The post 9/11 era has changed the rules of engagement for national security experts and for those who can read the mind of the Jihadists, when it comes to US Presidential elections. While the principle was that the counter Terrorism community should let the voters chose their candidates and select their chief executive first, then offer the expert advice to the President later, unfortunately for that principle, things have changed.
Indeed, since the attacks against New York and Washington and the engagement of the nation in the war with Jihadism since 2001, the selection of the US President can fundamentally affect the survival of the American People. Who would occupy the White House in 2009 will have to make decisions for four to eight years with cataclysmic consequences on the physical security and the freedom of 300 million citizens in this country and eventually on the free world as a whole: For the leader of the most powerful democracy in the world has to be able to know who the enemy is so that all resources are put into action. Short of this ability to be very clear and precise on the nature of the danger and the processes to address it, a next US President could cause a major disaster to this nation. American voters cannot afford to install a man or a woman who can’t identify and define the enemy. If you can’t see that enemy, you simply cannot defeat it.
In the 2004 Presidential election, the real choice was not between Parties and socio economic platforms. It was between the option of resuming the war against what was called then “Terrorism,” and the option of retreating from the confrontation. Everything else was decoration. Americans were agonizing on the direction to adopt before their numerical majority resettled President Bush in the White House. Some argued that Americans do not change Presidents during a War. I think that the country was influenced by the two afore mentioned directions and chose one over the other; but at the same time I do think though that an overwhelming majority of voters wasn’t fully informed as to the real stakes. Less than half of the country was told that the war in Iraq was wrong, and that there was no war on terror, and more than half of the country was not even told who the enemy was or what it really wanted.
The 2004 Presidential elections took place in quasi popular ignorance. The sitting — and fighting — President was reelected by basic instincts not by enlightened citizens, which if compared to the opposing agenda were a sophisticated choice.
The 2008 elections are crucial
In 2008, America is quite different and the outlook of the forthcoming confrontation is by far more dramatic. US forces are still deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Jihadists — of all types, regimes and organizations — are still committed to reverse democracy in these two countries. The war there is not over rather the greater challenges are yet to begin. Al Qaeda got beaten badly in the Sunni Triangle and in Somalia but a younger generation of Jihadists is being put into battle across the region. Not one single Sunni country will escape the rise of Salafi Terror in the next US Presidential term. Iran’s regime is speeding up its strategic armament, testing American resolve when possible; Syria is surviving its isolation and bleeding our allies in Iraq and Lebanon; Hezbollah is about to seize Lebanon; Hamas has seized Gaza; Turkey’s Islamists are reversing secularism; and Pakistan’s Jihadists are eying the nuclear missiles. But worse, three generations of Jihadists have penetrated the social and defense layers of Western Europe and the United States. In few years from now, the next President may have to witness European cities burned by urban warfare in his (or her) first term, and could be forced to arm the doom day devices for the first time in this century by the following Presidential term. These images from a not so distant future may become the reality to face the leaders we will select in the primaries and the one who will be sitting in the oval office next January. The prospects are really serious. Thus the choice of the best candidate at Party and national levels is not a matter of routine or a regular exercise of US politics.
Never as before Americans must scrutinize the agendas of their candidates and find out which platform is the best suited for what is to come, who among them can face off with the lethal enemy, shield the economy, manages the daily lives while building the vital coalitions the world has ever needed? Who can withstand the pressure, understand the nature of the enemy and bring into the decision making posts the men and women who can win the conflict. And it is from a simple reading of these platforms — as posted and published — as well as from the public speeches of the candidates that anyone among us can shop around for the best suitable of the candidates. At this point of US and world history, Party, gender, race, and social class affiliations only can’t offer the right choice for the forthcoming Presidential election. At the end it is a personal selection act for each citizen. In democracies and certainly in the United States this year one can make many choices and select the appropriate candidates:
1. Decide to withdraw unilaterally from the war and let the next generation struggle with the consequences
2. Think that if we mind our business as a nation the world as it exist today will simply comply.
3. Commit to continue the confrontation by maintaining the status quo and awaiting for things to get better by themselves
4. Engage the enemy deeper, smarter and wider and end the war faster.
All depends on how we were educated about the conflict and what is it that we consider priorities in our lives. If we were misinformed about the events that have bled this country and will bring the world into dramatic times, before they recede, we would vote for the candidates who sees no threat to America and who practice politics as if Peace is secure. But if we know where we are in the world we’re living in, we’d look at survival first before we argue about everything else. I am among those who believe — and see — that this country (and other democracies) are marked for aggression and Terror. All our concerns about economy, social justice, cultural harmony, wealth, and technological advancement are dramatically pending on the ability of the rising menace to crumble this country’s national security and all what would collapse with that fall.
