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Four Lessons Ahead of the Coming Syria Strike

President Bush declared the Global War on Terror. President Obama changed its name to the Overseas Contingency Operation. And President Trump, during the 2016 presidential campaign, promised to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS and take their oil.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we have a succinct history of our Middle Eastern foreign policy.

First, we declared a nebulous war on an idea. Then we tried to engineer a sterile solution through diplomacy, increased covert operations, and targeted strikes. And now, we might be getting to a practical approach that focuses on our national interest. As we stand on the brink of further entanglement in Syria, we should look back at the past two decades and ask what we can learn from our obvious failures in the region. Four lessons immediately spring to mind.

It is a Bad Idea to Declare a War on an Idea
A war on terrorism is virtually unwinnable. Even if we put aside debates over what exactly constitutes terrorism, ignore the geopolitical ramifications of going after the terrorist groups that exist in sovereign countries, and somehow accept that the United States could wipe out all organizations facilitating and funding terrorism, we’d still have a big problem: it would only take one deranged person stabbing someone on the streets of London in the name of an extreme ideology for terrorism to show that it was alive and well.

Our politicians could argue that terrorism was greatly diminished, but they could never truly declare victory—after all, the idea of terrorism would never raise a white flag. The lack of any clear sign of victory hurts morale and makes it hard to disengage without losing face.

Wars should be fought against specific people and groups who can surrender and there should be clear objectives that easily can be verified.

It is Difficult to Spread a Set of Values by Force
It is nearly impossible to change hearts and minds with a gun or with bribes (read: nation building). When threatened with violence, people will typically obey orders, but will only do so while the threat stands. The same is true for bribery.

We can’t force or pay people to change their values—they will comply only as long as the incentive or threat is applied and will revert back to their original beliefs and actions as soon as it is removed. But even if the United States were somehow able to change the beliefs and values of an entire country, it is not clear that we have a coherent vision of what exactly we want other countries to believe.

The United States vowed to support democratic movements and institutions in all nations and cultures. Although it is easy to support structures and forms of government, it is hard to inculcate respect for values such as freedom of speech or freedom of religion.

Fact is, we have seen plenty of Islamists winning free and fair democratic elections. And there are many democracies that are also relatively closed societies.

It is Hard to Engineer Solutions When the Enemy of Your Enemy May Easily be Your Enemy
Fighting a ground war is difficult and expensive, especially one happening halfway around the world. It is tempting to find groups on the ground that are already fighting our enemy and support them instead. But when these groups include poorly defined collections of insurgents with divergent motives and are supported by large global superpowers with conflicting goals, it is difficult to predict, let alone engineer, the outcomes of proxy wars. Even the most bookish foreign policy wonks in Washington often have no idea who we are funding and arming, let alone the potential ways that this support could backfire—we have directly and indirectly funded, supported, and otherwise helped many groups we later have had to fight.

We also often have a difficult time anticipating the actions of other superpowers. This is not to argue that we should never leverage existing actors in a region to achieve our goals, but we must constantly and vigilantly reevaluate who we are supporting and adjust our strategies accordingly. This type of constant adjustment, however, is not conducive to the development of a carefully concocted plan—it requires far a far more improvisational and intuitive foreign policy style than the wannabe social engineers who staff much of our government typically favor.

It is Helpful for Military Actions to Have Goals That Concretely Help Citizens
After the September 11 attacks, the country came together in support of our president, our government, and our military. We knew that we had to hold our attackers responsible and we were willing to spend blood and treasure to do so. But now, more than 15 years later, it is no longer clear why we are still entangled in the Middle East.

We are told that we have to engage with the region in order to secure the humanitarian rights of an arbitrarily chosen set of people halfway across the globe. We are told that we have to fight the terrorists there so we don’t have to fight them here. Meanwhile, we routinely ignore crises in our own country that affect our citizens and we have difficulty securing our own porous borders.

Even if intervening in the Middle East helps our national security interests and improves the lives of foreign peoples, it is insane to prioritize costly involvement in the Middle East to secure these goals when we have far cheaper means of taking care of problems at home that we refuse to implement. We should concentrate on common-sense solutions within our borders to protect and help our citizens before we start meddling in complicated and costly foreign affairs.

We shouldn’t be isolationists—we should just be smart.

Photo credit: Huseyin Nasir /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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What Price Victory? What Cost ‘Infinite War’?

President Trump said something this week that flew largely under the radar of a media obsessed with Stormy Daniels and whether it can get the scalp of “embattled” (by them) EPA boss, Scott Pruitt. It had to do with the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and what, if any, America’s long-term role should be in that sorry corner of the world. He said that our troops would be withdrawing “very soon” from Syria, no later than this autumn.

The reaction from the proponents of endless war was illustrative of why, going on 17 years after 9/11, America still finds itself embroiled in Muslim-bred conflicts in which it has no material interest other than strictly punitive. As the Washington Post reported:

President Trump’s pronouncement that he would be pulling troops out of Syria “very soon” has laid bare a major source of tension between the president and his generals. Trump has made winning on the battlefields of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan a central tenet of his foreign policy and tough-guy identity. But Trump and the military hold frequently opposing ideas about exactly what winning means.

Those differences have played out in heated Situation Room ­debates over virtually every spot on the globe where U.S. troops are engaged in combat, said senior administration officials. And they contributed to the dismissal last month of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster who as national security adviser had pressed the president against his instincts to support an ­open-ended commitment of U.S. forces to Afghanistan.

No wonder McMaster is gone. An “open-ended commitment” of U.S. forces to anywhere, much less the notional “country” of Afghanistan, is one of the worst ideas ever and runs counter to American policy since the days of George Washington. But the enthusiasm for it among the careerist military and the consensus-loving bureaucrats of the State Department remains unabated.

It’s apparently not enough that we’ve been fighting the same collection of goatherds with AK-47s since early in the first term of the George W. Bush Administration. It’s bad enough that we didn’t finish the job—which was to take Osama bin Laden at his word, and at his declaration of war upon us in the name of Islam—and deal the expansionist, triumphalist faith a blow from which it might never recover. The Saudis, in the form of the bin Laden family and most of the 9/11 hijackers, had given us a casus belli, as had the Iranians, dating all the way back to the hostage crisis of the Carter Administration, and for which they have never been properly disciplined. All right-thinking allies would have been behind us.

But of course, we didn’t. The war in Afghanistan was effectively over in a matter of a few months, although bin Laden escaped to next-door Pakistan, where the duplicitous Pakistanis—whose countrymen are currently visiting a rape epidemic upon poor, politically correct Britain—gave him shelter right under the noses of their military establishment. Then Bush chose to turn his attention to Poppy’s unfinished spat with Saddam Hussein. And here we are, nearly two decades later, still taking off our shoes to get on an airplane in our own country, and with troops scattered all across the Middle East for no purpose.

Well, not quite to no purpose. According to the military brass, we need to stay in Syria in order to prevent the return of ISIS; in other words, we need to not finish the job in order to be able to not finish the job, at least for the unforeseeable future. The Associated Press reports:

The president had opened the meeting with a tirade about U.S. intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, repeating lines from public speeches in which he’s denounced previous administrations for “wasting” $7 trillion in the region over the past 17 years.  What has the U.S. gotten for the money and American lives expended in Syria? “Nothing,” Trump said over and over, according to the officials.

The intensity of Trump’s tone and demeanor raised eyebrows and unease among the top brass gathered to hash out a Syria plan with Trump, officials said . . . At one point, [Gen. Joseph] Dunford spoke up, one official said, telling Trump that his approach was not productive and asked him to give the group specific instructions as to what he wanted.

Trump’s response was to demand an immediate withdrawal of all American troops and an end to all U.S. civilian stabilization programs designed to restore basic infrastructure to war-shattered Syrian communities. Mattis countered, arguing that an immediate withdrawal could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way, without risking the return of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in newly liberated territories, the officials said. Mattis floated a one-year withdrawal as an alternative.

Trump then relented—but only slightly, telling his aides they could have five or six months to complete the mission to destroy the Islamic State and then get out, according to the officials. Trump also indicated that he did not want to hear in October that the military had been unable to fully defeat the Islamic State and had to remain in Syria for longer.

Good for Trump. The job of the military is to win, and thus finish, wars, not to use them as extended live-fire exercises. Further, under our Constitution, the military reports to civilian authority, in the form of the president and one of his chief cabinet members, the secretary of defense. And it’s their job to make very clear the overall strategic objective, which in warfare is always optimally the total destruction and unconditional surrender of the enemy. During World War II, the objective was clear: destroy Imperial Japan and take Berlin. We, and our allies, did both, and America’s war—from the standing start at Pearl Harbor to VJ Day—lasted less than four years.

But that’s not how our contemporary military sees things. As the Post story points out, referencing Defense Secretary James Mattis, “His remarks reflected a broader Pentagon consensus: In the absence of a clear outcome, winning for much of the U.S. military’s top brass has come to be synonymous with staying put. These days, senior officers talk about ‘infinite war’.”

Those senior officers should be cashiered. “Infinite war” is what characterized the Roman Empire from Julius Caesar (read the Commentaries, Caesar’s reports back to Rome regarding his military operations in Gaul and elsewhere) through Marcus Aurelius (who spent very little time in the Eternal City) right up to the fall of Rome in 476, when the barbarian chickens came home to roost in the form of Odoacer, a member of the Germanic tribes that the Romans never managed to conquer. Their defeat by Arminius at the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest in 9 A.D. dissuaded the legions from crossing the Rhine again—but eventually the Rhine crossed them, and made it all the way to the Tiber.

The moral of the story is: finish the job. So good for Trump for giving the Pentagon a strategic objective and a time frame in which to accomplish it. The Post article quotes another officer, Air Force General Mike Holmes, in a speech earlier this year: “It’s not losing,” he explained. “It’s staying in the game and . . . pursuing your objectives.”

How terrifying to know that, for some senior military officers (who, by the way, are not necessarily on the Right politically), warfare is about “staying in the game.” Both Left and Right have vested interests in keeping conflicts going—progressives get an extended opportunity to effect “social change” on a culture of “toxic masculinity,” while so-called conservatives keep the procurement pipelines open and flowing.

But as Trump ever more firmly grasps the reins of the presidency, and learns that the buck really does stop with him, look for him to be less swayed by time-serving ranks of fruit salad and scrambled eggs, and to find officers who share his quaint notion that wars are for winning, troops are for celebrating with victory parades, and some foreign problems are best left to fester abroad—after an Omdurman-style object lesson in what it means to cross the United States and the West.

The Germans and Japanese learned that lesson in 1945. Will Islam? If we’re not prepared to teach it to them, then be prepared for infinite war. Because victory is obviously too expensive to contemplate.

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2016 Election • Americanism • Asia • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • September 11 • Terrorism

Trumping Afghanistan

Like many long-time Trump supporters, I, too, was disappointed with the president’s announcement of a “new strategy” for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. I was hoping to hear Trump had found a responsible way to end our nation’s longest war. But with all of the armchair quarterbacking going on in the wake of the speech, it might be useful to take a moment to place the war in Afghanistan in the larger political context of our day, and to remember the complexities involved for the president in making this decision.

The question of what to do in Afghanistan is not answered in a vacuum, after all. In the grand scheme of things, it is possible that this was the prudent choice.

While I am a critic of the “strategy” (though not as fierce a critic as some others), I am not sure the quality of the plan matters all that much. In the final analysis, the plan’s prudence may have less to do with whether it will actually work than many people presume.

Let’s consider how the president arrived at this decision and think about it in the larger context of American politics today.

Priorities, Priorities . . . 
First, the war in Afghanistan is nowhere near the top of the list of problems facing the United States. Second, we must not ignore the politics of culpability. Third,
if it is true that everyone but Attorney General Jeff Sessions supported the strategy, then Trump was in a tough spot (maybe an impossible one).

The war in Afghanistan, while a tragic waste of lives and an embarrassing display of our government’s incompetence, is simply not our most pressing matter today. It pains me to say it, but we have been at war there for 17 years and, for the most part, no one at home really cares. Most of the Republican candidates for president, you might remember, had no problem supporting the war. One reason is American voters have little sense the war is still underway; the media does not cover it, and politicians tend not to talk about it. It’s the easiest thing in the world to ignore it. This lack of interest is unfortunate, tragic even, but it does say something about how important the war effort is to the vitality of the nation.

The bitter truth is that the billions of dollars wasted and the precious lives lost in Afghanistan do not make the problem of Afghanistan vital to our national survival in the near term. Americans may not want to admit it, but it is important that our statesmen do. Fighting the administrative state, securing the border, gaining energy independence, fixing trade deals, and generally promoting prosperity at home are far more vital. There are only so many battles Trump can wage at any given moment.

Next, we must remember the politics of culpability and the fickle nature of Americans today. Any negative outcome that could be attached, rightly or wrongly, to withdrawing from Afghanistan will have serious consequences for Trump and the viability of his agenda. This is not an attempt to cast aspersions on the American people as corrupt and incapable of self-government. But it is another bitter pill that in this politically charged atmosphere, Americans would probably abandon Trump and his program if terrorist attacks at home happened to follow a drawdown of our troops abroad. Never mind that the courts have made it nearly impossible for the president to do his lawful duty and control immigration based on his assessment of threats. Never mind that Congress has provided him no assistance or support in his attempt to enforce the laws they passed. Pulling out of Afghanistan at the wrong time would expose Trump to serious political risk.

Trump vs. His Advisors
Finally, consider the position in which President Trump’s advisors put him. Most Americans, it’s fair to say, would want the president to hear unfettered advice from his counselors. And there would be real consequences if Trump rejected their near unanimous advice. While I do not know that anyone threatened to quit over the question, it is not unreasonable to think that key advisors might resign if their advice on a major decision were to be rejected or ignored—not out of pride, mind you, but rather because the president should have advisors whose advice he’s inclined to hear and heed. In those rare cases when nearly every advisor holds to a position in opposition to the president’s inclinations, a careful statesman must consider the ramifications of rejecting their advice.

