Michael Ledeen is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“The war is on,” General Mike Flynn wrote three years ago. And he went on to describe it in our best-selling book The Field of Fight.
We face a working coalition that extends from North Korea and China to Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. We are under attack, not only from nation-states directly, but also from al Qaeda, Hezbollah, ISIS, and countless other terror groups.
It’s a world war, and the enemy alliance is composed of both radical Islamist groups and nations—above all, Iran and its proxies–and radical secular tyrannies, like Putin’s. While we have defeated them every time we fought them on an actual battlefield, today we are nowhere near winning the real world war. Our enemies are advancing in the Middle East and North Africa, and flooding our hemisphere with terrorists, even in our own homeland.
We have to win this global conflict, and there are several ways to do it. Above all, we must launch a vigorous political campaign against their anti-democratic ideologies. Far too many American intellectuals and politicians say we lack “standing” for such a campaign. They are wrong, as they were similarly wrong during the Cold War. Reagan was repeatedly criticized for pointing out the failure of Soviet Communism, but we now know from the dissidents that overthrew it that Reagan’s words were important and inspirational.
Ours is the most durable and most successful revolution in the modern era, and we should say so.
Our enemies, typically, are failed or failing states (Iran, Turkey) or proxies thereof. Political warfare can be very effective, as the case of the Soviet Empire clearly demonstrates.
Yes, I’m talking about promoting regime change. It’s not easy, not popular, and it’s altogether likely to fail, whether it comes about nonviolently or as the result of armed action. Most of the time, revolutions fail (ours is a rare exception), from the French in the 18th century to the Egyptian “spring” that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. Failed revolutions more often than not lead to a restoration of the original tyranny, or (think Russia) something even worse. We don’t want that.
Nonetheless, our enemies are hell-bent on our defeat and domination, and they mean to impose their malevolent world-view on us. We should take the war to them—the whole enemy alliance—and the most effective way to do that is to threaten the survival of our enemies’ regimes and the leaders of the radical Islamist groups and movements.
As General Flynn said:
We can’t win this war by treating Radical Islamic terrorism as a handful of crazies…any more than we can win the global war solely with military forces. The political and theological underpinnings of their immoral actions have to be demolished…
Some foreign leaders recognize this, notably Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has called upon his country’s Muslim leaders to carry out a revolution of Islamic doctrine. True, Sisi is not a liberal democrat, but he is fighting against the radical Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are both tyrannical and enemies of the United States.
Our political campaign against the enemy alliance is urgently needed. Thus far, we don’t have one. It’s long past time we took this world war into enemy headquarters. The best place to start is Iran, where an open rebellion against the regime has been raging for a year, and seemingly grows by the day. We should be openly and vigorously supporting those millions of anti-regime demonstrators. If we could bring down the Soviet Empire by supporting the relatively small number of dissidents, the Islamic Republic, where a majority of Iranians detest the regime, should be significantly easier.
As for ISIS and al Qaeda, we should use both political and military means. ISIS has lost most of its “caliphate,” and our leaders should reiterate this theme on a daily basis, via our radio and television broadcasts to their would-be followers, at the same time we decimate their forces.
Let’s close with General Flynn:
We are fighting an enemy that wants to win, legitimately believes it is winning, and is bringing the war to our homeland. We need a winning strategy.