Probably I am among the few who see the clouds gathering around the globe and thus have been urging leaders to act fast, decisively and early on to avoid the future Jihad –that has began already. Had what I see wasn’t there I would be fully excited — like any citizen — to argue forcefully about the crucial matters of our existence: health, environment, nutrition, scientific discoveries, animal protection, and why not space exploration. Had I not realized that all that debate was hinging on what Bin laden and Ahmedinijad were preparing, I would have been looking at a whole different roaster of Presidential candidates. But that is not the world I see ahead of us, in the immediate future.
Hence, I’ll leave the debate about the best economic and technological directions to their experts and I would postpone the social and philosophical dreams to better times. Right now and right here I am interested in who among the candidates can simply understand the tragic equation we’re in and may be able to use the resources of this nation to cross the bridge ahead of us. President Bush was elected before 9/11 neither on the grounds of avoiding the Jihadi wars nor winning them. Very few even knew that we were already at war. He was reelected on the ground of being a better choice than the defeatist political alternative. This year I suggest that Americans deserve a more daring choice. They need to see and certify that the next occupant of the White House lives on this Planet, at this age, knows that we are at war and above all knows which war we are fighting. The margin of error is too slim to allow hesitations.
Future Jihad is coming
By 2012 the Jihadists may recruit one million suicide bombers and could align two nuclear powers. By 2016 they would deploy 10 million suicide bombers and seize five regimes equipped with the final weapon. In the next eight years NATO’s European membership could be battling urban intifadas and US task forces lacking shelters worldwide. To avoid these prospects of apocalypse the offices on Pennsylvania Avenue must catch up with the lost opportunities as of next winter.
Thus, and unlike traditional commentators in classical US politics I am not looking at who said what and who flipped flopped when. Frankly, it doesn’t matter at this stage if it is a he or a she, of this or other race, of this or other church, and if the President is single, has a large family or has divorced twice. The stakes are much higher than the sweet but irrelevant American usual personality debate. I want to know if the candidates are strong willed, smart, educated about the world, informed about the threat, can define it, can identify it, can fight it, are not duped by their bureaucracy, cannot be influenced by foreign regimes, have the right advisors, can run an economy while commanding a war and still see the threats as they handle daily crisis and take drastic measures as the hard times are approaching. I want to know if the candidates are very specific when they inform their public about the menace. Yes, it is indeed a vital function of national security that we need to insure for the next few years, so that all other issues can be addressed thoroughly. In short I don’t want to see the fall of Constantinople being repeated on these shores in the next decade or two. Humanity will not recover from such a disaster.
And that potential hyper drama hinges on the mind and the nerves of the next President of this country. At this stage three men and a woman, all remarkable politicians, are the finalists (or so it seems) for the ultimate job. Their skills are rich, their past and present are colorful, their images are attractive to many and the dreams they inspire are equally powerful: A minority symbol, a successful woman, a war hero and a bright entrepreneur. If there was no Jihadi menace, meaning a different Planet, I would hardly be able to choose. Senator Obama would be an amazing choice to end the wounds of the past. Senator Clinton, as a woman, would break the gender taboo. Senator McCain, as a man who suffered for his country would epitomize the faithfulness of this nation. Governor Romney, the family man and the successful businessman can be the symbol of a hopeful America. As beautiful as these tales can be, my search for the best choice is not as dreamful as the descriptions the candidates inspire, unfortunately. I am looking at the scariest item on any Presidential agenda and check out if they are conscious about it: national security. Here is what I found so far.
The Obama and Clinton agendas
Senators Obama and Clinton, unlike their colleagues Edwards and Kucinich (before they quit the race) acknowledge that a “war on terror” is on. Both have pledged to pursue al Qaeda relentlessly instead of blaming their country as their mates have stated. Also, Obama and Clinton, to the surprise of their critics have enlisted good counter terrorism experts as advisors. But from there on, the findings gets darker. The Senator from Illinois wants to end the campaign in Iraq abruptly, which would lead to the crumbling of the democratic experiment and a chain of disasters from Afghanistan to Lebanon opening the path for a Khomeinist Jihadi empire accessing the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean: Too many sufferings and devastating results. Obama’s campaign need to radically transform its agenda on world view so that the voices of the oppressed peoples in that part of the world, can be heard. Maybe a trip to Darfur and Beirut can help rethinking his agenda. Unfortunately the latest news from the campaign isn’t encouraging. The Senator wants to shake the hands of Dictator Assad, authoritarian Chavez, apocalyptic Ahmedinijad and perhaps even the Khartoum bullies of Sudan’s Africans. No need for further evidence: such an agenda in the next White House is anathema to the sense of human history.