What’s more, if the president goes against the advice of his counselors, it is all on him. Obviously, “the buck stops” with the president. He’s responsible for decisions of grave national importance. But in this instance, it would have meant Trump had no cover from his advisors.  In effect, they told him he was a man alone—with the exception of Steve Bannon (who has since resigned) and Sessions—in his assessment. While I hate our modern addiction to “expertise” as much as the next Trumpist, this is one those instances when expert advice matters (even if the experts in this case have a long track record of failure).

Yes, President Trump might have taken a bold stand for what he believed, but that is an awfully big risk to take. Is it worth it?

Just because most Americans seem to have forgotten the war, that doesn’t mean it’s an abstraction. People are rightly furious over the loss of American lives in what they perceive to be a useless and unwinnable conflict. But there is no easy way to say this: Leaning too heavily on previous sacrifices as a justification to withdraw now, if doing so comes at the expense of a domestic agenda that supports and defends the Constitution, would be a mistake. Remember, Trump walked into a mess of a situation at home and abroad when he took the oath of office. Resolving both sets of problems simultaneously may be impossible. And it may very well be that we cannot fix the latter without first correcting the former.

With the new strategy, President Trump may have the best way out of an unfortunate and challenging problem. He can give “his generals” a chance (say, two years) to pound the Taliban and other nefarious forces in Afghanistan. A few MOABs might set the right tone. The diplomats would have time to work the new strategy as well as they say they can. Together, they might be able to gain enough leverage over our opponents to broker a happy conclusion (leverage we certainly don’t have now).

Notice the caveats? If the generals and diplomats cannot make the plan work, as seems likely, then Trump’s original instincts will have been proven correct and his advisors wrong. Trump and his agenda would be safe and he could still end the war. In a way, this matches Trump’s own advice to “protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself.”

No Expedient Choices, Only Prudent Ones
Trump’s opponents on the Right and Left would likely respond that this is cheap politics. That’s too simplistic an understanding of what I am suggesting. I imagine President Trump would have liked nothing more than to get expert advice confirming his view that it was time to end the war and bring our men and women home. But he didn’t, and Trump was faced with a decision in what, as he points out, are very tough circumstances that he inherited. Under the circumstances, no politically expedient choice was available. The announcement was a bitter pill for his supporters to swallow, and if the president’s tone was any indicator, it wasn’t easy for him, either.

So for those who otherwise like Trump, or who value his agenda, they would do well to consider he may have made the right choice. In the best sense of the phrase, politics may have trumped policy. Going contrary to his initial instincts in this instance may have been an exercise in statesmanship and the humility his critics are so eager to deny is within his capacity. Trump may have weighed in the balance the various parts of his agenda. He may have considered the circumstances and examined what is urgent and what is necessary. We will not know for some time, but the new strategy in Afghanistan may be the most prudent course after all.


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Victory: What It Will Take to Win

Editor’s Note: This essay was originally published in the Fall 2001 edition of the Claremont Review of Books. The editors are grateful for permission from the Claremont Institute to republish the article here. Read Angelo Codevilla’s response to President Trump’s August 21 speech on Afghanistan.

“It is not that they love peace less, but that they love their kind of peace more.”
—St. Augustine, City of God

” In the end, there was no one so small or weak that they could not do them harm.”
—Montesquieu, The Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline

“…by their fruits shall ye know them.”
—Jesus, Sermon on the Mount

As Americans mourned on the night of September 11, many in the Middle East celebrated. Their enemies, 280 million people disposing of one third the wealth of the earth, had been bloodied. Better yet, Americans were sadly telling each other that life would never be the same as before — and certainly not better.

The revelers’ joy was troubled only by the fear that an angry America might crush them. For a few hours, Palestinian warlords referred to the events as Al Nachba—”the disaster”—and from Gaza to Baghdad the order spread that victory parties must be out of sight of cameras and that any inflammatory footage must be seized. But soon, to their relief, the revelers heard the American government announce that it would not hold them responsible. President George W. Bush gratuitously held out the cachet of “allies” in the war on terrorism to nations that the U.S. government had officially designated as the world’s chief sponsors of terrorism. Thus Yasser Arafat’s, Saddam Hussein’s, and Bashar al Assad’s regimes could enjoy, undisturbed, the success of the anti-Western cause that alone legitimizes their rule. That peace is their victory, and our lack of peace is our defeat.

Common sense does not mistake the difference between victory and defeat: the losers weep and cower, while the winners strut and rejoice. The losers have to change their ways, the winners feel more secure than ever in theirs. On September 12, retiring Texas Senator Phil Gramm encapsulated this common sense: “I don’t want to change the way I live. I want to change the way they live.” Common sense says that victory means living without worry that some foreigners might kill us on behalf of their causes, but also without having to bow to domestic bureaucrats and cops, especially useless ones. It means not changing the tradition by which the government of the United States treats citizens as its masters rather than as potential enemies. Victory requires killing our enemies, or making them live in debilitating fear.

The flood of authoritative commentary flowing from the U.S. government and the media soon washed common sense out of America’s discourse. The conventional wisdom is foursquare in favor of the “War on Terrorism.” But it defines that war in terms of an endless series of ever more sophisticated security measures at home; better intelligence for identifying terrorists; and military as well as economic measures to “bring to justice” the shadowy al-Qaeda network. Notably, this flood averts attention from the fact that sowing terror in order to get America to tie itself in rancorous knots is the principal element of several governments’ foreign policy. It also discourages questioning the competence of the U.S. officials under whose guidance, in a single decade, America became the object in much of the world of a fateful combination of hatred and contempt. In short, the conventional wisdom envisages no effort to make mourners out of revelers and vice versa.

There will surely be more attacks, and of increasing seriousness. That is because the success of the September 11 attacks and of their aftermath has mightily encouraged America’s enemies, and as we shall see, no security or intelligence measures imaginable stand any chance of diminishing the opportunities for successful terrorist attacks. Why should America’s enemies stop doing what has proved safe, successful, and fun?

Let us first examine the attitudes and policies of the U.S. government that guarantee defeat—in fact, are defeat itself. Then we will be able to see more clearly what victory would look like, and how it could be achieved.

Part I: Anatomy of Defeat

The U.S. government’s “War on Terrorism” has three parts: “Homeland Security,” more intelligence, and bringing al-Qaeda “to justice.” The first is impotent, counterproductive, and silly. The second is impossible. The third is misconceived and is a diversion from reality.

Security is Illusory
The nationally televised statement on October 31 of Tom Ridge, President Bush’s head of Homeland Security, that the national “alert” and the new security measures would last “indefinitely,” is a conclusive self-indictment. The Homeland Security office’s vision of the future for ourselves and our children and our children’s children involves identification cards for all, with biometric data and up-to-the-minute records of travel, employment, finances, etc., to be used to authorize access to places that are vulnerable to terrorist attack. This means that never again will the government simply trust citizens to go into a government office, a large building, a stadium, an airplane, or for that matter merely to walk around without what the Germans call Ausweis—papers. Checking everyone, however, makes sense only if officials will never be able to tell the difference between the average citizen and the enemy—and if the enemy will never be defeated.

But to assume such things is deadly. Unable to stop terrorists, Homeland Security will spend its time cracking down on those who run afoul of its regulations. In Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, for example, a man was taken off an aircraft in handcuffs for having boarded before his row number had been called. Tom Ridge, with the demeanor of every state trooper who has ever pulled you over for exceeding 55 miles per hour, reassured Americans that he has the authority to order the shoot-down of civilian airliners. As Machiavelli points out in his Discourses, security measures that hurt, threaten, or humiliate citizens engender hatred on top of contempt. No civil libertarian, Machiavelli teaches that true security comes from armed citizens to whom the government is bound by mutual trust. America fought Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union without treating the public as potential enemies, and without making officials into a protected class. By governing from behind security screens, America’s leaders today make our land less free and prove themselves less than brave.

Impotence worsens contempt. In The Prince, Machiavelli points out that no defense is possible against someone who is willing to give up his life to kill another. In our time we have seen suicide gunners and bombers shred Israel’s security system, surely the world’s most extensive. Studies carried out by the CIA’s Counterintelligence Center generalize the lesson: Whereas terrorist attacks against undefended targets have a rate of success limited only by the terrorists’ incompetence, the rate of success against the most heavily defended targets hovers around 85%. In short, the cleverest, most oppressive defensive measures buy very little safety. In America, the possibilities for terrorist attack are endless, and effective security measures are inconceivable. How many school buses roll every morning? What would it take to toss a Molotov cocktail into 10 of them at precisely the same time? How easy would it be to sneak into a Safeway warehouse and contaminate a case of breakfast cereal? What would it take to set afire a gasoline tanker in a U.S. port?

Security measures actually magnify the effects of terrorism. The hijackings of September 11 have set in motion security measures that shut down airports on receipt of threats or merely on the basis of technical glitches in the security system itself. Similarly, attacks on the food distribution system, the schools, ports, etc., would cripple them by setting in motion attempts to make them secure. Indeed, manipulating the security system in order to cause disruption must rank high on the agenda of any competent terrorist. What’s more, any successful attack through, or around, the security systems (remember, such attacks are very likely to succeed) proves that the government cannot protect us.

On top of this, most security measures are ridiculous on their face. Airport security is prototypical. Everyone who flies knows that September 11 ended forever the era of hijacking, and not because of the ensuing security. In fact, hijacking had become possible only because of U.S. policy. Bowing to pressure from the Left in the 1960s, the U.S. government failed to exercise its right to force Castro’s Cuba to return hijackers, and instead defined security as disarming passengers. This succeeded in disarming everyone but hijackers. By 1969, Cuba’s immunity had encouraged Arab governments to get into the hijacking business. The U.S. government’s response to failed policy, however, was not to reverse it, i.e., to attack foreign governments involved with hijacking and to empower passengers to defend themselves. Rather, the government reemphasized its approach. The official instructions to passengers (in force on September 11) read like an invitation to hijackers: “Comply with your captors’ directions”; “Relax, breathe deeply”; “If told to maintain a particular body position, talk yourself into relaxing into that position, you may have to stay that way for a long time.” Indeed. U.S. security policy guaranteed the success of the September 11 hijackings.

But the first plane that hit the World Trade Center forever ended the free ride for hijackers by showing that the federal regulations exposed passengers to death. The passengers on United Airlines flight 93 violated the regulations (for which they technically could have been prosecuted—Remember: “you must comply with all federal regulations, posted signs and placards, and crew member instructions”) and attacked the hijackers, who unfortunately were already at the controls of the plane. Had they disobeyed minutes before, they would have saved themselves. Since then, a few incidents aboard aircraft have shown that the only function that henceforth a sky marshal might be able to perform would be to save a would-be hijacker from being torn apart by the passengers.

Despite the fact that anti-hijacking measures are now superfluous, the U.S. government now requires three checks of the same identity documents before boarding an airplane, and has banned more items that might be used as weapons. These now superfluous measures would have been futile on September 11. The hijackers would have satisfied any number of document checks, and could have carried out their operation using as weapons things that cannot be excluded from aircraft, such as nylon stockings; or even barehanded, using martial arts. Nor could the gun-toting, camouflage-clad soldiers who nowadays stand out like sore thumbs in America’s airports have done anything to prevent September 11.

For passive security to offer any protection against enemies while reducing aggravation of innocents, it must focus very tightly on the smallest possible groups who fit terrorist profiles. In America’s current war, terrorists are overwhelmingly likely to be a tiny, mostly visible minority—Arabs. But note that even Israeli security, which carries this sort of profiling to the point of outright racial discrimination, reduces the success of terrorist attempts only marginally.

Intelligence is Impossible
Are America’s intelligence agencies culpable for failing to stop September 11? No. But for the same reasons that they could not have prevented that atrocity, it is futile to suggest that they might help punish those responsible for it and be able to prevent future terrorism. It is impossible to imagine an intelligence system that would deal successfully with any of the three problems of passive anti- terrorism: security clearances for most of the population; the multiplicity of targets that must be defended as well as the multiple ways in which they can be attacked; and an unlimited stream of possible attackers.

Imagine a security investigation in which neither the investigators nor the evaluators can ask or even listen to anything about the subject’s ethnic identity or political or philosophical beliefs, never mind sexual proclivities. This is the system in force today for clearing a few people for “Top Secret—Codeword” information, which concerns nuclear weapons, among other things. How could the U.S. government deny access to a job in Homeland Security, or as an airline pilot, to an Arab Muslim opposed to U.S. policy in the Middle East, for example? Consequently, although The Card (the American equivalent of the Soviet Internal Passport) would contain all sorts of data on your personal life, it would do nothing to impede terrorism. The first act of terrorism committed by a properly credentialed person would dispel any illusion. Alas, the routine occurrence of such events in Israel has not shaken official faith in documentation.

To protect against future terror, U.S. intelligence would have to gain foreknowledge of who, precisely, intended to do what, where, when, and how. It cannot do this both because of fundamental shortcomings and because the task is beyond even the best imaginable system.

Roughly, U.S. intelligence brings to bear against terrorism its network of communications intelligence (COMINT) and its network of human collectors. The value of COMINT with regard to terrorism has never been high and has been diminished by the technical trends of recent decades. The exponential growth in the number of sources of electronic communication—cell phones, computers, etc. —as well as of the volume of such communications has made nonsense of the standard U.S. practice of electronic sorting of grains of wheat in mountains of chaff. Moreover, the advent of near-perfect, cheap encryption has ensured that when the nuggets are found, they will be unreadable. It would have been a fluke had U.S. intelligence had any COMINT data on September 11 prior to the event. It has had none since. If any of the thousands of CIA human intelligence collectors had acquired prior knowledge, the surprise would have been even greater. These collectors simply are not in contact with any of the people who are involved with such things. CIA people work in embassies, pretend to be diplomats, and have contact only with people who normally see diplomats. Human intelligence means human contact. To make contact with terrorists, the CIA would have to operate the way the Drug Enforcement Agency does—becoming part of the drug business. But nobody at CIA knows how to do that, is capable of doing that, or wants to learn. As for the FBI, alas, they are cops who get pay raises not so much for accurate intelligence as for the number of people they put behind bars.

