The Islamist movement that threatens Judeo-Christian western culture can be viewed in one of two ways: as a fundamentalist, misguidedly pious religious phenomenon that appeals to a wide swath of the Muslim masses, or as a calculated, cynical attempt to grab both the power and wealth that the West holds – orchestrated by an Islamic elite who don’t actually care about the finer points of the Quran or Sharia law, except when either might serve to further their overall purpose. The important difference between the way that George W. Bush approached the problem of radical Islam and the manner in which Barack Obama deals with the issue – or claims to be trying to deal it – involves these two different points of view.
At various instances during his terms in office Bush tried, mostly in vain, to find and deal with moderates among Islamic leadership, hoping to thus isolate extremist leaders and their radical, fundamentalist followers. It was a flawed vision, but an appealing one, for it attacked the problem at a grass roots level. If radical Islam is primarily a political phenomenon then it should be possible to separate radical organizations like the Taliban, al Qaeda and Hamas from ordinary moderate Muslims who reject fundamentalist dogma and instead blend secular values in with their theology in the western style. That’s a tough road to take, especially given the lack of any meaningful educational system in the modern sense in the Muslim world. Yet, in Iraq the majority of a relatively educated populace (by Islamic-state standards anyway) did indeed reject the radicals in their midst once coalition forces provided the kind of security needed to allow the Iraqi people to take charge of their lives in safety.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, has effectively abandoned any hope of cultivating a moderate, secularlist Islam that might counterbalance the fundamentalist, radical variety. Given the ever-increasing power and influence of the extremists, even in a nation like Turkey that we once thought of as the model of a “moderate Muslim” state, the president’s approach is more realistic than Bush’s utopian visions. Moderate Muslims, cowed by the murderous fanatics who infect Islam throughout the globe, were never of much use in the war on terror anyway and aren’t likely to be in the future. In a practical sense, Obama’s policies reflect the reality that Islam cannot be reformed in any meaningful sense. But his reaction to that reality has been to try to appease the extremists rather than rendering them harmless. It’s a strategy that merely emboldens radical Muslims, who are thus convinced more than ever that the West lacks the stomach to see this war through.
Obama’s counter-terrorism czar, John Brennan provided an example of the Obama administration’s approach in a speech he gave a few weeks ago. Utilizing the kind of Orwellian newspeak that has become a hallmark of this administration, Brennan said that “…we need to try to build up the more moderate elements” within Hezbollah. It’s at least the second time that Brennan has referred to “moderate elements” within the radical Shia militia, but Brennan surely knows that there are no moderate elements within Hezbollah, just as though there are no moderates within Hamas, the Taliban or al Qaeda. So, why use such a term? There’s only one rational answer: if this administration is going to negotiate with terrorists – in effect trying to find a way to buy them off – it cannot appear to be doing so. While America remains a house divided when it comes to pressing forward war against the jihadis, the “millions for defense, but not a penny for tribute” spirit still resonates among Americans of every political stripe. Obama would face intense criticism on both sides of the aisle if he announced that he was going to negotiate a settlement with terrorists, but when the administration packages that strategy as an attempt to nurture so-called moderates, it sounds much more palatable, so that’s how his counter-terrorism czar is going to sell it.
This is of course the same John Brennan who said: “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, and there is nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering innocent men, women and children.” Unfortunately, to the radicals that this administration is trying to court, it is both legitimate and Islamic to murder innocent men, women and children in the course of this “holy struggle.” Again, Brennan knows that. He was in the CIA long enough to understand the realities of Islam, but his current assignment involves papering-over those inconvenient facts, not confronting the cold truth.
Some commentators have accused Obama of sympathizing with the radicals, or possibly being a “closet Muslim” himself. That kind of reaction is understandable, given the president’s poorly-concealed hostility towards Israel and his attempts to curry favor from Islamic states. Yet, the more likely reason that Obama chooses to trod down this dangerous path is because he’s an academic and, like most academics, believes that the right combination of words and concessions can soothe the most savage beasts. It’s a naïve strategy, of the sort that only a smug intellectual can embrace. Appeasement is also a forlorn hope, one that delays an inevitable conflict rather than preventing it, as western leaders from Jefferson through Chamberlain painfully learned. Barack Obama seems determined to take America down that doomed path once more. The inevitable consequences of the president’s policy are obvious to even casual students of history and Islam: America and Israel will surely pay for Obama’s naiveté in blood. The only real questions are when and how much.