The Islamofascist threat

Posted: Aug 15, 2006 12:01 PM

When it comes to war, rallying men is relatively easy. A Washington Post-ABC News poll this summer, for example, found just 38 percent of all men (compared to 55 percent of all women) favored a deadline for pulling out of Iraq.

Faithful Readers, I don't opine much about foreign policy. For the purposes of this column, consider me just one more soccer mom, trying to figure out whom or what to believe.

When the news broke that a gang of terrorists planned to blow up six airplanes, killing thousands of innocent passengers, President Bush took the opportunity for the first time to name our enemy "Islamic fascists." Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., among others, has been urging this strategic shift. Terrorism is only a tactic. Would we call World War II the "war on blitzkrieg"? By naming our enemy "Islamofascism," the president suggests our current war is the equivalent of our long, triumphant fights against Nazism and communism.

An enemy that enlists mothers with babes in arms to fight its battles is at least as evil as communism. But do they really pose the same military threat? Right after 9/11, I listened intently to my new war president for an explanation of why the war in Afghanistan was an integral part of the war on terror. And I heard one.

In his Sept. 20, 2001, address to Congress, he said: "Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them." He promised a "lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen ... From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."

In 2002, President Bush promised: "I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons. ... If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. ... We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge."

I got it. Razor blades might topple a skyscraper, but to really threaten the United States takes something like a nuclear cloud. The irregular army of Islamic terrorists provided hostile nation-states with new means to deliver a threat: Our vast nuclear arsenal and the mutual destruction it assures would be useless in this new kind of asymmetric warfare. If a small nuclear bomb went off in Grand Central Station, there would be no known enemy to bomb in return.

If this is a real threat, then the war in Iraq makes sense. It is a warning to evil dictators that playing with Islamofascists, even indirectly, constitutes a potentially existential challenge to their own power.

But lately I never hear the president defend the war in these terms. Is it a political calculation -- such talk focuses too much attention on the narrow question of whether Saddam Hussein had amassed a stockpile of WMDs (as opposed to merely seeking to do so)? Is it a moral hesitation -- should political leaders horrify their own people with the thought of nuclear terrorism? Or is it in fact, as some experts now say, just extremely unlikely that Islamofascists could obtain a nuclear weapon?

I don't know. But without some such real threat, a long war in the Mideast is not an option the American people will support. And unless that kind of threat can be named by our leaders, the American people cannot be expected to spend their blood and treasure perpetually.

(Readers may reach Maggie Gallagher at


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