Imagine, however, that U.S. intelligence were excellent in every respect. What could it contribute to passive anti-terrorism? The (new, much improved) official doctrine of the new CIA-FBI Joint Counterintelligence Office states that the intellectual point of departure for counterintelligence and counterterrorism must be identification of the U.S. assets and secrets that enemies are most likely to attack. Then analysts should identify the ways in which enemies might best wage the attacks. Once this is done, they can investigate whether in fact these attacks are being planned, how, and by whom. When analysis of “what” leads to knowledge of “who,” the attacks can be frustrated. This approach makes sense as regards counterintelligence, because the targets of the attacks are few and the attacks themselves have to be in the form of slow-developing human contacts or technical deceptions. But it makes no sense with regard to terrorism because the assets that are vulnerable to attack are practically infinite in number and variety, and the modes in which they are liable to be attacked are legion. There cannot be nearly enough investigative resources to explore every possibility.

Hence counterterrorist intelligence has no choice but to begin with the question “who?” Answering this question as regards those who are preparing attacks is difficult in the retail sense, and irrelevant on the wholesale level. Both the difficulty and the irrelevance stem from the fact that those who perpetrate terrorist acts are the equivalent of soldiers in war—there are lots of them, none is remarkable before he shoots, and there are lots where they came from. How would the Drug Enforcement Agency’s intelligence operate if it tried to target mere drug couriers or petty salesmen? Its agents would haunt the drug dens, cultivating petty contacts a few of which might be recruited into trafficking. By the same token, today’s CIA and FBI (in the unlikely event they could manage the cover) would haunt mosques, Islamic schools, and so forth, in the hope that some of their contacts might be among those recruited for terrorism. Very occasionally all this hard work would be rewarded by a success. But all this would amount to picking off a few drops from a fire hose.

That is why intelligence is useful only in the service of intelligent policy, that is, policy that aims at eliminating the people whose elimination would turn off the hose. But as we shall see, the identity of such people is discoverable not by espionage but by intelligence in the ordinary meaning of the word. It is in this regard that U.S. intelligence is most defective. For example, since September 11, for want of sources of its own, the CIA has been accepting information on terrorism from the intelligence services of Syria and of Yasser Arafat’s PLO—outfits whose agendas could not be more opposed to America’s.

The gullibility of U.S. intelligence is not merely an intellectual fault. The CIA’s judgment is corrupted by its longstanding commitment to certain policies. It is only a small exaggeration to say that radical Arab nationalism was invented at the CIA. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, when speaking to his brother, CIA director Allen Dulles, about the granddaddy of Arab radicalism Gamal Abdul Nasser, used to call him “your colonel” because his takeover of Egypt had been financed by the CIA. Franz Fanon, the father of the anti-American Left in the Third World, was so close to the CIA that he chose to die under the Agency’s medical care. Within the government, the CIA long has championed Arafat’s PLO, even as the PLO was killing U.S. ambassadors. Under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, CIA director George Tenet has openly championed the fiction that Arafat’s “Security Forces” are something other than an army for the destruction of Israel. Before Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate described Saddam Hussein as no threat to the region and as ready to cooperate with the United States. These are not mere errors.

Intelligence officers are most corrupted by the temptation to tell their superiors what they want to hear. Thus in September, CIA prevailed upon the intelligence service of the Czech Republic to cast doubts on reports that Mohammed Atta, the leader of the September 11 attacks, had twice met in Prague with Iraqi intelligence as he was preparing for the attacks. The Czech government later formally disavowed its service’s denial and affirmed the contacts between Atta and Iraq. But the CIA insists that there is no evidence that these two professional terrorists met to discuss terrorism. Gardening, perhaps?

When weapons-grade anthrax began to appear on Capitol Hill and in U.S. post offices in October, attention naturally turned to Iraq, whose regime had run the world’s largest or second-largest program for producing it. But the FBI in November, after failing to discover anything whatever concerning the provenance of the anthrax, officially gave the press a gratuitous profile of the mailer as a domestic lunatic. The domestic focus of the investigation was doubly foolish. Even if Saddam Hussein had not thought of anthrax attacks on America before October 2001, the success of the attacks that did occur, as well as the U.S. government’s exoneration of foreigners well-nigh ensured that Saddam would quickly get into the business of spreading the disease among us. Why shouldn’t he? Moreover, the further “identification” of the source of the anthrax by an unidentified “intelligence source” as “some right-wing fanatic” aggravated the naturally worst effect of foreign wars: to compound domestic rivalries.

The use of intelligence not to fight the enemy but to erect a bodyguard of misimpressions around incompetent policy is not a sign of brilliance.

The third pillar of the Bush strategy, the hunt for Osama bin Laden and military action first and foremost against the Taliban, is equally problematic.

Al-Qaeda is Not the Problem

In life as in math, we judge the importance of any part of any problem or structure by factoring it out. Does the equation still work? Does the building or the argument still stand? Imagine if a magic wand were to eliminate from the earth al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. With them gone, would Americans be safe from Arab terrorists? No way. Then what good does it do for the U.S. government to make war on them and no one else? Why not make war on those whose elimination would eliminate terrorism?

Talk of bringing bin Laden “to justice” would sound less confident were ordinary rules of evidence to apply. The trial of bin Laden would be a nightmare of embarrassment for U.S. intelligence. Any number of uncorroborated reports from sources both unreliable and with an interest in deflecting U.S. anger away from Arab governments have painted bin Laden and his friends as devils responsible for all evils. This picture is attractive because it tends to validate decades of judgments by U.S. policy makers. The only independent test of these reports’ validity came in 1998, when President Clinton launched a cruise missile strike against what “sources” had reported to be al-Qaeda’s germ warfare plant in Khartoum. It turned out to be an innocent medicine factory. None of this is to deny that bin Laden and his friends are America’s enemies and that their deaths would be good for us. But people like bin Laden are far from the sole practitioners of violence against Americans and the people and conditions that brought forth all these violent anti-Americans would soon spawn others like them.

Moreover, even if bin Laden had ordered September 11, as he boasts in a recruitment video, the fire that it started in America’s house has been so attractive to potential arsonists that America will not be able to rest until they are discouraged. Getting bin Laden won’t help much.

The Taliban are mostly irrelevant to America. Typically Afghan and unlike the regimes of Syria, Iraq, and the PLO, the Taliban have little role in or concern with affairs beyond their land. They provide shelter to various Arabs who have brought them money and armed help against their internal rivals. But Afghans have not bloodied the world. Arabs have.

The loyalty of the Taliban to their Arab guests is of the tribal kind. The moment that the Taliban are under serious threat, they probably will give the foreigners up. But absent the complicity of someone where bin Laden may be hiding, it is inconceivable that U.S. intelligence would find bin Laden’s location and dispatch Special Forces that could swoop in, defeat his entourage, and take him out. It is surprising that no one has yet lured the U.S. into such an operation—and into an ambush. Destroying the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was always the only way of getting bin Laden, for what little that is worth.

From the beginning of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan on October 7, the lack of strategy for ousting the Taliban was evidence of incompetence. Since then, obvious changes in the character of operations belied U.S. spokesmen’s claims that the war is “on schedule,” and confirmed that those who planned the operation made no intellectual connection between the military moves they were making and the political results they expected. During the first weeks, U.S. actions were limited to bombing “fixed targets,” mostly primitive air defenses and mud huts, unrelated to the ongoing civil war in Afghanistan. Only after it became undeniable that the only force that could make a dent in the regime was the Northern Alliance did U.S. bombers begin to support the Alliance’s troops—but tentatively and incompetently. All war colleges teach that bombs from aircraft or artillery are useful in ground combat only insofar as they fall on enemy troops so close in time to the arrival of one’s own infantry and armor that they render the enemy physically unable to resist. Whether in the two World Wars, in Vietnam, or in Kosovo, whenever significant amounts of time have passed between bombs falling on defenders and the arrival of attackers, the defenders have held. The Afghan civil war is very much a conventional war. Nevertheless, U.S. officials began to take seriously the task of coordinating bombing and preparing the Northern Alliance for serious military operations only after more than a month of embarrassment. In the initial days and weeks, the operation was a show of weakness, not strength.

The U.S. government’s misuse of force was due to its desire to see the Taliban regime lose and the Northern Alliance not win—impossible. When the Alliance did win, the tribal nature of Afghanistan guaranteed that the tribes that stood with the losers would switch sides, and that they would sell to the winners whatever strangers were in their midst. This, however, underlined the operation’s fundamental flaw: just as in the Persian Gulf War, the objective was so ill-chosen that it could be attained without fixing the problem for which we had gone to war. We could win the battle and lose the war.

Hence the worst thing about the campaign against Afghanistan was its opportunity cost. Paraphrasing Livy, Machiavelli tells us “the Romans made their wars short and big.” This is the wisdom of the ages: where war is concerned, the shorter and more decisive, the better, provided of course that the military objective chosen is such that its accomplishment will fix the problem. By contrast, the central message of the Bush Administration concerning the “War on Terrorism” is hardly distinguishable from that of the Johnson Administration during the Vietnam War: This war will last indefinitely, and the public must not expect decisive actions. In sum, the Bush Administration concedes that the objectives of its military operations will not solve the problem, will not bring victory. Whatever its incidental benefits, the operation is diverting U.S. efforts from inconveniencing any of America’s major enemies, and it is wasting the American people’s anger and commitment.

You Can’t “Spin” Defeat
Sensing mounting criticism at home and abroad for ineffectiveness, President Bush addressed the world and the nation on November 8. But he did not address the question that troubled his audiences: Do you have a reasonable plan for victory, for returning the country to the tranquility of September 10? Conscious that economic activity and confidence in America were sinking, he tried to rally the public by invoking the cry of the passenger on Flight 93 who attacked the hijackers: “Let’s roll!” But the substance of what he said undercut the spirit. Rather than asking Americans to take security into their own hands, he asked Americans for indefinite tolerance of restrictions on their freedom. Typical of the result was a New York Times interview with a young laid-off professional. When he watches the news, he said, “it feels like the world is going to hell, like nothing is going to get better.” That is defeat.

What would victory look like?

Part II: Victory

For Americans, victory would mean living a quiet and peaceable life, if possible even less troubled by the troubles of other parts of the world, even freer from searches and sirens and friction and fear, than on September 10. Hence all of the U.S. government’s actions subsequent to September 11 must be judged by how they relate to that end. So what should be the U.S. government’s practical objectives? Who is the enemy that stands in the way? How is this obstacle to be removed? In sum, as Thucydides’ Archidamus asked the Spartans, “What is to be our war?”

The Tranquility of Order

Our peace, our victory, requires bloody vengeance for the murder of some 5,000 innocent family members and friends—we seek at least as many deaths, at least as gory, not to appease our Furies, nor even because justice requires it. Vengeance is necessary to eliminate actual enemies, and to leave no hope for any person or cause inimical to America. Killing those people, those hopes, and those causes is the sine qua non of our peace—and very much within our power.

Fortunately, our peace, our victory, does not require that the peoples of Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, Palestine, or indeed any other part of the world become democratic, free, or decent. They do not require any change in anybody’s religion. We have neither the power nor the right to make such changes. Nor, fortunately, does our peace depend on making sure that others will like us. We have no power to make that happen. Neither our nor anyone else’s peace has ever depended on creating “New World Orders,” “collective security,” or “communities of power.” International relations are not magic. Our own peace does not depend on any two foreign governments being at peace with each other. It is not in our power or in the power of any third party to force such a peace except by making war on both governments. Much less does our peace depend on a “comprehensive peace” in the Middle East or anywhere else. It is not in our power to make such a peace except by conquering whole regions of the world. Our peace and prosperity do not depend on the existence of friendly regimes in any country whatever, including Saudi Arabia. That is fortunate, because we have no power to determine “who rules” in any other country.

Virtually all America’s statesmen until Woodrow Wilson warned that the rest of mankind would not develop ideas and habits like ours or live by our standards. Hence we should not expect any relief from the permanent burdens of international affairs, and of war. Indeed, statesmen from Washington to Lincoln made clear that any attempt to dictate another people’s regime or religion would likelier result in resentment abroad and faction at home than in any relief from foreign troubles. We can and must live permanently in a world of alien regimes and religions. The mere difference in religion or mode of government does not mean that others will trouble our peace. Whether or not any foreign rulers make or allow war on America is a matter of their choice alone. We can talk, negotiate, and exercise economic pressure on rulers who trouble our peace. But if they make war on us we have no choice but to make war on them and kill them. Though we cannot determine who will rule, we surely can determine who will neither rule nor live.

What do we want from the Middle East to secure our peace? Neither democracy nor a moderate form of Islam—only that the region’s leaders neither make nor allow war on us, lest they die. We have both the right and the capacity to make sure of that. But is it not necessary for our peace that the countries of the region be ruled by regimes friendly to us? No. By all accounts, the Saudi royal family’s personal friendship with Americans has not affected their aiding and abetting terror against us. It is necessary only that any rulers, whatever their inclinations might be, know that they and their entourages will be killed, surely and brutally, if any harm to Americans originates from within their borders. Respect beats friendship. Do we not have to make sure that the oil of the Middle East continues to fuel the world economy? Is this not necessary to our peace? Indeed. But this does not burden us with the impossible task of ensuring that Saudi Arabia and the Oil States are ruled by friendly regimes. We need only ensure that whoever rules those hot sands does not interfere with the production of the oil that lies beneath them. That we can do, if we will.

In sum, ending the war that broke out on September 11 with our peace will require a lot of killing—to eliminate those in any way responsible for attacking us, and those who might cause further violence to us or choke the world’s economy by troubling the supply of oil. It turns out that these mostly are the same persons. Who then are the enemies whose deaths will bring us peace?

It’s The Regime, Stupid
When the suicide pilots of September 11 died, they made nonsense of the notion that terrorism was perpetrated by and on behalf of “senseless” individuals, and that the solution to terrorism lay in “bringing to justice” the bombers and trigger pullers. If this notion were adhered to, the fact that the terrorists had already gone to justice should have ended the matter, except for some ritual exhortation to states to be a bit more careful about madmen in their populations.

