Andrew C. McCarthy:
It was the key national-security debate of the 2016 election. Donald Trump won the election, in no small part, because he appeared to be on the right side of it. Appeared is used advisedly: Trump was at least in the general vicinity of the bull’s-eye; his opponent wouldn’t even acknowledge the target existed — except in the most grudging of ways, and only because Trump had forced the issue.
The question boiled down to this: Are you willing to name the enemy?
After a quarter-century of willful blindness, it was at least a start. We should note, moreover, that it’s a start we owe to the president-elect. Washington, meaning both parties, had erected such barriers to a rational public discussion of our enemies that breaking through took Trump’s outsized persona, in all its abrasive turns and its excesses. Comparative anonymities (looking down at my shoes, now) could try terrorism cases and fill shelves with books and pamphlets and columns on the ideology behind the jihad from now until the end of time. But no matter how many terrorist attacks Americans endured, the public examination of the enemy was not going to happen unless a credible candidate for the world’s most important job dramatically shifted the parameters of acceptable discourse.
Trump forced the issue into the light of day. And once he did — voilà! — what was yesterday’s “Islamophobia” became today’s conventional wisdom. In reality, it was never either of these things. The former is an enemy-crafted smear (a wildly successful one) to scare off examination of the enemy; the latter is frequently wrong.
What we Cassandras have really been trying to highlight is a simple fact, as patent as it was unremarkable from the time of Sun Tsu until the 1993 World Trade Center bombing: To defeat the enemy, you must know the enemy — who he is, what motivates him, what he is trying to achieve. Being willing to name the enemy is a start. But it is just a start — the beginning, not the end, of understanding.
In his major campaign speech on the subject, Trump asserted that the enemy is “radical Islamic terrorism.” Terrorism, surely, is the business end of the spear, but “radical Islamic terrorism” is an incomplete portrait. Dangerously incomplete? That depends on whether the term (a) is Trump’s shorthand for a threat he realizes is significantly broader than terrorism, or (b) reflects his actual — and thus insufficient — grasp of the challenge.
The speech provided reasons for hope. For one thing, Trump compared “radical Islamic terrorism” to the 20th-century challenges of fascism, Nazism, and Communism. These were ideological enemies. The capacity to project force was by no means the totality of the threat each represented — which is why it is so foolish to be dismissive of today’s enemy just because jihadist networks cannot compare militarily to Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.
Furthermore, toward the end of his speech, Trump used “radical Islamic terrorism” interchangeably with “radical Islam.” Ending the spread of radical Islam, he said, must be our objective. He even referred to it as an “ideology” — though he called it an “ideology of death,” which misses the point; it is an ideology of conquest.
“radical Islamic terrorism” is the only expression you can use in an academic dissertation to describe terrorist. so much for the First Amendment and the so called upper levels of education.