Daniel Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The extremist group carved out territory for its utopian state through ruthless brutality and a steady flow of international recruits who arrived believing that the new terror state represented the fulfillment of their belief system. The world was horrified as the radicals who had seized towns and cities showed off severed heads and mutilated bodies, killed hostages and openly threatened the world.
The Americans, British and French intervened hoping to end the reign of terror and restore stability to the region. But their mission had no clear commitment behind it.
The President of the United States, a Democrat often accused of putting transnational idealism over national interests, did not believe that the terror group could be defeated. While he did not agree with its brutal tactics, he shared some of its ideological worldview and was reluctant to attack it. His credo was democracy and the terror group had enough popular support to win elections.
Under pressure from Britain and France, the United States sent thousands of soldiers, but they lacked a clear mission and were hardly allowed to fight. Their European allies had a complicated agenda that led them to occasionally aid the terror group. One visionary leader warned that the terror group had to be stopped while it was still weak, but he was dismissed as a warmongering extremist.
American soldiers on the ground took some initiative, but had no support from the White House which was only interested in world peace and nation building. Despite winning its limited battles against the Communist guerrillas, the United States withdrew from what would soon become the Soviet Union.
A generation later the former terror group had nuclear weapons and was busy taking over the world.
The West is making many of the same mistakes with Islamism that it did with Communism. And it’s making them for the same reasons.
Islamic terrorism is excused on the same grounds that Communist terror was excused; as a response to our imperialistic foreign policy, as the outcry of the oppressed and an attempt to secure equality. Some atrocities are dismissed as myths, worries over terrorism are written off as fearmongering and terrorists are transformed into victims who were singled out by paranoid politicians for their political beliefs.
The left is using the same exact playbook on Islamic terrorism as it did on Communism.
Like Communist leaders, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations base their operations out of the West. Lenin conducted his campaign out of Munich and London, Trotsky operated out of Austria, London and New York. Today the Muslim Brotherhood operates out of London and Austria. The Blind Sheikh ran the Islamic Group out of New York. The Ayatollah Khomeini organized the Islamic Revolution in Iran from a Paris suburb. ISIS draws on thousands of European recruits.
If the West had really wanted to “strangle Bolshevism in its cradle”, as Churchill had urged, it had the key players living in its own cities. If the West really wanted to shut down the Jihad, it could do more by going after the Salafist networks in its own cities than by bombing Syria.
The United States is the fourth most popular country for ISIS tweeters. The UK is in the top ten.
The State Department is offering a $25 million reward for Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current head of Al Qaeda and the man behind its ideology, but he visited mosques in California on a fundraising trip during the Clinton era. Abu Musab al-Suri, another key Al Qaeda ideologue, operated out of Spain. Anwar al-Awlaki lived comfortably in the United States until he was ready to step into a global role.
The West doesn’t really want to defeat Islamic terrorism. It responds to terrorism while ignoring the ideology. And then it roots around for root causes that coincidentally turn out to all involve progressive policy priorities like economic inequality and global warming.
Churchill’s call to “strangle Bolshevism in its cradle” was never picked up because the West had been compromised by its own mixed loyalties. The Bolsheviks were viciously hostile to fellow leftists once they took over, but they shared the same ideological DNA so that the left had trouble rejecting them.
The left sees Islamists as an anti-colonialist minority lobby rather than theocratic supremacists. Muslim Brotherhood front groups, like Communist front groups, are willing to use “useful idiots” on the left. But rather than forming a common front, Communists and Islamists hijack left-wing causes and make them their own. So, for example, Muslims turn #BlackLivesMatter protests into anti-Israel campaigns.
No matter how often Western leftists were taught that they could not work with Communists, they quickly forgot the lessons because ideology mattered more to them than reality. The same is true of the left’s relationship with Islamists. Every time Islamists take over, they turn on the left. But the left has learned nothing from its experiences in Iran, Egypt or Tunisia.
Liberals are too conflicted when it comes to Islamic terrorism to be able to fight it effectively. Islamists, like Communists, exploit the Western weakness for democracy, to take over. And they exploit the left’s affinity for anti-imperialist radicalism to gain its support or at least forbearance for its terror networks.
The left has spent so much time finding ideological common ground with the likes of Hamas or Al Qaeda that it is baffled by ISIS because the group shares many of the same tactics and goals as these terror groups, but makes no attempt to find common ground with the left to employ its people as useful idiots.
That is one reason why so many progressive pundits and experts profess to be so baffled by ISIS ideology as to insist that it doesn’t have one and that its members are just a bunch of random barbaric savages.
ISIS has a highly developed ideology, but they are incapable of recognizing it because it lacks any of the left-wing policy points they are used to hearing from even the worst Islamic terror groups.
The Islamic State directs all its propaganda to Muslims. It shows no interest in recruiting the left to its cause. It views the Caliphate as a reality and sees no need to lie to the left.
Can the Islamic State evolve into another Soviet Union? It may seem improbable now, but the United States, despite refusing to recognize Bolshevik rule until FDR, was quickly dragged in by the need to provide humanitarian aid and stability. That humanitarian aid went to bolster the Communist regime.
In a repeat of history, the United States funds ISIS by providing humanitarian aid. ISIS has to be bribed to allow the aid to pass to the civilian population and then ISIS takes the aid and passes it off as its own.
Such humanitarian engagements have a history of dragging us into a political engagement. While negotiations with ISIS would appear unlikely, Obama did undertake negotiations with the Taliban. The Communists went from using embassies as terror bases, filling them with bombs and guns for domestic terror attacks in Europe, to using them as bases for espionage and influence operations.
If the Islamic State survives, it may decide that it has something to gain from a subtler approach. The effort to strangle the Bolshevik baby failed because of a lack of Western commitment. The same appears to be true of the campaign against ISIS. The conviction that the Communists represented the popular will and could not be defeated became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The same approach has been taken to Islamic terrorist groups such as Hamas and its Muslim Brotherhood parent. The next stage is acceptance.
Obama and Hillary contend that ISIS cannot be defeated militarily. And if it cannot be defeated militarily, the only options are Cold War containment or diplomatic outreach. It’s not too hard to imagine the arguments that will be made for the latter at the expense of the former. They were the same arguments that were made and are still being made by the left for engagement with Communist terror regimes.
ISIS has not done anything that the Soviet Union did not do. Its ideology is thoroughly different, but both were built on swamps of atrocity, mass murder, mass rape, ethnic cleansing and raw butchery. If the left could serve the Soviet Union, who is to say that it won’t learn to love the Islamic State?