But these terrorists were neither madmen nor on the edges of society. They came from well-established families. They had more than casual contacts with the political movements and intelligence services of their own regime and of neighboring countries. They acted on behalf of international causes that are the main sources of legitimacy for some regimes of the Middle East, and are tolerated by all. These causes include a version of Islam; a version of Arab nationalism; driving Westerners and Western influence form Islamic lands; and ridding the Arab world of more or less pro-Western regimes like that of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates. Moreover, peoples and regimes alike cheered their acts. In short, these acts were not private. Rather, they were much like the old Western practice of “privateering” (enshrined in Article I of our own Constitution, vide “letters of Marque and Reprisal”), in which individuals not under formal discipline of governments nevertheless were chartered by governments to make war on their behalf.

Since the terrorists of September 11 are dead and we sense that their acts were not merely on their own behalf but rather that they acted as soldiers, the question imposes itself: Whose soldiers? Who is responsible? Whose death will bring us peace?

Islam is not responsible. It has been around longer than the United States, and coexisted with it peacefully for two hundred years. No doubt a version of Islam —Islamism—a cross between the Wahabi sect and secular anti-Westernism, is central to those who want to kill Americans. But it is neither necessary nor sufficient nor possible for Americans to enter into intra-Muslim theological debates. Besides, these debates are not terribly relevant. The relevant fact is that the re-definition of Islam into something harmful to us is the work of certain regimes and could not survive without them.

Regimes are forms of government, systems of incentives and disincentives, of honors and taboos and habits. Each kind of regime gives prominence to some kinds of people and practices, while pushing others to the margins of society. Different regimes bring out different possibilities inherent in the same people. Thus the Japanese regime prior to World War II changed the meaning of the national religion of Shinto from quaint rituals to militant emperor-worship. Germany meant vastly different things to the German people and to the world when it was under the regime established by Konrad Adenauer, as opposed to the one established by Adolf Hitler. In short, regimes get to define themselves and the people who live under them.

Note that Palestine’s Yasser Arafat, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, and Syria’s Assad family have made themselves the icons of Islamism despite the fact that they are well known atheists who live un-Muslim lives and have persecuted unto death the Muslim movements in their countries. Nevertheless, they represent the hopes of millions for standing up to Westerners, driving Israel (hated more for its Westernness than its Judaism) out of the Holy Land, and undoing the regimes that stand with the West. These tyrants represent those hopes because they in fact have managed to do impressive anti-Western deeds and have gotten away with it. The Middle East’s memory of the Gulf War is that Saddam tried to drive a Western lackey out of Kuwait and then withstood the full might of America, later to spit in its face. The Middle East’s view of Palestine is that Arafat and the Assads champion the rights of Islam against the Infidels.

Nor are the Arab peoples or Arab nationalism necessarily our enemies. America co-existed peacefully with Arabs for two centuries. Indeed, the United States is largely responsible for pushing Britain and France to abandon colonial and neo-colonial rule over Arab peoples in the 1950s. U.S. policy has been unfailingly—perhaps blindly—in favor of Arab nationalism. It is true that Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser founded Arab nationalism on an anti-American basis in the 1950s. It is true that in 1958 the Arab Socialist Party’s (Ba’ath) coup in Iraq and Syria gave Arab nationalism a mighty push in the anti-American direction. It is true that the Soviet Union and radical Arabs created the Palestine Liberation Organization as an anti-Western movement. But it is also true that Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and, since 1973, Egypt have been just as Arab and just as nationalistic, though generally more pro-Western.

How did the PLO and the Ba’ath regimes of Syria and Iraq gather to themselves the mantle of Arab nationalism? First, the Saudis and the Emirates gave them money, while Americans and Europeans gave them respect and money. Saudis, Americans and Europeans gave these things in no small part because the radical Arabs employed terrorism from the very first, and Saudi, American, and European politicians, and Israelis as well, hoped to domesticate the radicals, buy them off, or divert them to other targets—including each other. Second and above all, we have given them victories, which they have used as warrants for strengthening their hold on their peoples and for recruiting more terrorists against us.

Today Iraq, Syria, and the PLO are the effective cause of global terrorism. More than half of the world’s terrorism since 1969, and nearly all of it since the fall of the Soviet Union, has been conducted on behalf of the policies and against the enemies of those three regimes. By comparison, Libya, Iran, and Sudan have been minor players. Afghanistan is just a place on the map. Factor these three malefactors out of the world’s political equation and what reason would any Arab inclined to Islamism or radical nationalism have to believe that such causes would stand a chance of success? Which intelligence service would provide would-be terrorists with the contacts, the money, the training to enter and fight the West or Israel? For whom, in short, would they soldier?

The Iraqi, Syrian, and the PLO regimes are no more true nationalists than they are true Muslims. They are regimes of a party, in the mold of the old Soviet Union. Each is based on a narrow segment of society and rules by physically eliminating its enemies. Iraq is actually not a nation state but an empire. The ruling Ba’ath party comes from the Mesopotamian Sunni Arabs, the smallest of the empire’s three ethnic groups. The ruling faction of the party, Saddam’sTikriti, are a tiny fraction of the ruling party. The Assad family that rules Syria is even more isolated. The faction of the local Ba’ath party that is their instrument of power is made up almost exclusively of Alewites, a neo-Islamic sect widely despised in the region. It must rely exclusively on corrupt, hated security forces. Yasser Arafat rules the PLO through theFatah faction, which lives by a combination of buying off competitors with money acquired from the West and Israel, and killing them. Each of the regimes consists of some 2,000 people. These include officials of the ruling party, officers in the security forces down to the level of colonel, plus all the general officers of the armed forces. These also include top government officials, officials of the major economic units, the media, and of course the leaders of the party’s “social organizations” (labor, youth, women’s professional, etc.).

All these regimes are weak. They have radically impoverished and brutalized their peoples. A few members of the ruling party may be prepared to give their lives for the anti-Western causes they represent, but many serve out of fear or greed. The Gulf War and the Arab-Israeli wars proved that their armies and security forces are brittle: tough so long as the inner apparatus of coercion is unchallenged, likely to disintegrate once it is challenged.

Killing these regimes would be relatively easy, would be a favor to the peoples living under them, and is the only way to stop terrorism among us.

On Killing Regimes
It follows that killing regimes means killing their members in ways that discredit the kinds of persons they were, the ways they lived, the things and ideas to which they gave prominence, the causes they espoused, and the results of their rule. Thus the Western Allies de-Nazified Germany not by carpet-bombing German cities, which in fact was the only thing that persuaded ordinary Germans that they and the Nazis were in the same boat. The Allies killed the Nazi regime by killing countless Nazis in battle, hanging dozens of survivors, imprisoning hundreds, and disqualifying thousands from social and economic prominence. The Allies promised to do worse to anyone who tried Nazism again, left no doubt in the minds of Germans that their many sorrows had been visited on them by the Nazis, and made Nazism into a dirty word.

Clearly, it is impossible to kill any regime by killing its people indiscriminately. In the Gulf War, U.S. forces killed uncounted tens of thousands of Iraqis whose deaths made no difference to the outcome of the war and the future of the region, while consciously sparing the much smaller number who made up the regime. Hence those who want to “bomb the hell out of the Arabs” or “nuke Baghdad” in response to September 11 are making the same mistake. Killing must be tailored to political effect. This certainly means invading Iraq, and perhaps Syria, with ground troops. It means openly sponsoring Israel’s invasion of the PLO territories. But it does not mean close supervision or the kind of political reconstruction we performed in Germany and Japan after World War II.

It is important that U.S. forces invade Iraq with the stated objective of hanging Saddam and whoever we judge to have been too close to him. Once those close to him realize that this is going to happen and cannot be stopped, they will kill one another, each trying to demonstrate that he was farther from the tyrant than anyone else. But America’s reputation for bluff and for half measures is so entrenched that the invasion will have to make progress greater than in the Gulf War in order for this to happen. At this point, whether or not Saddam himself falls into U.S. hands alive along with his subordinates, it is essential that all be denounced, tried, and hanged on one charge only: having made war on America, on their own people, and on their neighbors. The list of people executed should follow the party-government’s organization chart as much as possible. It is equally essential that everyone who hears of the event be certain that something even more drastic would follow the recrudescence of such a regime. All this should happen as quickly as possible.

After settling America’s quarrel, America should leave Iraq to the peoples who live there. These would certainly break the empire into its three ethnic constituents: Kurds in the North, Mesopotamian Sunnis in the center, and Marsh Shiites in the South. How they may govern themselves, deal with one another and with their neighbors, is no business of ours. What happens in Iraq is simply not as important to us as the internal developments of Germany and Japan were. It is enough that the Iraqis know that we would be ready to defend whatever interest of ours they might threaten. Prestige is a reputation for effective action in one’s own interest. We would have re-earned our prestige, and hence our right to our peace.

In the meantime, we should apologize to Israel for having pressured her to continue absorbing terrorist attacks. We should urge Israel to act decisively to earn her own peace, which would involve destroying the regime of the PLO in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel could do this more easily than we could destroy Saddam’s regime in Iraq. The reason is that the regime of the PLO, the so-called Palestine Liberation Authority, is wholly dependent on Israel itself for most basic services, from money and electricity to telecommunications, water, food, and fuel. Moreover, the PLO’s key people are a few minutes’ driving distance from Israeli forces. A cutoff of essentials, followed by a military cordon and an invasion, would net all but a few of these terrorists. The U.S. could not dictate how they should be disposed of. But it would make sense for Israel to follow the formula that they deserve death for the harm these criminal gangs have done to everyone with whom they have come in contact, even one another. With the death of the PLO’s gangsters, Palestinian politics would be liberated from the culture of assassination that has stunted its healthy growth since the days of Mufti Hussein in the 1920s.

After Iraq and Palestine, it would be Syria’s turn. By this time, the seriousness of America and its allies would speak for itself. A declaration of war against the Assad regime by the U.S., Israel, and Turkey would most likely produce a palace coup in Damascus—by one part of the regime eager to save itself by selling out the others—followed by a revolution in the country. At that point, the Allies might produce a list of persons who would have to be handed over to avert an invasion. And of course Syrian troops would have to leave Lebanon. Americans have no interest in Syria strong enough to require close supervision of successors to Assad. But Turkey’s interest might require such supervision. The U.S. should make no objection to Turkey’s reestablishment of a sphere of influence over parts of its former empire.

Destroying the major anti-Western regimes in the Middle East might come too late to save the moribund government of Saudi Arabia from the anti-Western sentiments that it has shortsightedly fostered within itself. Or the regime might succumb anyway to long-festering quarrels within the royal family. In any case, it is possible that as a consequence of the Saudi regime’s natural death, the foreigners who actually extract and ship the oil might be endangered. In that case, we would have to choose among three options: 1) letting the oil become the tool of whoever might win the struggle (and taking the chance that the fields might be sabotaged in the war); 2) trying to build a new Saudi regime to our liking; or 3) taking over protection of the fields. The first amounts to entrusting the world’s economy to the vagaries of irresponsible persons. The second option should be rejected because Americans cannot govern Arabs, or indeed any foreigners. Taking over the oil fields alone would amount to colonial conquest—alien to the American tradition. It would not be alien, however, to place them under joint international supervision—something that Russia might well be eager to join.

Our Own Worst Enemies?
What stands in the way of our achieving the peace we so desire? Primarily, the ideas of Western elites. Here are a few.

Violence and killing do not settle anything. In fact they are the ultima ratio, the decisive argument, on earth. Mankind’s great questions are decided by war. The battle of Salamis decided whether or not there would be Greek civilization. Whether Western Europe would be Christian or Muslim was decided by the battle of Tours. Even as the U.S. Civil War decided the future of slavery and World War II ended Nazism, so this war will decide not just who rules in the Middle East, but the character of life in America as well.

Our primary objective in war as in peace must be to act in accordance with the wishes and standards of the broadest slice of mankind. In fact, the standards of most of mankind are far less worthy than those prevalent in America. America’s Founders taught this, and forgetting it has caused harm. Alliances must always be means, never ends in themselves, and as such must be made or unmade according to whether or not they help secure our interest. Our interest in war is our kind of peace. That is why it is mistaken to consider an ally anyone who impedes the killing of those who stand in the way of our peace. With allies like Saudi Arabia, America does not need enemies.

When involved in any conflict, we should moderate the pursuit of our objectives so as propitiate those moderates who stand on the sidelines. Individuals and governments stand on the sidelines of conflict, or lend support to one side, according to their judgment of who will win and with whom they will have to deal. “Extremist” is one of many pejorative synonyms for “loser.” The surest way to lose the support of “moderates” is to be ineffective. Might is mistaken for right everywhere, but especially in the Middle East. Hence the easiest way to encourage terrorism is to attempt to deal with “the root causes of resentment against us” by granting some of the demands of our enemies.

Learning to put up with security measures will make us safer, and is a contribution we can all make to victory. On the contrary, security measures will not make us safe, and accustoming ourselves to them is our contribution to defeat. The sign of victory over terrorism will be the removal of security measures.

The Arab regimes that are the matrices of terrorism have nothing going for them except such Western shibboleths. Their peoples hate them. Their armies would melt before ours as they have melted before Western armies since the days of Xenophon’s Upcountry March. They produce nothing. Terror is their domestic policy and their foreign policy. The oil from which they get the money that they lavish on themselves and on terrorism comes from revenues that Westerners give them to satisfy Western ideas of what is right. The regimes that are killing us and defeating us are the product of Western judgments in the mid-20th century that colonialism is wrong and that these peoples could govern themselves as good stewards of the world’s oil markets. They continue to exist only because Western elites have judged that war is passé. It is these ideas and judgments, above all, that stand in the way of our peace, our victory.



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Victory in Afghanistan is Still Possible

“When Americans suffer casualties, they run away from battle,” the high-ranking Taliban commander, Seif Galali, famously told an Al Jazeera interviewer in 2009, after U.S. forces withdrew from the Nuristan Province, due to fierce Taliban resistance.

