Diana West

The first option is military, but it carries a seemingly insurmountable cultural override. The fact is, the United States has an arsenal that could obliterate any jihad threat in the region once and for all, whether that threat is bands of IED-exploding "insurgents" in Ramadi, the deadly so-called Mahdi Army in Sadr City, or genocidal maniacs in Tehran. In other words, it's a disgrace for military brass to talk about the 21st century struggle with Islam as necessarily being a 50- to 100-year war. Ridiculous. It could be over in two weeks if we cared enough to blast our way off the list of endangered civilizations.

As a culture, however, the West is paralyzed by the specter of civilian casualties, massive or not, that accompanies modern (not high-tech) warfare, and fights accordingly. It may well have been massive civilian casualties in Germany (40,000 dead in Hamburg after one cataclysmic night of "fire-bombing" in 1943, for example) and Japan that helped end World War II in an Allied victory. But this is a price I doubt any Western power would pay for victory today.

So, the military solution -- which isn't the same as boosting ROE-cuffed troop levels in Baghdad -- is out, unless or until our desperation level rises to some insupportably manic level. The great paradox of the "war on terror," of course, is that as our capacity and desire to protect civilians in warfare grows, our enemy's capacity and desire to kill civilians as a means of warfare grows also. Our fathers saved us from having to say, "Sieg Heil," but what's next -- "Allahu akbar"?

Not necessarily. There's another Middle Eastern strategy to deter expansionist Islam: Get out of the way. Get out of the way of Sunnis and Shiites killing each other. As a sectarian conflict more than a thousand years old, this is not only one fight we didn't start, it's one we can't end. And why should we? If Iran, the jihad-supporting leader of the Shiite world, is being "strangled" by Saudi Arabia, the jihad-supporting leader of the Sunni world, isn't that good for the Sunni-and-Shiite-terrorized West? With the two main sects of Islam preoccupied with an internecine battle of epic proportions, the non-Muslim world gets some breathing room. And we sure could use it -- to plan for the next round.


Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).