Senator Clinton has a powerful political machine and happens to have enlisted top national security experts in her team. She will commit to stand by Israel and would not visit the oppressors of women in Tehran. But beyond these two red lines her foreign policy agenda (despite the knowledgeable expertise available to her) is (using ironically the words of Obama in other fields) “a bridge back to the twentieth century.” Indeed, the plan is to withdraw from Iraq without defeating the Jihadists, without containing the Iranians and without solidifying Democracy. It is an asphalted path to the Obama pull out, with some decorations and consolation prizes. A retreat from the Middle East will be paved with fabulous commitment not to let Israel down. A commitment which would lose its teeth, once the Pasdarans will be marching through Iraq and Syria and would install Armageddon’s Shahhab missiles in the hands of Hezbollah. On the Senator’s agenda there is no definition of the enemy or commitment to contain it, reverse it or defeat it. There are no policies of solidarity with oppressed peoples and there is no alliance with the democratic forces of the region. Mrs Clinton won’t befriend Ahmedinijad but it would let him — and other Islamists — crush her own gender across the continents.
But more important perhaps, from an American perspective would the crisis to expect in Homeland Security if one or the other agendas advanced by the two Senators would enter the White House. If no drastic reforms would take place within their projected policies of non confrontation of Jihadism, an army of experts, activists and lobbyists is expected to invade all levels of national security and reinstall the pre 9/11 attitudes. In short Jihadophilia would prevail, even without the knowledge or the consent of that future White House. It already happened in the 1990s and led to what we know. The reading of political genomes has no margin for error. The electoral platforms of the two Senators are enemy-definition-free. Not identifying the enemy is equal to not defining the threat. Thus, and unless the good advisors rush to fill that gap before the national election, Democratic voters will lack their chance to bring in a solid defender of the nation.
The Republicans’ two options
On the other side of the spectrum, Republicans are struggling with a different choice, nonetheless as challenging and with long term consequences. Aside from Congressman’s Paul isolationist program which calls for striking deals with bloody dictatorships, disengaging from any containment of Jihadi threats, abandoning peoples in jeopardy, and giving free ride to penetration and infiltration within the US homeland (all clearly and unequivocally stated in the open); aside from this anomalistic agenda, all other platforms had a minimum baggage of resistance to Terror forces, each one with a different rhetoric.
McCain, Romney, Huckabee, as well as Giuliani and Thompson (before they pulled out) were all ready to engage battle with “the” enemy, pursue the so-called War on Terror and agreed on fighting al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their agendas attempted to define the threat, leaping ahead of their competitors on the other side of the aisle. Their statements and posted documents are irrefutable evidence that if they gain the White House there would neither surrender the country to domestic infiltration nor they would disengage from the confrontation overseas. On this ground alone, and unless the Democratic contenders and their final nominee change their counter Terrorism approach (which is not that likely), the final choice American voters will have to make — on national security — will be dramatically different and irreversibly full of consequences.
But at this stage of the primaries the grand choices seems to have to be made by Republicans. Indeed, in what I consider the single most important ingredient in the War with Jihadism, the identification of the threat is at the heart of the success or the failure. All four leading Republican candidates were equal in fingering what they perceived as the enemy: They called it “radical Islam” and gave it different attributes, “Islamo-fascism,” “extremist Islamism,” “Islamic terrorism,” and other similar descriptions. In that regard they are at the opposite end of their Democratic contenders. But in my analysis, after more than 25 years of study and observations of the phenomenon, and seven years after 9/11, the term “radical Islam” is not enough when a US President (or other world leaders) wants to define the danger and build strategies against it: Without delving into the deeper layers of academic research (at least not in this article), the term used outside a doctrine is too general, doesn’t pin down the actual forces acting against democracies and can be easily overturned and manipulated by skilled operatives in the War of ideas. So, the slogan of “Radical Islam” could be a linguistic indicator to the direction from where the menace is coming from, but falls short of catching the actual threat doctrine: Jihadism. Hence in my judgment those candidates who take the ideological battle lightly are not equipped as those who have done their homework fully and offered the voters, and perhaps the public, a comprehensive doctrine on counter Jihadism.
