Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Overseas Contingency Operations and Such

by Victor Davis Hanson // PJ Media 

On the occasion of the outreach from Iran, and the embarrassment in Syria, it is wise to remember why and how our leaders became so inept at dealing with Islamists.

The Tsarnaev brothers killed and maimed in service to their version of Islam. So did Major Hassan, screaming Allahu Akbaras he shot his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood. The Middle East is undergoing the greatest religious cleansing of Christians of the modern age. This month, eighty Christians were blown up in a church in Peshawar, Pakistan — charged, tried, and executed in a nanno-second by Muslim suicide bombers.  At about the very same time, gunmen of the Islamist terrorist group Al Shabaab from Somalia, murdered nearly 70 shoppers — after torturing and mutilating many of their victims — in a Nairobi shopping mall during a children’s event. None of these massacres had anything to do with the West Bank, Americans in Iraq, maltreatment of Muslims in the U.S., unkind immigration policies, undue attention shown Muslim travelers, or much of anything other than the usual grievances such as fighting back against terrorists.

Note that the West, Europe and the U.S., are largely silent on the religious dimensions of this now almost daily violence. Apparently the EU and America believe that their own domestic security protocols have made it difficult for Islamists like the Tsarnaevs or Hassan, or bombers from Peshawar to harvest civilians with regularity in the West — or at least that they can be kept out of Chevy Chase, the Upper West Side, Martha’s Vineyard and Santa Monica.

Here follow some random observations from Obama administration officials about Islam and its role in energizing terrorists. John Brennan, the present CIA chief and at one time the president’s chief counter-terrorism advisor, once advised us, “Nor do we describe our enemy as ‘jihadists’ or ‘Islamists’ because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community.” If Major Hasan or the Tsarnaevs do not believe in jihad or in an Islamist worldview, what, then, drove them to murder? Losing a boxing match, or perhaps a slow-moving pathway to lieutenant-colonel?

Here was the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “The term Muslim Brotherhood is an umbrella term for a variety of movements. In the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular.” Is “largely secular” different from “secular?” If Clapper is right, why would they not their change their name to the “Secular Brotherhood?”

“When I became the NASA administrator,” NASA Director Charles Bolden told Al Jazeera in 2010, President Obama “charged me with three things.” Bolden added that “Perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.” Apparently, if they can “feel good,” they won’t feel bad about us, at least to the point of blowing us up?

Here was Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey on the aftermath of the Fort Hood shootings, “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.” What a tragedy that would be — no more incompetent, but deadly Major Hasans fast-tracked to Major.

Here was Director of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, “In my speech, although I did not use the word “terrorism, I referred to ‘man-caused’ disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.” Actually, Ms. Napolitano, your invention is not a “nuance” but an embarrassment. Worrying about the Tsarnaevs or Major Hasan or the bombers in Peshawar is not “the politics of fear.”

Here was a memo from the Office of the Management and the Budget to the Pentagon, “This administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT.] Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’” Do overseas contingency operations respond to man-caused disasters or to workplace violence?

Here was President Barack Obama on various occasions, “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” And, “Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.”  Where do Islam and the West actually compete — Cal Tech versus what Islamic university? iPhones versus what? Brain surgery at Cairo University compared to the Stanford neurology department?

The point is not that these therapeutic musings are necessarily always completely false, but rather why are they voiced at all, given their banality and half-truths.

There are many more examples of such politically-correct naiveté. For some reason, Obama’s rare platitudinous quotes about Christianity are not nearly so complimentary. He speaks more harshly about his conservative critics than he does the Muslim Brotherhood or the Iranian theocracy. His interview with al Arabiya and various UN addresses explain why so many of his obsequious subordinates want to outdo their president in reconfiguring contemporary Islam. In his Cairo speech, Obama fabricated all sorts of stories about the glorious tolerance and brilliance of Islam, with invited Muslim Brotherhood attendees nodding in agreement.

What drives such nonsense? I call it nonsense, since U.S. popularity is no higher in the Middle East than under George Bush. Violence is greater. Christian cleansing is far more prevalent. Iran is closer to the bomb. Bashar Assad never before had so embarrassed a U.S. president. Israel is never more isolated. The Arab Spring is a disaster. Coups, revolutions, mass killings, chaos, and upheaval are the veneer of greater poverty and misery on the Arab Street. There is no such thing anymore as Middle East tourism. U.S. prestige is at all time low. The idea that Assad might surrender his WMD in the manner that a terrified Kaddafi did is absurd. Putin, not an American president, exercises the most influence in the Middle East.

a) Obama and his subordinates see most of the tension between the Middle East and United State not as existential, but of recent origin and attributable mostly to one-dimensional American leadership that under Bush heretofore had lacked his own sophistication on matters Islamic. To paraphrase the al Arabiya interview, Obama’s own name, his racial heritage, his father’s Muslim lineage, and his own prior residence in Muslim Indonesia would all ensure that he could communicate and coax Muslims on our collective behalf, at least in a way that evangelical Christians like George W. Bush could hardly imagine.