Around that time, Marine Corps platoon leader Lieutenant Jake Kerr, would recount to the legendary military writer (who is also a retired Marine), Bing West, the travails of his platoon’s experience fighting in Afghanistan. He would detail how his Marines held a forward operating base in Kunar Province but, since the Marines weren’t allowed to venture out beyond the base—and since they were not given enough reinforcements (and USAID had cut off funds to their Afghan partners)—the Taliban would simply “go around” the Marines when attacking the Kunar Province.

“My platoon is fucking pissed off that we gave away the initiative.” Kerr told West.

Kerr’s sentiments would be shared by the majority of American forces fighting in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban have a saying: “The Americans have all of the watches, but we have all of the time.”

Meanwhile, the Taliban have a saying: “The Americans have all of the watches, but we have all of the time.”

And that’s really the nub of the whole war, isn’t it? When the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan following the horrific 9/11 attacks, America had the initiative. U.S. forces destroyed the Afghans’ perception that theirs was the winning side. That was an important step for us toward victory. Alas, the opportunity it created was squandered when we assumed our side was too big to fail.

When Americans look at the Taliban or al Qaeda, we see cave dwellers living in squalor compared to our high-tech military prowess. Or, as an Army Ranger friend of mine once told me, “We look like men from Mars to the Afghans.” Meanwhile, they look like the Flintstones to us.

What we fail to recognize, however, is how the enemy’s belief system empowers them to stand against America’s fearsome military might. In fact, after 17 years of fighting against an American force that—considering its capacities—has been woefully under-resourced and horribly mismanaged by ignorant politicians in Washington, the jihadists in Afghanistan have regained their former false impression of superiority over their American foes.

When perceptions change in combat; when a pre-modern band of religious zealots now disbelieves that yours is the superior fighting force, their resistance quotient increases exponentially. Under such circumstances, groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban assume that their god is truly on their side. So now, the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, and others affiliated jihadists are simply running out the clock on America’s forces. Why fight America’s comparatively heavy armed military if the jihadists can just psyche out our weak political leaders from afar?

When perceptions change in combat; when a pre-modern band of religious zealots now disbelieves that yours is the superior fighting force, their resistance quotient increases exponentially. Under such circumstances, groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban assume that their god is truly on their side.

We’ve heard this tale before. During the Civil War, the Confederates became convinced that, despite the numerical superiority of the Union forces, the Union was poorly led, and that its populace had little appetite for the kind of war that the South was willing to wage.

In Vietnam, the North Vietnamese kept telling themselves that, the greater levels of casualties they inflicted, the more the Americans would cut-and-run.

During both Desert Storm and the Iraq War in 2003, Saddam Hussein genuinely believed that he could inflict enough casualties that the Americans would repeat the Vietnam withdrawal experience.

In Vietnam and in Iraq in 2003, it was not the military that handed America a defeat, but rather, it was America’s pathetic politicians who did the deed. Conversely, in the case of the Civil War, it was presidential courage that allowed for the promotion of controversial men like Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman into positions of authority. These men, possessed of fierce fighting abilities, visionary leadership, and an unrelenting desire for victory are the reasons why the North ultimately defeated its wayward Southern brethren.

Sheer brutality and a clear-eyed strategy for victory—coupled with political courage from the White House—allowed heroic and brutal men to wage the only kind of war America wins: a total unrestricted war that is committed to victory.

This is precisely the kind of political courage that President Trump must display now.

For the last 17 years in Afghanistan, we’ve lacked it. America went in to fight terrorists and ended up nation-building. Clearly, something in our strategy went awry. The problem was in America’s political leadership—the “Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party.” Possessed of crippling political correctness, our leaders negated our military’s strengths and turned our warfighters into “armed humanitarians,” because the Bipartisan Fusion Party’s political correctness made them think that victory was immoral. Coincidentally, the jihadists also believe an American victory is immoral.

Sheer brutality and a clear-eyed strategy for victory—coupled with political courage from the White House—allowed heroic and brutal men to wage the only kind of war America wins: a total unrestricted war that is committed to victory.

As former Army Intelligence Lt. Col. Ralph Peters has written over the years, the initial strategy for the United States in Afghanistan was apt. The United States was striking back at those who attacked it on September 11, 2001. Due to force limitations (and the need for a swift response), the United States could only bring a small force to bear in the initial days of the war. The Bush Administration had to rely heavily on the Central Intelligence Agency’s paramilitary arm, since the Pentagon, after years of President Bill Clinton’s short-sighted talk of a “peace dividend,” was caught flat-footed by the 9/11 attacks.

In addition to the lack of preparation on the part of the military when it came to invading Afghanistan, there were also severe logistical limitations surrounding that invasion. Not wanting to accept these challenges as insurmountable, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld rightly pushed through serious expansions and reforms of America’s Special Forces, from which we are still the beneficiaries today. So, together with the CIA, special-operations teams inserted themselves into Afghanistan.

These groups quickly enmeshed themselves with larger, anti-Taliban and anti-al Qaeda indigenous forces, such as the Northern Alliance. Using satellites to link them with American and allied airpower just over-the-horizon, America cobbled together an effective punitive expedition. This expedition punished al Qaeda and ousted the Taliban from power in record time. By 2002, the war was mostly won. America should have declared victory and gone home, leaving behind a small counterterrorism force to ensure that those busted remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban were kept at bay.

Yet, even as the Bush Administration was beginning to focus its efforts on invading Iraq, the United States opted to remain in Afghanistan and “nation-build.” This was our greatest error of that period. In splitting America’s limited forces between “mopping up” in Afghanistan and invading Iraq, we lost the initiative. Victory was no longer the main object. More damagingly, by keeping our forces engaged in Afghanistan but woefully restrained, America’s military lost its prestige in the eyes of those it was fighting. They were hamstrung.

In splitting America’s limited forces between “mopping up” in Afghanistan and invading Iraq, we lost the initiative. Victory was no longer the main object. More damagingly, by keeping our forces engaged in Afghanistan but woefully restrained, America’s military lost its prestige in the eyes of those it was fighting. They were hamstrung.

Meanwhile, American money has created a failed central government in Afghanistan that runs on corruption and aggravates the locals. It is likely that nothing better but, instead, something worse, would have emerged in our absence. But at least then it wouldn’t have come with our apparent seal of approval and made us the object of scorn. As Peter Tomsen wrote, the key to Afghanistan is not Kabul, but the tribes. Moving forward, America’s leaders must recognize and embrace this simple fact. There is no united Afghanistan. It is nearly impossible to try to create a united Afghanistan. It likely isn’t in our strategic interests to spend the next century trying to build a unified Afghanistan, either. What’s more, history proves that invaders who have tried to dominate a united Afghanistan do not succeed.

The whiff of corruption on the part of American-backed Afghan leaders and the taint of defeat surrounding our military strategy in Afghanistan has created a toxic brew, empowering our enemies and discouraging our allies. This toxic brew has created a self-fulfilling prophecy of Afghanistan being the place where the American “empire” went to die.

This is not a tenable situation. We cannot stay and “nation-build” in Afghanistan forever—especially not with America’s own economic situation remaining so precarious. Nevertheless, we have sacrificed many of our young men and women in Afghanistan. Is it moral to negate those sacrifices by giving up on victory there, simply because it’s expensive? I don’t think so. I think we should give Secretary of Defense James Mattis one more shot to try to resolve the outcome of this war in America’s favor. We owe it to those who’ve sacrificed everything in Afghanistan.

If Mattis cannot lead us to victory, I suspect that no one can, and then America should call it quits. Giving that war one more go isn’t going to be the thing that breaks America. A defeat just might, though.

This is not a tenable situation. We cannot stay and “nation-build” in Afghanistan forever—especially not with America’s own economic situation remaining so precarious. Nevertheless, we have sacrificed many of our young men and women in Afghanistan. Is it moral to negate those sacrifices by giving up on victory there, simply because it’s expensive?

Recently, Secretary of Defense Mattis testified to Congress that America was losing in Afghanistan but that he planned on remedying this fact. Earlier this week, Mattis was given unprecedented control over the war in Afghanistan by the President. This, after an uptick in U.S. military engagements with jihadist forces in Afghanistan—notably those of ISIS. The decision to grant Mattis the kind of autonomy that every American military leader dreams of is akin to Lincoln’s decision to trust Grant. In the coming days and weeks, we will see an increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But, it will be unlike anything that we’ve seen heretofore in the nearly-20-year-long war.

The military—especially the Marines—will be allowed not only to fight, but to win. What’s more, they will be granted permission to use any and all means to win. This is exemplified by the recent use of the all-powerful “Mother of All Bombs” against an ISIS-K stronghold in Afghanistan. Neither Bush nor Obama would have ever approved the use of such weapons—even against an ISIS stronghold, removed from civilian populations.

We must not forget that all warfare is ultimately political in nature—or politics by other means. Therefore, even a return to classical concepts of American warfare will be insufficient to achieve ultimate victory in Afghanistan. Thus, it is essential to recognize some key points going forward.

The decision to grant Mattis the kind of autonomy that every American military leader dreams of is akin to Lincoln’s decision to trust Grant. In the coming days and weeks, we will see an increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But, it will be unlike anything that we’ve seen heretofore in the nearly-20-year-long war.

First, the revitalization of America’s military posture in Afghanistan will bust the jihadists’ perception that time is on their side. This will generate much-needed momentum for America’s forces. The momentum will prompt many fence-sitting Afghan tribal leaders to come back to America’s side.

Second, the key to victory rests in the tribes, not in Kabul.

Third, Afghanistan has become a geopolitical hot potato, with China, Russia, Pakistan, and Iran all taking greater roles in the country. By crafting policies aimed at either compelling them to assist in ending the war in America’s favor or by neutering their clients in the country, the United States can secure a geopolitical, as well as a military victory.

Fourth, since the ethno-religious tribes are the key, we will need to recognize that the Taliban will likely require negotiation, since, as Michael Scheurer points out, the Taliban is effectively a Pashtun independence movement. And, to be sure, the Pashtun are not going anywhere. But, by empowering the tribes over the central government in Kabul, we can at least mitigate the Taliban’s political reach.

Fifth, America must plan to leave counterterrorism forces behind in Afghanistan indefinitely, to ensure that it does not become a bastion of jihadism yet again.

The Trump Administration must keep this in mind and begin fashioning its diplomatic strategy to comport with what will likely be an expansion of its military policy in Afghanistan. The War in Afghanistan is totally winnable. All victory will require is for President Trump to allow for America’s fighting men and women to use every means at their disposal to accomplish their mission. Further, we need to recognize that an American victory in Afghanistan will look unlike anything we’ve experienced historically, but it will be a victory, nonetheless.

Consistent military victories will rejuvenate America’s image in Afghanistan. We will return to the status of being the stronger tribe. Once that happens, real headway can be made in ending America’s commitment there.

The Trump Administration, however, must keep the American political establishment out of the management of the campaign, and it must be willing to support the war effort in a way that neither the Bush nor Obama Administrations were willing to do. Brutality of the sort unseen in many decades will be essential to send a clear and unmistakable message to our enemies that America is playing for keeps. After all, victory goes neither to the swift nor to the strong. Instead it goes to to he that endureth.  

The Trump Administration, however, must keep the American political establishment out of the management of the campaign, and it must be willing to support the war effort in a way that neither the Bush nor Obama Administrations were willing to do.

Time will tell if President Trump has the political courage to maintain this posture in the way that Lincoln did during the Civil War. I think that Trump does. But if he does not have any intention of doing what must be done in order to have a chance at winning, then Trump should end America’s commitment immediately. There is nothing more immoral than doing what former President Obama did in Afghanistan: throw young American servicemen and women into a war, tie their hands behind their backs, all the meanwhile having no intention of winning the war you were asking them to fight. Obama, fearful of being blamed for having lost the war, fought it half-heartedly. This was worse than simply walking away.

If the war in Afghanistan is to be won, it is only the unorthodox leadership of President Trump that will deliver such a necessary victory. And, victory in Afghanistan is, above all things,  necessary.

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Constitutional Buffoonery from the Federal District Courts

The temporary nationwide injunctions placed on President Trump’s most recent executive order, issued March 6 (“Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”) by two federal district courts are the latest skirmishes in progressive liberalism’s war against the idea of the sovereign nation-state and the exclusive citizenship that attaches to “separate and equal” nations (to use the language of the Declaration of Independence).

The district court decisions perfectly represented Secretary of State John Kerry’s parting advice to the American people when he warned the nation to prepare itself for a “borderless world.” The argument now seems to have clearly entered what progressive constitutional scholars have called the “post-constitutional era,” an era where the Constitution is only an afterthought in the advancement of Progressivism.

The March 6 order replaced an identically titled executive order that Trump issued on January 27. The first executive order was enjoined primarily on due process grounds because it did not accord resident aliens and visa holders requisite due process rights. A legal doctrine that has developed over the years holds that while aliens seeking entry to the United States generally have no due process rights, when they develop ties, as legal residents and green card holders do, they acquire some due process rights. Thus legal residents and green card holders as well as those already holding visas were not included in the redrafted order.

A provision of the first order giving admissions preference to Christian minorities in majority-Muslim countries was also eliminated because it was thought to provoke unnecessary Establishment Clause issues. The second executive order was redrawn to meet the legal objections lodged by the federal district courts and, by and large, it was thought that the Justice Department lawyers had succeeded in meeting all the constitutional objections. But one could hardly predict the depths to which the federal district courts would delve in dredging up tendentious and wholly fabulous new arguments to defeat Trump’s revised order.

Departing from Precedent… and Common Sense

More than a century ago, the Supreme Court stated the common sense of the matter as it was understood by every American since the founding:

It is an accepted maxim of international law that every sovereign nation has the power, as inherent in sovereignty, and essential to self-preservation, to forbid the entrance of foreigners within its dominions, or to admit them only in such cases and upon such conditions as it may see fit to prescribe. [Ekiu v. U.S., 142 U.S. 651, 659 (1892).]