We’re not dealing with semantics here, but with keys to unlock the stagnation in the current conflict. Short of having a future President who knows exactly who the enemy is, how does it think, and how to defeat it, the conflict cannot be won. There can be no guesses, no broad drawings, no general directions, no colorful slogans, and no good intentions alone. This next President has to understand the Jihadist ideology by himself (herself as well) and not rely on advisors to place descriptions in the speeches, and change them at the wish of lobbyists. This nuance in understanding the threat and in articulating the rhetoric has gigantic consequences. All strategies related to fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan, in Iraq and within the West, and related to containing Khomeinist power in the region and beyond emanates from a US understanding of their ideologies, key elements of the foes global strategies. Hence when I examine the agendas of the Republican candidates and analyze their speeches I look at indicators showing the comprehension of the bigger picture. All four leaders, McCain, Romney, Giuliani and Huckabee have developed common instincts as to where it is coming from; but that is not enough. Americans need to see and know that their future President can man sophisticated rhetoric, is ready to go on the offensive, and move against the enemy before the latter jumps at American and allies targets. Being just tough and willing to strike back heavily is not anymore an acceptable threshold. We need the next President to be aware of what the other side is preparing, preempt it and do it faster than any predecessor. The next stage in this war is not about sitting in the trenches and increasing the level of troops wherever we currently are. It will be about moving swiftly and sometimes stealthily and reaching the production structure of the enemy. And to do this, our projected leaders need to identify and define the threat doctrine and design a counter doctrine, a matter the US Government has failed to achieve in the first seven years of the war.
The two leading contenders on the Republican side, McCain and Romney, both recognize that there is an enemy, are committed to defeat it, but identify it in different intensities. Senator McCain says it is “Radical Islam,” and pledges to increase the current level of involvement. On Iraq, the former Navy Pilot says he will continue to fight till there are no more enemies to fight. To me that is a trenches battlefield: We’ll pound them till they have no more trenches. Governor Romney says the enemy is Global Jihadism, and it has more than the one battlefield of Iraq. And because the Jihadists are in control of regimes, interests and omnipresent in the region and worldwide, the US counter strategies cannot and should not be limited to “entrenchment” but to counter attacks, preemptive moves and putting allies forces on the existing and new battlefields. Besides not all confrontations have to be militarily. The difference in wording between the general term “radical Islam” and the focused threat doctrine “Jihadism” says it all. One leads to concentrate one type of power in one place, regardless of what the enemy is and wants to do, and the other concept lead to pinch the foe from many places on multiple levels and decide over the ending process of the conflict.
I am sure Senator McCain can follow the same reasoning and catch up with the geopolitics of the enemy but so far Governor Romney has readied himself better in the realm of strategizing the defeat this enemy. The next stage of the war has to do with a mind battle with the Jihadists. The latter aren’t a just a bunch of Barbarians set to bloodshed. They have a very advanced strategy, projecting for decades, and they are ready to confront our next President and defeat the United States. This is why I have come to the conclusion that -based on what was provided to the public by the four leading candidates- Governor Romney has the capacity of managing the counter strategies against the Jihadists, only because he stated to the public that he sees the enemy as to who they are. And if a President can see them, he can defeat them. His Republican contender, now leading the polls, can sense them but haven’t shown them. The leading candidates on the other side are making progress in the opposite direction: One wants to end the War unilaterally and the other wants to make Peace with the oppressors. In short, if elected, Romney will try to destroy the mother ship, McCain will supply the trenches, Clinton will pull the troops back to the barracks and Obama will visit the foes’ bunkers.
Hence, as is, I have recommended Governor Romney for the Republican Primaries as first among equals while considering Senator McCain as a genuine leader. If Romney is selected I believe America may have a chance to try new strategies. If his contender is selected, we will have four or eight more years of the past seven years. On the other side, I have suggested to counter-Terrorism experts to help Democratic candidates restructure their agendas on national security in line with the reality of the enemy: For I would like to see both Parties presenting a united vision of the threat while differing on how to confront it. That would be the ideal situation America can be in and a response to the deepest will of the American public.
(PS: This analysis represents my personal views and not the views or position of any of the NGOs I am affiliated with)
Dr Walid Phares, author of Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against America, of The war of Ideas: Jihadism against democracy and of the forthcoming book, The Confrontation.
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