In other words, most of the past violence was preventable had we listened to the advice listed above, and adjusted our ideas about jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood, and terrorism — or used NASA for its proper larger purpose.  I suppose the Iranians believe likewise in the power of an iconic president, and so they are now trying to send us a smiling imam, who is said to know the West and speak English, and writes us a letter with every T-ball platitude imaginable. Presto, we will change our opinion of the Iranians because of Rouhani in the way they must like us because of Barack Hussein Obama?

b) Obama also looks to particular pretexts for Muslim outrage and in that sense considers them somewhat legitimate. “Terrorism” can be a hurtful word, and to such an extent that it might force otherwise moderate Muslims to resort to it. Would-be terrorists might listen to the Cairo speech or the NASA director and suddenly drop their violent tendencies, snap out of their jihadist personal journeys, and appreciate commonalities with the West and Christians heretofore forgotten or unknown. Just as Barack Obama once wowed his Harvard Law Dean, so too imams and ayatollahs will react to his mellifluous outreach, in the way we too are charmed by the smoother, smiling president Rouhani.

Self-reflection to the point of self-condemnation is a common trait among American liberal leadership. If the Israelis would just vacate Sinai, peace might follow. If they withdrew from Lebanon, moderates might respond. If they gave back Gaza, a settlement would be insured. If we could just solve the “Palestinian Question,” then Arabs would like us, and violence from Cairo to Damascus would subside. Few Americans grasp that there will be no peace with Israel unless either Israel is destroyed or its Arab neighbors accept consensual government and simply no longer tolerate tribalism, religious fundamentalism, gender apartheid, or anti-Semitism — a hope that may well be a century away.

The failure of Islamic culture to cope with the modern world also ensures that it will be an elixir in the Middle East for perceived global unfairness. For hundreds of millions who are quite reluctant to change their views about women, other religions, tribal affinities, free expression, and consensual government, it is far easier to blame the logical consequences of their material backwardness on others — most likely Jews, Westerners, and less observant Muslims. The mystery is not that they believe such things, but that we do not believe that they do. When Dr. Zawahiri cites “climate change” as one of the sparks that set him off, I think we have entered the realm of lunacy.

c) Obama believes that something the Bush administration concretely did might have provoked Muslims and explains the present tensions. If a transgression sparked violence, then a non-transgression will prevent it. If we could only close Guantanamo, get out of Iraq, promise to withdraw from Afghanistan, lead meekly from behind in Libya, or stop renditions, then again peace would follow and terrorism would wane. Obama has little concept that terrorists strike when they feel they can, but are more likely not to when they feel they can’t — or that they can hate us for reasons that transcend what Americans do on any given day.  While their hatred, fed by envy, feelings of inadequacy, and appeasement, cannot be moderated by euphemism, the expression of it certainly can be by hard pressure on their sponsors — the very tactic that Obama has derided, as he had sought normalization with Iran, Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas.

d) In the multicultural world of our elites, religious expression and the landscape in which it occurs, like everything else, is a sort of buffet. People take what they want, each according to his taste, no one selection any better or worse than any other. Islam is no different from Buddhism or Christianity, which have had its own zealots and mass-murderers. Islamists grasp the ramifications of this relativism far better than we do, and expect latitude from the West that they would never grant to non-Westerners. Apparently killing a cartoonist can shut down a Western society’s free expression quite quickly. And blowing up a church in an Islamic country is not at odds with demanding subsidies to build a mosque in Europe.

These multicultural doctrines are not subject to empirical data. An epidemic of Muslim terrorism can be ignored when we find isolated examples of Christian intolerance. We can call such relativism moral equivalence and cultural relativism, with a strong dose of utopian pacifism. But the end result is that Western elites have no concept that their culture, religious heritage, or contemporary values have made them in any way exceptional. Apple is in Silicon Valley and not Islamabad: no doubt the legacy of colonialism. Millions seek to reach the U.S.; none wait in line to go to Egypt or Algeria: no doubt imperialism still at work. There is no Princeton or MIT in Syria: again racism or class oppression.

If our elites quoted above are unsure about themselves, why would they not be unsure about their enemies as well?

In terms of their amoral cost-benefit analysis, a few may die, hopefully abroad, on the altar of multicultural piety, so that millions more might live in ecumenical harmony.

The tragic truth is just the opposite: thousands will die on the altar of multicultural piety, so that millions more will not live in any sort of harmony.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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