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President Obama Ignores Cold War Lessons for Counterjihad at America’s Peril

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

If you want to understand why 15 years after 9/11 the West is still fighting the Global Jihadi Movement, look no further than President Barack Obama’s recent comments in the Atlantic. During a conversation with columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, the President argued that analogizing between the Cold War Communist threat and today’s jihadist threat is detrimental to America’s cause – that we must not “paint with a broad brush” lest we create a “clash of civilizations.”

The President’s remarks illustrate two points: his apparent ignorance of the nature of the Communist and Islamic extremist threats, and his greater concern with not offending Muslims (themselves the largest casualties of jihad) than openly and honestly describing an enemy that seeks to spread its Sharia-based totalitarian rule over the world. In so doing, President Obama ignores Sun Tzu’s dictum about knowing your enemy if you wish to win -- at our nation’s peril.

Indeed I have just written a book, Defeating Jihad, in which I argue how important the analogy is, and that to date our leaders have failed to heed Sun Tzu’s words on a bipartisan basis. This begins with our inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that contrary to President Obama’s assertions, the 20thcentury battle waged against godless materialist Communism is not only highly relevant to the 21st century battle against theocratic Islamism, but a parallel that if studied closely can help us emerge victorious against the newest totalitarians.

Consider that Communists were - and Islamic extremists are - animated by a dictatorial ideology, seeking world domination by means peaceful and violent, overt and covert. There can be no co-existence with such expansionist enemies: When President Ronald Reagan -- who had confronted Communists face-to-face during his Hollywood days -- said that his Cold War strategy was “We win, they lose,” this was not mere hyperbole. He knew America, he knew his enemy, and made his life’s work defeating it.

George Kennan and Paul Nitze, among others, laid the groundwork for Reagan’s ultimate triumph by defining the enemy and developing a strategy to defeat it. For it was Kennan, the former deputy head of mission in Moscow, who described our Soviet World War II allies as a dangerous Marxist-Leninist dictatorship that posed a mortal threat to the free world in his famous 1946 “Long Telegram.” It was Nitze, serving as President Harry Truman’s Director of Policy Planning for the State Department who was largely responsible for producing the essential Top Secret 1950 plan, NSC-68, that laid out a comprehensive and multi-faceted strategy to militarily, politically, economically and ideologically to contain Communism and ultimately defeat it. These men expressed no reservations about offending Russians, as they sought to promote Liberal ideas to undermine their Communist rulers.

Contrary to the arguments of the President, we must not dismiss the historical Cold War model. A clear-eyed assessment of the Islamist’s goals, strategies and tactics reveals chilling similarities with the Communists. The Cold Warriors left us with valuable guides to defeat the 21st century’s totalitarians, an even more deadly foe imbued with a religious fervor and apocalyptic vision. Let us honor their efforts by applying their lessons to protect and preserve the freedom for which they fought.

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