Cliff May

Defense policies are not created in a vacuum. They are designed to meet threats. Over time, threats change in ways that are difficult to predict. In the past, America’s enemies generally wore uniforms and confronted American soldiers on a foreign field of battle. Today, America’s enemies may wear backwards-facing baseball caps and attack marathon runners along with the men, women, and children cheering for them on a sunny April afternoon in New England.

What happened in Boston last week was terrible and terrifying — precisely the outcome terrorists seek to achieve. But it could have been worse. It was worse on September 11, 2001, and it will be worse again if we let down our guard, if we stop taking the fight to those sworn to destroy us, and if we refuse to understand who they are, what they believe, and what they want.

They have told us — over and over — that they are waging what they call a jihad. The policy of the current administration, and to a great extent the previous administration as well, has been to avoid such terminology. One notable exception: Just before she stepped down as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton spoke with rare candor. “We now face a spreading jihadist threat,” she said, adding, “we have to recognize this is a global movement.”

Yet so many people — in government, the media, academia — refuse to believe this, or at least refuse to acknowledge it. I was on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal this week debating Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. She declared, “There is no global war. . . . There is no global jihadist movement.”

About the massacre in Boston there is much we still do not know. But the evidence available so far can only lead to the conclusion that two young men from Chechnya committed an act of terrorism on American soil in support of what they believe is a global jihad.

How do we know the bombs were not a protest — a secular one, with no Islamist roots — against Russia’s occupation of Chechnya and in favor of Chechen independence? Because then the target would have been Moscow, not Boston.

Also, last August, the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, reportedly linked on his YouTube page a video titled “The Emergence of Prophecy: The Black Flags from Khorasan.” As my colleagues Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio have pointed out, the video is based on the jihadist belief that in the Khorasan, an area of central Asia, jihadists “will inflict the first defeat against their enemies in the Muslim version of Armageddon. The final battle is to take place in the Levant — Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.”


Cliff May

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