After When British General Sir Charles Napier observed Hindus preparing their traditional religious practice of suttee – the burning of a still-living widow on her deceased husband’s funeral pyre – he told the Indian priests, “You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”
Fast forward two centuries – the United States is engaged in a war with jihadists that follow a religious tradition of terrorism and global conquest.
In an address to the American people this week, President Donald Trump announced a sharp departure from the Bush and Obama administrations’ handling of America’s longest war. The speech signaled what hopefully will mark the beginning of a campaign to restore American military resolve and strength after years of declining prestige. In just 20 minutes, Trump used the words “win” and “victory” more than Barack Obama uttered in eight years, a welcome replacement for politically correct terms like “degrade” and “courageous restraint.”
Undoubtedly, a willingness to use the formerly abandoned term “victory” and stronger military presence with an infusion of mettle is essential to combating our jihadist enemies, and our president signaled that he will not allow the Taliban to retake political control of the vacuums left behind for the Taliban and the Islamic State to fill in Afghanistan and Iraq.
While the president said that he will not announce troop deployments, operation schedules, and withdrawal timetables to our enemies, which he rightly refers to as “counterproductive,” we have since learned that Trump intends to commit more troops to Afghanistan. But whether we send four thousand, or forty thousand, or four hundred thousand American fighting men and women to Southwest Asia, recent history shows that military force alone will have no effect on the ideology that spawns Islamic terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Barcelona, or Orlando. No matter how deep Al Qaeda has dipped into the depth chart over the past several years to replace its fallen leaders, military counter-terrorism efforts by themselves have had little measurable effect on the operational capacity of terrorist groups.
Under past administrations, our troops were hamstrung by highly restrictive rules of engagement. Our enemies were able to exploit these politically motivated restrictions and used them to great advantage. We must unleash our military’s full capacity to bring destruction to the enemy, and Trump declared that not only has he done exactly that – we have already made significant progress on the battlefield as a result.
Rather than crafting a political narrative out of talking points that do not reflect reality, the president has already displayed a willingness to listen to the advice of his military commanders, granting the Pentagon more power when it comes to both strategy and decisions on the battlefield. This is another welcome change from the Obama era.
Trump also signaled that he intends to put diplomatic pressure on Pakistan for its support of jihadists that use the nation’s border areas with Afghanistan as a safe haven. We will apparently no longer continue financing a nation that is playing both sides.
To ultimately be successful in America’s longest war, the primary focus must be to de-legitimize and destroy the barbaric ideology itself. No matter how much we wish it weren’t true, the Islamic tenet of Jihad – referred to 36 times in the Quran as offensive war against infidels – simply cannot be killed off with air strikes and occupation armies as in wars past. No amount of hand-wringing multiculturalism from Western political leaders will fix that.
34 years ago, Ronald Reagan labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” The ideology that led to the extermination of countless millions of people worldwide hasn’t gone away (you can’t kill an idea), but the courageous leadership of Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and many others lifted the Iron Curtain and liberated millions. While Americans did battle the Soviets in limited capacity during the Cold War, victory would not have been possible without identifying and defeating the ideology on moral grounds.
Like Reagan, President Trump must seize the moral high ground by labeling the Jihadist ideology as evil. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that humans have a fundamental right to freedom of religion. That does not empower a group the “freedom” to kill, convert, and enslave others in the name of religion, as the Quran compels its followers.
Deploying troops, conducting airstrikes, posting Tweets praying for the most recent terrorist target-of-the-day, and multiculturalism will not so much as put a dent in this enemy. President Trump should make an ideological stand for human rights and declare that the United States represents for freedom, while the jihadists represent oppression and murder. He should announce that jihadists are today’s “evil empire,” and announce that we will use our military, economy, and diplomacy to destroy their ideology. With strong and consistent American leadership, other nations will follow.
Fortunately, we do not have to declare war on the billion-plus Muslims worldwide as not all Muslims are jihadists. We simply need to make the cost of adhering to the evil ideology so severe that it is no longer a threat to our liberty and security.
The jihadists have their customs and we have ours.
If Trump truly wants to achieve an “honorable and enduring outcome” worthy of the incredible sacrifice that Americans have borne since 9/11, we must re-frame the global conflict as a War on Jihad. If it worked for Reagan in the Cold War, I believe it can work again for Trump today.