canines have that. Roosevelt and Churchill — and Stalin, too, I suppose — were keenly aware that the Nazi threat was at least as much ideological as military.

Indeed, in January of 1943, at the end of the Casablanca Conference, Roosevelt announced that he and Churchill had decided to adopt a policy crucial to Allied victory and Axis defeat — a policy, Roosevelt said, that would “not mean the destruction of the population of Germany, Italy, or Japan,” but would “mean the destruction of the philosophies in those countries which are based on conquest and the subjugation of other people.”

The jihadi philosophy/ideology is — no less than Nazism — “based on conquest and the subjugation of other people.” The late Father Richard John Neuhaus aptly defined jihadism as a religiously inspired ideology built on the teaching “that it is the moral obligation of all Muslims to employ whatever means necessary in order to compel the world’s submission to Islam.”

Most American and European leaders refuse even to discuss jihadism openly, much less pledge to destroy it. Some are concerned that to do so will offend Muslims by the tens of millions, turning them against us. Others, I suspect, find it impossible to accept that, in the 21st century, there are still those who believe in divinely endorsed wars, have no aversion to violence, and see conquest as the most virtuous of pursuits. “Ideology,” Hillary Clinton said not long after becoming secretary of state in 2009, “is so yesterday.” Those who see America as the “enemy of God” are not convinced.

Proponents of the AQ-is-defeated theory also ignore the fact that Saudi petro-princes continue to spend billions to spread Wahhabism, a strain of Islam that disdains freedom and promotes hatred of infidels and apostates. Wahhabism plants the seeds of jihadism.

And of course it should be clear by now that the regime that rules Iran embraces a jihadi ideology. Iran’s rulers are Shia, a minority within the Muslim world, which makes their aspiration to lead a pan-Islamic global revolution against the West challenging. But that is their goal — a goal they have reaffirmed repeatedly over the past 33 years; a goal that will be greatly facilitated should they acquire nuclear weapons. It is in pursuit of this goal that they are forcing average Iranians to absorb the economic pain of intensifying sanctions.

Roosevelt and Churchill grasped what too many analysts in government, academia, media, and think tanks do not: To prevail against America’s enemies, kinetic warfare is necessary but insufficient. An ideological war, a war of ideas, also must be waged. And on that front, we have not yet begun to fight.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.



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