Some half-century later, the court made another commonsensical statement of the necessary consequences of sovereignty:

The exclusion of aliens is a fundamental act of sovereignty. The right to do so stems not alone from legislative power but is inherent in the executive power to control the foreign affairs of the nation. . . . When Congress prescribes a procedure concerning the admissibility of aliens, it is not dealing alone with a legislative power. It is implementing an inherent executive power. Thus the decision to admit or to exclude an alien may be lawfully placed with the President, who may in turn delegate the carrying out of this function to a responsible executive of the sovereign. [Knauff v. Shaughnessy, 338 U.S. 537, 542-543 (1950)]

Accordingly, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 granted broad latitude to the president:

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

This language is remarkable for the fact that it does not contain any limits or qualifications on the president’s discretion. Until the recent decisions enjoining President Trump’s executive orders, case law by and large, has supported the president’s broad authority to act under this provision. Until now, courts have always recognized that the President’s power over national security and foreign policy is extensive, deriving from inherent powers embodied in Article II of the Constitution and powers delegated by Congress. Courts almost always defer to the executive in these two areas.

What the Order Said

The second executive order is designed to protect the citizens of the United States “from terrorist attacks, including those committed by foreign nations.” It seeks to accomplish this goal by improving “the screening and vetting protocols and procedures associated with the visa-issuance process” in order to detect “foreign nationals who may commit, aid, or support acts of terrorism and in preventing those individuals from entering the United States. It is therefore the policy of the United States to improve the screening and vetting protocols and procedures associated with the visa-issuance process and the United States Refugee Admissions Program.”

Section 2 of the executive order suspends for ninety days entry of all immigrants from six designated terrorist nations: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Iraq had been included on the first order, but was dropped on the second because it was thought to be unjust treatment to deny categorically entry to those who had cooperated with the American war effort in Iraq: translators, advisors, combatants and others, although everyone seems to agree that the vetting in Iraq continues to be inadequate.

These six nations were designated state sponsors of terrorism before the Trump took office and were treated as such in various actions by the Obama administration. The principal reason that these countries are listed in the executive order is that they do not have adequate screening and vetting procedures in place to minimize “the risk of erroneously permitting entry of a national . . . who intends to commit terrorist acts or otherwise harm the national security of the United States.” The risk, according the executive order, is “Unacceptably high.” Indeed the heads of the major security agencies in the Obama administration warned that active terrorists will inevitably slip through security screening cracks of our own security apparatus. Trump quite reasonably believes that emigrants from terrorist-designated nations should undergo more thorough screening in the sending nations than they currently receive. This is a national security priority.

The two decisions, State of Hawaii and Ismail Elshikh v. Trump and International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump issued temporary nationwide restraining orders against the March 6, 2017 Executive Order. Both decisions were announced on March 15. The Justice Department has announced that it will appeal the International Refugee Assistance case, which was decided in Maryland federal district court, presumably calculating the appeal would have better chances in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals than in the notoriously liberal-radical Ninth Circuit. One interesting difference between the two decisions, which are otherwise quite similar, is that Judge Watson in the Hawaii case found both Section 2, banning entry for 90 days from the six designated countries unconstitutional, as well as section 6, which suspends the refugee program for 120 days. Judge Chuang found fault only with Section 2. The Justice Department asked Judge Watson to reconsider his section six ruling, but he refused to do so.

Dishonest Decisions

The Hawaii case produced a thoroughly dishonest decision exposing progressive “post-constitutionalism” for the absurdity that it is. Judge Watson, an Obama appointee, granted standing to Hawaii because of the likely injuries it would suffer to its university system and the loss of revenue it would incur due to decreased tourism. The university system would suffer a financial loss, the state argued, since it recruits students from the six designated countries and tuition revenues will consequently be diminished. There are also “non-monetary losses, including damage to the collaborative exchange of ideas among people of different religions and national background on which the State’s education institutions depend.”

“The University trades in ideas and the diversity of ideas,” plaintiffs alleged. The universities, after all, “have a mission of global engagement” and their mission would be mutilated by the ban on emigration from terrorist designated nations. National security considerations must therefore be seen in the light of its effects on diversity and global engagement.

The Maryland case did not include the state as a plaintiff, although Judge Chuang, also an Obama appointee, allowed the Middle East Studies Association to assert claims that the executive order “would make it more difficult for certain members to travel for academic conferences and field work, and that the inability of its members to enter the United States threatens to cripple its annual conference, on which it relies for a large portion of its early revenue.” It is difficult to credit claims such as these when weighed against the executive order’s national security claims. Nevertheless, Judge Chuang thought the association would likely prevail in asserting its constitutional claims.

Both cases held that plaintiffs were likely to prevail in their argument that the executive order violated the Establishment Clause. The plaintiff in the Hawaii case, Ismail Elshikh, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Egyptian descent, is the imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii. He is married to a Syrian woman who is also Muslim. His mother-in-law, also Muslim, seeks a visa to enter the United States from Syria. The six-nation ban would prevent her from visiting her son-in law, daughter and grandchildren, as we learn later in the opinion, solely because she is Muslim.

The question has always been whether an individual has a right to assert a claim alleging the violation of an individual right under the Establishment Clause. The familiar language of the First Amendment is that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . .” Although conceding that “the injury-in-fact prerequisite can be ‘particularly elusive’ in Establishment Clause cases because plaintiffs do not typically allege an invasion of a physical or economic interest,” Judge Watson nevertheless contends that psychological injuries are enough to confer standing.

Government endorsement of religion treats members of disfavored religions as second-class citizens and outsiders and sends a message that government is hostile to their religion. In Dr. Elshikh’s case, he was “deeply saddened by the message” conveyed by the Executive Order and “that a broad travel-ban was ‘needed’ to prevent people from certain Muslim countries from entering the United States.” Judge Watson concludes that “these injuries are sufficiently personal, concrete, particularized, and actual to confer standing in the Establishment Clause context.”

The idea that a subjective feeling of sadness was a real or significant injury and likely to prevail as sufficient evidence that the executive order disfavored the Muslim religion to such an extent that it was an endorsement of non-Muslim religions and therefore an establishment is far-fetched, not to say ludicrous. Likely to prevail at trial? Hardly. Not if Madison and other drafters of the Bill of Rights were members of the jury. Proof of establishment must surely rest on stronger evidence than the hurt feeling or hysterical musings of perfervid imaginations.

Both cases give standing to plaintiffs for Establishment Clause claims and both relied on Lemon v. Kurtzman, the 1971 case that created the standard for determining when government action is tantamount to an establishment of religion. The most important part of the Lemon test is that the law or government action must have a secular purpose; it must be neutral with respect to religion. Both judges admit that the executive order on its face is neutral. It addresses the issues of terrorism and the adequacy of screening and vetting in the designated countries.

But both judges note that since the six countries are overwhelmingly Muslim, they dismiss almost out of hand the government’s argument that this is not proof of animus against Muslims because these countries only represent a fraction of the world’s Muslim population. Judge Watson’s conclusion is that it is “no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam.” One certainly does not have to have an advanced degree in logic or metaphysics to see the logical flaw in the Judge’s conclusion. After all, it is terrorism that is targeted, not Islam. Not all Muslim countries are designated countries; not all Muslim nations pose imminent threats nor do all lack proper vetting and screening procedures.

Campaign Rhetoric—Seriously?

What convinced both judges that the natural security purpose of the executive order was merely pretext was not the language of the order, which contains religiously neutral language, but the ex cathedra statements of Donald Trump and his staff during the presidential campaign. According to Judge Watson, the campaign language reveals “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the executive order.” The remarks of campaign advisers, Rudolph Giuliani and Stephen Miller, were also rehearsed to demonstrate animus against Muslims. The fact that presidential rhetoric leading up to the actual executive order had gradually evolved into the neutral language of national security cannot disguise or minimize the religious animosity that still rests at the core of the order. The national security reasons of the order are merely pretextual and there is a “dearth of evidence indicating a national security purpose.”

Although Judge Chuang’s legal analysis is considerably more sophisticated that Judge Watson’s rather casual assumptions about what passes for constitutional analysis, he accepts the argument that Trumps ex cathedra statements are more dispositive in determining the executive order’s purpose than the plain language of the order itself. While both judges seem to realize that interpreting the text of the order is their first obligation, both are too impatient to reach a result that satisfies their predisposition to reach a progressive result that looks forward to a “world without borders” to be deterred by taking the text of the order seriously. Both judges pick up any constitutional bludgeon that falls readily to hand—here, the Establishment Clause.

Judge Chuang notes that plaintiffs in the Maryland case raise the issue of whether any national security issues are involved at all since the executive order does not identify any terror activities that have been committed by foreign nationals from the designated countries. He seems to imply that the absence of any past terrorist acts precludes any national security action to meet anticipated or potential risks. Hardly solid logic, but it is the logic both Judge Watson and Judge Chuang seem to indulge. Only in the post-constitutional era does the nation have to endure an act of terror before it can prevent acts of terror!

Judge Chuang concludes there are “legitimate questions whether the travel ban for the Designated Countries is actually warranted.” In Chuang’s opinion there are simply no genuine security issues involved in the order. The security concerns are merely thinly disguised pretexts for religious animus. If the security issues were real, the judge remarks, then “generally courts should afford deference to national security and foreign policy judgments of the Executive Branch.” He cites the 2010 case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project as authority. The judge, however, quickly avoids the necessity of judicial deference by repeating his categorically denial that the executive is engaged in making judgments about national security: “In this highly unique case, the record provides strong indications that the national security purpose is not the primary purpose for the travel ban.” Rather Judge Chuang and Judge Watson both have decided that the national security purposes of the order are merely elaborate pretexts to indulge the Trump Administration’s pervasive animus toward Muslims. Judicial deference to the Executive therefore is not warranted because no national security issues are implicated!

The Justice Department has announced it will appeal the Maryland ruling. If the Fourth Circuit finds—as it surely must—there are genuine and pressing national security interests involved in the executive order, then the court must show proper deference to the executive branch, not only to the president’s powers under Article II of the Constitution, but to the broad statutory authority granted to him by Congress.

The court’s first obligation is to the text of the executive order, not the rhetorical flourishes, hyperbole and transparent exaggerations of campaign speeches. In the Humanitarian Law Project case, Chief Justice Roberts, writing for a 6-3 majority, noted that deference was due to the executive branch in national security and foreign policy matters because

concerns arise in connection with efforts to confront evolving threats in an area where information can be difficult to obtain and the impact of certain conduct difficult to assess . . . [C]onclusions must often be based on informed judgments rather than concrete evidence, and that reality affects what we may reasonably insist on from the Government. . . . The Government, when seeking to prevent imminent harms in the context of international affairs and national security, is not required to conclusively link all the pieces in the puzzle before we grant weight to its empirical conclusions.

This is surely the situation we face as a nation today, a situation that is thoroughly understood by the Trump administration. The increasing threat of worldwide terrorism and the threat to the American homeland will continue to be a concern in the immediate future. A “world without borders” is obviously not the solution—it will exacerbate the problem.

The election of Trump gave the nation some respite to shore up the nation’s defenses against those who would demonstrate “who we are as a people” by increasing diversity through accelerated refugee programs and deluding the American people that diversity and openness are our greatest security against terrorism. Trump appealed to the American people in terms of citizenship and borders. The executive order is part of that appeal and the minions of the administrative state have rallied to defeat it.

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Iraq: A War in Three Acts

Americans love a good story. Pop culture is littered with the fictional tales of heroic characters. The majority of stories today still follow a three-act structure that dates back to Aristotle. Epic films start with the hero called to action in the first act; then the tension rises in the second (how will our hero get out of this situation?); and finally, in the third act,   a resolution. By the end, the hero will have achieved his victory (normally) but he will also be changed in some fundamental way before the story is over.

Unfortunately for us, this reality has followed this structure in the Iraq War. With the 14th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq upon us, we must recognize that the Iraq War of 2003 was not an isolated event but merely the second act of a war in three parts.

The first act was the call to action in 1991: Saddam Hussein was an international villain who demanded the attention of good and freedom-loving people. The hero, America, rose to the challenge in Operation Desert Storm. But, contrary to popular belief, the war didn’t end in 1991. The United States and Great Britain maintained a strict no-fly zone throughout the remainder of the decade. The hero and the villain merely continued battling during this period. In a way, then, the resolution of the Gulf War in 1991 was more akin to the peace deal at the end of World War I in that it was little more than a protracted armistice.

This set the stage for the second act in 2003. Per the three-act formula, the stakes were raised in Act Two. The world wondered how on Earth would America get itself out of Iraq?

The conflict, as George Friedman (channeling Shakespeare) claimed in his 2005 book America’s Secret War, was a tale “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” And, like Shakespearean tales, the only thing that determined whether the story was to be a tragedy or a comedy, was whether or not the story ended with a marriage.

Make no mistake: there’s nothing funny about war (and, to be fair, most Shakespearean “comedies” are not funny in the sense that we understand “comedy” today). However, there is something perversely humorous behind the political class and its telling of this three-act war. Remember, the United States invaded Iraq to prevent a genocidal madman from acquiring nuclear arms and destabilizing the Mideast. America also wanted to prevent both Iran and Sunni jihadists from exerting influence there after Saddam was toppled.

Yet—and here’s the darkly humorous part—by invading Iraq, America’s political elite likely set into motion the very outcome they sought to avoid. In the end, Saddam did not have nuclear arms (though, to be sure, he made everyone think he did). And with Saddam’s ouster, al Qaeda (and later ISIS) gained significant amounts of influence in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iran has steadily increased its control over Iraq.

In fact, things are verifiably worse in the region. Freedom is in decline. Syria has imploded. Jordan, Egypt, and Israel are all threatened by the instability that the Iraq War has caused. Oh, and Russia is back in the Middle East. (What’s next? Frogs falling from the sky?)

Meanwhile, as Iran gains the most from America’s three-act war in Iraq, an ethno-religious cold war is shaping up between the Sunni states (led by Saudi Arabia) and the Shiite-led Iran. This conflict is playing itself out in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The Sunni-Shiite regional cold war could very well go nuclear, with Saudi Arabia seeking to purchase a handful of nuclear weapons from Pakistan. This is in response to the Obama Administration’s deal with Iran, which many observers believe gave Iran the green light to pursue building nuclear arms.

