Magazine article The American Conservative

Can We Win the Ideological War?

Magazine article The American Conservative

Can We Win the Ideological War?

Article excerpt

Asked during World War II why the British continued to fight so ferociously, Churchill is said to have snorted, "If we stop, you'll find out."

The question arises in the war on terror we know who the main enemy is, al-Qaeda, the men and movement responsible for 9/11, but what are they fighting for? What is their war all about?

A year ago, in Salt Lake City, President Bush, addressing the American Legion, sought to define the war from his perspective: "The war we fight today is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. On one side are those who believe in the values of freedom and moderation-the right of all people to speak, and worship, and live in liberty. And on the other side are those driven by the values of tyranny and extremism-the right of a selfappointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest."

Certainly terrorists who massacre innocents are fanatics. Certainly, the caliphate bin Laden's acolytes would establish would be tyrannical. But if the enemy were only a cabal of terrorists, hell-bent on establishing a tyranny, they would not be on the verge of expelling us from Iraq and perhaps from Afghanistan.

Why are we losing the war if President Bush has correctly defined the stakes in this "ideological struggle"?

One reason is that the true goals of bin Laden, the insurgents in Iraq, and the Taliban are not so abstract as those of Mr. Bush. They are concrete, understandable, realizable, and appealing to millions.

In his declaration of war on the United States, bin Laden listed three goals: expel U.S. forces from the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, stop the persecution of innocent Iraqis through U.S.-UN sanctions, and end the Israeli repression and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Not only do these goals have broad appeal to Arab peoples, bin Laden has achieved victory in the first. After 9/11, U.S. forces were pulled out of Saudi Arabia at the request of the king.

And while Bush calls this an ideological struggle, the enemy has allied itself with some very powerful ideas. As did Mao and Ho Chi Minh, our enemy has captured the flag of nationalism: We fight to get your troops off our land! We fight to get your hooks out of our government! Leave us to rule ourselves!

More importantly, our enemy has rooted his cause in a 1,400-year-old religion that has 1. …

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