With America’s increased commitment to defeating ISIS in Iraq, one might assume that we would be in a position to dictate a postwar settlement. Not so. The United States is working with those already engaged in combat against ISIS in Iraq. While there are American allies (such as the Kurds) fighting in Iraq, the most prevalent force is the Iranian-backed Iraqi military (the Iraqi government, like neighboring Iran, is led by Shiites). Indeed, Iranian troops are fighting alongside the Iraqi forces and, in some cases, leading the fight on the ground. Plus, the larger presence of Russia in the region (as an ally of Iran) means that America’s ability to influence the postwar environment will be severely hamstrung.

President Trump has made clear that the United States will not become mired in yet another nation-building campaign in Iraq (or anywhere else). So we can assume that the Iranians—with its sizable military, cultural, and religious influence—will dictate the postwar order in Iraq.

What that means is Iraq will effectively become a proxy for Iranian foreign policy in the region. American military policy in the Mideast is effectively buttressing Iranian hegemony. U.S. victory over ISIS in Iraq will not stabilize the country. Rather, it will simply make Iraq ripe for Iran’s picking.

Alas, the three-act Iraq War will end in the “marriage” of Iraq and Iran. But this is no Shakespearean comedy. Instead, the 25-year American experience in Iraq is some kind of  dark, postmodern, geopolitical comedy. Let us hope that the Trump Administration keeps this in mind as it ramps up U.S. combat operations in Iraq. We must kill ISIS, but we must not miss the fact that Iran is not our friend.

2016 Election • America • Conservatives • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Economy • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Obama • Religion of Peace • September 11 • Terrorism • Trump White House

Applying ‘America First’ in the Middle East

President Trump’s “America First” principle is an opportunity for the United States to adopt a more productive approach to engagement with nations in the Middle East. Here are three ways the Trump Administration could get better results, without creating unnecessary new problems, thus allowing the president to stay focused on his vital domestic agenda.

2003 to 2016: What Went Wrong?

To understand what President Trump should not do, it is first necessary to clarify the mistakes of his two predecessors.

That the Iraq War was an enormous strategic disaster is obvious. But if candidate Barack Obama claimed to have learned the right lessons, as president, ironically, he became even more of a regime-change proponent than George W. Bush.

The slippery slope began with Egypt in 2011. After a series of mostly peaceful protests, President Obama inexplicably abandoned President Hosni Mubarak, an ally of 30 years, telling him he “had to go.”

Having set such a precedent, Obama likely felt compelled to do even more in Libya and Syria. He signed off on overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi, despite strong internal opposition within his cabinet, and half-heartedly tried to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Even though Washington did not cause these conflicts, picking sides in local civil wars prolonged them—contributing to more instability, suffering, and terrorism than likely would have occurred otherwise.

Finally, the bad effect of regime change policies was made worse by the Obama Administration’s commitment to reaching a deal with Iran on nuclear weapons. In practice, the arrangement has only empowered Iran at the expense of U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, further destabilizing the region. Trump was not wrong in his assessment that if “our leaders had done nothing and gone to the beach” from 2003 to 2016, the United States would be better off in the Middle East.

Confusing Symptoms for Causes

The bipartisan establishment foreign policy view of the Obama and Bush years considered problems in the Middle East to be top-down. Dictators such as Saddam Hussein were seen as the “cause” of the problem, due to their suppression of democratic activity and authoritarianism.

A more accurate diagnosis is “down-up.” The interrelated problems of the growing appeal of the anti-establishment jihadist narrative, the migration crisis, and the weakness of democratic politics, is a mere reflection of vast socio-economic, religious, cultural and tribal divergences and rivalries within Arab countries. Only through authoritarian leadership is any kind of orderly rule possible.

How President Trump Can Get Better Results

An “America First” policy in the Middle East (or elsewhere, for that matter) does not mean isolationism. It means smarter and more realistic engagement that ensures U.S. interests, contributes to regional stability, and doesn’t make anything worse than it already is through counter-productive interventionism. Here are three ways to do that:

1) Keep top allies “healthily confident” as key to a successful nuclear deal and a return to regional stability.

That U.S. relations with top allies Saudi Arabia and Israel have never been worse than during the second Obama Administration must be viewed as a reflection of their sense of abandonment because of the Iran nuclear deal. Proponents of the deal can criticize Israel and Saudi Arabia all they want, but if these nations feel like they are “on their own,” they are going to do their own thing—which may or may not comport with U.S. interests.

For Saudi Arabia in particular, destabilizing activities—such as stoking the flames of civil war in Syria and their aggressive military campaign in Yemen—are driven by a rational need to project strength given their profound sense of insecurity versus Iranian aggression. This was made possible by the U.S. decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime which acted as a Sunni check against that Iranian aggression during Bush plus the nuclear deal during Obama.

One area where Trump could foster renewed Saudi confidence is by supporting their ambitious reform program, Saudi 2030, a serious attempt to fundamentally restructure the economy, create new jobs and diversify away from oil. Success would mean a Saudi government with greater prestige that it can bring to bear in its challenge from Jihadist groups, and would form the foundation for a revamped mutually beneficial U.S.-Saudi relationship.

2) Focus on economic empowerment as a new strategic “third way.”

The sources of terrorism, migration, and political instability in the Middle East ultimately can be traced to socio-economic weakness. In most Arab countries, the economic pie in a ruthlessly competitive global economy is large enough to provide social and economic status to only a small segment of the population.

The basic divide is this: roughly 20 percent of the population is content with the “establishment.” About 80 percent to varying degrees are not. It is the people from this latter group who are susceptible to the anti-establishment jihadist narrative; who seek to flee to Europe as economic migrants; and who gain nothing from the outcome of democratic elections. These elections typically do nothing to change the economic situation, thus ensuring political instability and zero-sum politics.

Addressing that economic equation is a more productive approach than the hyper-interventionism of the Bush and Obama administrations and the instinct toward total disengagement of many Trump voters. Senior Trump advisor Tom Barrack, Jr. has proposed a 21st century Middle East Marshall Plan. This should be strongly embraced. Even a few billion dollars—a drop in the bucket compared to the overall defense budget—could make a huge difference.

3) Be ruthless on counterterrorism but shift focus to addressing the underlying causes.

The United States is great at killing terrorists. Virtually every member of al-Qaida operating on September 10, 2001 has been killed or imprisoned. Yet in 2017 vastly more jihadists are ready, willing, and able to fight. In 2000 and 2001 there was one terrorist attack in the United States. Last year alone several hundred people were arrested in the United States for joining jihadist groups. For every one that has been taken out, there are literally dozens of new jihadists in the field in 2017.

The threat has shifted from one of organized terrorist groups to a decentralized anti-establishment jihadist insurgency. Understanding this is critical to addressing the underlying causes of why so many people are joining—and addressing the underlying causes would represent a major departure from a counterterrorism policy that has been focused primarily on killing terrorists.

President Trump’s reform agenda is too important to the future of the United States to jeopardize over more unnecessary and counterproductive American involvement in the Middle East. Trump’s non-interventionist instincts are correct. If the United States follows these three principles, the United States should have more productive relations with the Middle East.

America • Defense of the West • Economy • Foreign Policy • Immigration • Religion of Peace • September 11 • Terrorism • The Culture • Trump White House

The Canadian Threat to America

John McCallum, Canada’s minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, announces the country’s plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees.

Donald Trump’s strict opposition to illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America earned him the undying enmity of America’s Leftist elite and the unquestioning allegiance of many working-class Americans. These workers have endured declining economic opportunity in part because illegal immigrants depress wages.

But illegal immigration from south of the border is not the only immigration we should be worried about.

Turns out, the real threat to U.S. prosperity and security emanates from the otherwise bucolic northern border with Canada.

You’re probably skeptical right now. How could the land of maple syrup and elk—a long-time American ally, no less—actually pose a serious threat to America?

The answer lies with the open border policies of Socialist Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Whereas Republicans in the U.S. Congress have prevented President Obama from accepting tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, the Canadian government has abandoned caution and embarked on what the Guardian of London has described as “one of the largest refugee resettlement movements in Canadian history.”

Since the beginning of 2016, the Canadians have dutifully accepted close to 36,000 Syrian refugees (all classified as “children,” even though a large number are neither children nor Syrian) with many more on the way. Meanwhile, FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress that U.S. intelligence agencies had virtually no way to verify who, exactly, these refugees are.

If the Intelligence Community doesn’t know who these people are, how can the Canadians possibly know who they’re letting in their country? Canada, after all, relies heavily on U.S. intelligence.

The answer, of course, is they haven’t the slightest idea. They’ve put their faith in left-wing globalization policies that have done so much damage to the Western world.

The Canadian authorities have embraced these refugees as readily as their counterparts in Germany, France, and Belgium. And to what end? Since accepting the massive influx of purported war refugees, those European countries have experienced a massive increase in terrorism and violent crime. Lawlessness has come to dominate the cradle of Western civilization, as local security forces are too afraid to enforce laws out of fear of being labeled “Islamophobic.” Meanwhile, host governments expand the number of refugees they accept.

Canadian policy toward so-called refugees is similarly blinkered. The same rampant immigration from the Islamic world that is destabilizing much of Europe will soon threaten to destabilize our otherwise amicable neighbor to the north. Since the 1940s, Canada has seen a steady increase in its Muslim population. With that population growth has come a commensurate rise in Islamist ideology. Canada has rapidly become a bastion for Islamist political thought in the Western Hemisphere. Free speech laws designed to protect Canada’s minority populations have been fashioned into a cudgel by Canadian jihadists. Sharia law is also a very real issue that Canadian officials need to worry about. Right now, it is but a hairsbreadth away from being accepted in Canada. Trudeau’s foolish refugee policy will only exacerbate those trends—and that, in turn, will threaten our interests and the safety of our people.

Thus far, the chaos that Europe has largely inflicted upon itself has remained largely confined to that side of the Atlantic. Yet, here come the Canadians to erase that natural barrier between the United States and that other continent.

Truth is, immigration policy is far too lax throughout the West. For instance, refugees flooding across our southern border are not simply fleeing the violence of drug cartels in Mexico (or seeking work). They aren’t primarily seeking refuge from the chaos in Venezuela, or the repressive Cuban regime, either. In many cases, interspersed with these refugees also are thousands of Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and other people from countries that are home to Islamic extremism.

Now, we can add Canada as another potential source of Islamic radicalism in the Americas.

The United States has thus far managed to avoid Canada and Western Europe’s fate. But as Canada increases its refugee population, it is only a matter of time before that population begins creeping down toward the United States. As we’ve seen in Europe, it is a gross misnomer to refer to many of these groups as “refugees.” In many cases, the people comprising these refugee flows are military-aged males who have questionable connections with radical groups. Indeed, most of the European terror attacks in the last few years have been perpetrated by jihadists posing as refugees.

In 1999, for instance, Ahmed Ressam was arrested by U.S. authorities for his role in the foiled Millennium Plot. Ressam was an asylum seeker who fled from Algeria and ended up living in Montreal (a purported hotbed of Islamism in North America). Later, he flew to Afghanistan and became a member of al Qaeda. Upon the completion of his training, Ressam returned to Canada with plans to launch a devastating attack on Los Angeles International Airport. He crossed the U.S.-Canadian border where he was promptly arrested.

We got lucky that time. But, as 9/11 proved, luck eventually runs out—particularly when no one takes the threat of Islamic radicalism seriously.

After eight years, the federally sanctioned political correctness on border enforcement and terrorism have left us vulnerable once again. For all President-elect Trump’s talk about building a wall and bolstering security along the southern border, he needs to understand that the United States is threatened from the north as well.

Canada may be our friend, but not when it comes to immigration.

All in all, the incoming Trump Administration needs to recognize that it must defend America from bad Canadian immigration policy as vigorously as it seeks to defend America from an adversarial Mexican immigration policy. Indeed, in many respects, whereas illegal immigration from Mexico mostly represents a threat to America’s economy, the possibility of illegal immigration from neighboring Canada represents physical danger to Americans in the form of Islamic terror. We’d better take it seriously, and soon.

2016 Election • America • Defense of the West • Department of Homeland Security • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Obama • Religion of Peace • September 11 • Terrorism

The Bookends of Failure: President Obama Teaches What Not To Do

If a monument is to be created commemorating President Barack Obama’s anti-terrorism and foreign policy legacy, etched in marble above it should be the phrase: “What Not To Do—A Legacy of Failure.” Indeed, we now see in blinding light the eight year experiment in appeasement and abdication of leadership: more terrorism, more death.  The bookends of his presidency begin with his first interview as president, on an Arabic television network; his first acts as president in trying to close Guantanamo and in ending enhanced interrogation, theorizing such acts would “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great;” and his first tour commencing in Turkey and going through Saudi Arabia, ending in Egypt.

About Guantanamo, he would go on to say the prison was “a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause.” In Turkey, he would speak of America’s “darker days,” while also praising Recep Erdogan. In thinking Guantanamo helped al Qaeda in its recruitment, he never thought to look at the calendar that ran from the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing to the 1998 African Embassy Bombings to the 2000 USS Cole bombing, to the 2001 World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks—all when there was no Guantanamo prison.

While his tour through the Middle East in that first year did take him from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, the curious country he did not visit, the one most aligned with American values, the tip of the spear in the war against terrorism, and the bull’s eye for most of it, was Israel. Then came his radio address to the Iranians, putting the people and the leadership on equal moral footing. Then the miraculous Iranian Green Revolution, where a unique organic uprising seeking American support against the mullahs arose—and President Obama famously abetted its equally quick death by saying he did not want the United States to “be seen as meddling.” Not content enough in appeasing the Mullahcracy, his State Department invited Iranian diplomats around the world to come to American embassies for hot dogs on July 4 of that year.  Along the way that year, the administration also publicized it would no longer speak of “the war on terror” or “jihadists.”

Someone or someones did not get all these memos and statements. Or, more likely, maybe they did: when they go low, we blame ourselves. That first year ended with the Fort Hood massacre and the attempted massacre that would have come from the successful bombing of Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit. “Attempted,” because then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “the system worked.” It worked, alright, if the system was the chance, single, brave civilian passenger from the Netherlands who stopped the terrorist on the flight. The rest of the “system” let a known radical board a plane with a bomb.

Along the way we would get more and more diplomatic and rhetorical appeasement. This would include the non-application of the “not meddling” doctrine with allies like Hosni Mubarak and Benjamin Netanyahu. Or its non-application in Libya (what President Obama calls his “worst mistake.”). This would include comparing Islamic terrorism (in front of the U.N., no less) to the police doing their job in Ferguson, Missouri. And it would include comparing modern day Islamic terrorism to the centuries’ old Crusades and Christianity, saying we Americans should not be on “a high horse,” language quite familiar to fatwa readers, not so much to Americans.

Results? After Fort Hood, we would go on to see more Islamic terrorism not only abroad, with the rise of ISIS and Boko Haram, but here at home the terrible toll at the Boston Marathon, and in Chattanooga, San Bernardino, and Orlando. There was Nice, Berlin, Paris, Brussels. And so much more. And we ended 2016, back where we started, in Turkey: 39 dead in Istanbul. Meanwhile, Syria thought it could cross President Obama’s “red line,” and it was right–and it now looks like Beirut circa the 1980s. And Iraq, “sovereign, stable and self-reliant,” only five years ago, gets put back on Donald Trump’s plate.

For all the late honesty of the political class who admitted they got so much of the 2016 election wrong, let us now have similar honesty about what the policy of appeasement, American abdication, and self-blame has brought. In like a lamb in 2009, out like a charnel house.

2016 Election • America • Defense of the West • Democrats • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Hillary Clinton • Immigration • Republicans • September 11 • Terrorism • The Culture

What’s Truly De·plor·a·ble

The “most qualified” candidate for president is briefed on bombings in New York and New Jersey and the best she can muster is: “I think it’s always wiser to wait to until you have information for making conclusions, because we are just in the beginning stages of trying to determine what happened,” and, “Well I think it’s important to know all of the facts about an incident like this…. That’s why it’s critical to support the first responders, the investigators who are looking into it, trying to figure out what did happen.”

Did some 243 million Americans really not know what happened, and also want to do everything they could—if they could—to support first responders and investigators?

She, of course, was not alone in trying to fool all the people all the time. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came right out of the box with: “To understand there were any specific motivations, political motivations, any connection to an organization — that’s what we don’t know.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tried, “It depends on your definition of terrorism.”

But this morning? Turns out that little thing hundreds of millions of adult Americans expected turned out to be, well, the wisdom of the crowd.  This morning the New York Times leads with how “police are searching for a 28-year-old man, described as a naturalized citizen of Afghan descent, Ahmad Khan Rahami, in connection with the bombing in Manhattan on Saturday night, sending out a cellphone alert to millions of residents.” And we used to say the media was always the first to get major terrorist events wrong.  [Update: We got him].

Now, let us think about a candidate and party that wants to expand the importation of Syrian refugees at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. Of course this would be the same candidate who, as secretary of state, tried to sell the country on the notion that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was not like his dad but was, rather, “a reformer.”  This is the same candidate and secretary of state who was responsible for pushing the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, an act that even President Barack Obama would say was his “worst mistake” in office.

With the “most qualified” candidate for president, whose tenure as secretary of state includes the key decisions on and portfolios of Syria, Russia, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and beyond, we may very well have one of those rare elections based on national security and foreign policy. Now add the continued and attempted blinkering of the American people by that candidate and her party on the issue of domestic terrorism—the chances of that kind of election escalate dramatically. This, as so much else, of course, remains to be seen and will reveal itself November 8.

The other open question, far more important, far more durable: Why do so many political leaders continually try to distract us from, whitewash, and minimize terrorism that is so clearly here and so clearly obvious every time it is launched?  This we may never know. But we do know this: terrorism is deplorable, to put it no lower—and there’s no excuse for denying it. In fact, it should be easier to recognize and denounce than our political opponents and their supporters.

America • Defense of the West • Foreign Policy • September 11 • Terrorism • The Culture

Remembering Rightly

9/11 memorial


In the wake of the 15th anniversary commemorating the September 11 terrorist attacks, a few remaining thoughts:

1.  We used to lament the post-September 11 lack of unity.  It’s true, shortly after September 11 Americans were more sober, patriotic, and united.  It’s hard to pin where and when the wheels came off that cart.  A good case can be made it was when Al Gore spoke to the Commonwealth Club in 2002 comparing President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emption to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Perhaps it was solidified when the Democratic party leadership–from Terry McAuliffe to Tom Daschle and beyond–went to and praised a special screening of Michael Moore’s mockumentary, Fahrenheit 9/11.  Or when Moore was invited by former President Jimmy Carter to sit in his booth at the Democratic convention in 2004.  The potential list is long, but not fully forgotten.

2.  That which was never learned, of course, cannot be forgotten.  And therein a tragedy of history:  High school students and most college students today would not have seen the imagery from September 11.  Our schools and culture have done a lousy job of teaching it.  But we do know how to teach it, we do know how to teach evil.  I have long believed Elie Wiesel was right that “Memory is tragedy’s most indispensable element” and that museums built to remember what Hell on earth looks like are valuable correctives to vanishing frames of reference.  Holocaust museums have served such purposes.  And now a Victims of Communism museum in Washington, DC is being built.  We should be building a victims of terrorism museum, or set of museums, too.  It is an irony of both history and contemporary culture that we should even need a museum to remember what is taking place in real time.  But here we are.  The phrase “Never Again,” first applied to the Holocaust, seems almost absurd as we read about what Radical Islam has done in our lifetimes and is doing as we live and breathe.  But here we are.

3.  If any notion of the above seems unnecessary, just ask how it is that the American President can wash away contemporary terrorism and the fascist ideology of Radical Islam by his very words–“Jayvee” or akin to the Crusades, “lest we get on our high horse,” are but two examples.  Invocation of the Crusades, of course, is the narrative of the fatwahs against the West, it is the language of the terrorists.  For most of us, the Crusades are a 900-year-old chapter of history.  Today’s Islamists still speak of them as contemporary–and so, too, does the American President.  Now look at your child’s text books and check the different treatments of Radical Islam today and the Crusades of yesteryear.  What gets more time?  What gets more implied or explicit criticism?

4.  One year after the 9/11 attacks, Charles Kesler was warning about an already-nascent national amnesia and moral parity about the war that was declared on us: “One of the great themes of liberal postmodernism is that the past has nothing to teach us: that history is all interpretation, and morals and politics are entirely relative.”  I give you the present.

5.  How, then, to remember?  Start with the heroes of 9/11–and why such heroism needed mustering.  There are too many heroes to recount here, but a starting point is American-by-choice Rick Rescorla.  Then let’s build that museum and remember Elie Wiesel’s definition of confusion: “When good and evil are put on the same moral plane and the wicked receive the sanction of the just.”

Cultural Marxism • Defense of the West • Democrats • Foreign Policy • Immigration • Religion of Peace • September 11 • Terrorism • The Left • The ME Agenda • Uncategorized

The 9/11 Awakening That Still Needs to Happen



Five years ago, on what was the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our country, I offered this reflection as I recalled the horror of that day.

The confidence that assures the vulnerable and makes them forget their condition was shaken. We were all vulnerable now. In truth, however, this was not a new state of things. It was just that a generation of Americans unaccustomed to acknowledging it except in abstractions, was rudely awakened to a fundamental truth of human existence: the good things in life are fragile. We had taken our security and prosperity for granted and, even more, we had assumed that our liberty was a given and a permanent fact. Coming to know what to do with this realization would be the hard (and often thankless) work of the next decade (or more). Remembering that realization—though it then seemed impossible that we could forget—will be the work of the decades to follow this anniversary.

Five years ago, I was worried (and I still worry) about the way we teach our children about that day. I worry because I know what comes of failing to be frank with ourselves and with the kids. My generation, the one that history forgot and simply deemed “X”, may be the best example of that kind of failure. The events of September 11, 2001 marked for me, as they should have marked for all Americans, the end of comfortable assumption regarding the sanguine fate of our people. The assumption that life will continue to go on in more or less the same way it always has is toxic to a free people. We love to say “Never Forget!” Yet forgetting is our specialty.

It is now a cliche to say that “9/11 changed the way I looked at the world,” but for many people of my generation—people who grew up in the waning days of the existential threat of Soviet Communism—this is wholly true. In a way, we Reagan babies suffer from an embarrassment of riches. We have some vague memories of being seriously afraid of the Soviet Union and nuclear holocaust during the Carter years, but once Reagan was elected those fears began to dissipate and confidence grew. At the time and through a child’s eyes, our certain victory in the a Cold War seemed of a piece with the plot of Rocky IV or with the outcome of that famous Miracle on Ice hockey match in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. We were sure that freedom was the urging of every human heart and that it would ring just as sure for Eastern Europe as it was for us once history caught up to them and they figured it out.

America represented freedom in the world, not only for ourselves but against all others and all objections. My generation was proud and confident but, above all, we were ignorant of what our victory in the Cold War had cost and of how hard fought it had been. Our parents’ generation had fought in (and over) Vietnam, but they didn’t really talk meaningfully to us about it. We may read about it but we don’t remember it. Conservatives of my generation were free to assume that opposition to that war was an anomaly and mainly the work of some dirty hippies and commie holdouts. I don’t think we internalized just how deep were fissures in our society, mostly because we didn’t remember a time without them. Naturally, we thought, we won the Cold War in spite of them. Winning was just what Americans do because we were on “the right side of history” while the bad guys were always destined to its “ash heap.”

As we watched Communist dictatorships crumble in quick succession in the early 90s, our confidence grew. This was easy! The first Gulf War? Easy! All we had to do was to be tough like Reagan. If we stood up, the bad guys would have to stand down. It was all just a matter of time. Peace through strength was a mantra that in our constant and clue less reliable-telling took on the properties of political alchemy. We had missed too many steps along the way. We didn’t remember the struggle. And since experience is the best teacher, we did not really understand the many other conditions of freedom.

For some, but not for enough,  9/11 changed all of that. History, we discovered, does not have sides. There is no certain trajectory of things toward the right and the good. Liberty is precious precisely because it is always so precariously held. After an all too brief moment of heartfelt but also heartsick national unity, the deep fissures in our society made themselves felt again and felt hard. We seemed confused about what our next step should be. Victory did not come easy. History did not cooperate and reveal itself to all of the human hearts that were supposed to be longing for freedom. In fact, they seemed pretty clearly to be rejecting and spitting upon it. As clear victory did not come, there was much debate about what, precisely, victory should look like. If freedom was not wanted, maybe we could encourage it by forcing the spring. Then it would have to grow. Maybe that was the ticket.

Except it wasn’t. The Arab Spring was also a disaster. People cannot be given freedom and then expected to cherish and cultivate it. People have to want it and to earn it; maybe even including Americans who have counted it as their birthright inheritance. Maybe freedom isn’t the kind of thing that can be safely passed along to the next generation without some hard conversations and even harder lessons.

My generation and, now, also the Millennials, remain in the discovery phase of the many hard lessons about maintaining liberty.  In the months after the September 11 attacks—as our false unity inspired by fear began to wane—one of our AG contributors, Mackubin Thomas Owens, wrote about how America’s mindless commitment to “diversity” was going to kill us and that we needed to reject it soon so we could remember the true source of American unity.

“Diversity” is the poisonous fruit of that toxic doctrine, “multiculturalism.” The latter—the discredited idea that race defines destiny and that blood determines who we are—would appeal to Hitler. Multiculturalists reject the principles of the Declaration because they see them as, at best, “cultural imperialism” and at worst, racism.

In America, ethnicity is an indicator of whence we have come, not whither we are going. It is precisely by rejecting ethnic politics and embracing politics based on individuality and equality of natural rights that have created the conditions of civility and domestic tranquility upon which American strength and prosperity rest. The increasing hyphenation of America bodes ill for these conditions.

Owens gave us some  good advice when he encouraged us to reject the cult of “diversity” and instead counseled us to hearken back to what Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory” which, by appealing to “the better angels of our nature,” remind all Americans of every ethnic background that to be essentially American one must believe in and uphold the principles of our Declaration. It is only in this way that one truly can be “blood of the blood and flesh of the flesh” of our founders. It is this core that should unite us. We can be born American, naturally. But there’s much more to becoming American than birth or birthright. In America, after all, it’s only fitting that birthrights have to be earned to be claimed.

It is to weep that this advice was not heeded. Instead, what we’ve seen as we continue to muddle along in the Middle East is a loss of American confidence abroad and an ever increasing Balkanization at home. The terrorists are winning because we are becoming more and more like them as we engage in petty tribal wars over questions like wedding cakes and bathrooms and take ghoulish delight in incessant scab picking about grievances related to race, religion, our history, and our national heritage. America’s first black President, the one who so many hoped would heal divisions and take us into the promised land of a post-racial society, has instead stoked all of these divisions in the service of a cynical political agenda. Divisions like these turn out to serve Democrat political interests. E Pluribus Unum?  Eh, not so much. Diversity may not be America’s real strength. But it definitely accounts for the political strength of Democrats.

In the same essay, Owens mentioned in passing that:

Of course, the Founders did not believe, as do some of today’s liberals, that there is an absolute “right” to immigration and US citizenship. They held that since America is a polity based on consent as well as equality, citizens have certain rights against foreigners, one of which is the right to exclude immigrants based on a judgment regarding the character of those to be admitted. For instance, members of a particular religious sect might be rejected if that religion’s beliefs are fundamentally at odds with the principles that lie at the foundation of republican government.

It is almost as if he was peering into the future anticipating the ways in which we would botch this chance at national unity. Today, as we have become increasingly divided we seek also to be increasingly open to the world and its people—inviting ever more “diversity” and foolishly thinking it will make us strong. In our ignorance, we think this makes us good and generous and noble. In truth, we are inviting more and more division as we demand almost nothing from them. We have dropped the ball in asking people to earn their freedom. We do not even demand it of our own children.  If native born Americans can no longer muster the energy or mobilize those “mystic chords” who can believe that all of these newcomers, with no one to teach them and no real incentive to learn, will?