It has been more than five years since the 9/11/01 attacks, the outrage that, according to conventional wisdom, began the “War on Terror.” Ever since the term was coined, I have used it, but always felt a little uncomfortable with it. In fact, from this post forward, I won’t be using the term “War on Terror” anymore. That said, the alternatives that have popped up over these past years haven’t been very effective either.
To some, this may seem a ridiculous, academic exercise, but words mean something – especially now, when we rely on them as much as our military hardware to triumph over our enemies. Therefore, I think it best that we actually get the name of this war right.
The most important thing about it is to determine whom we are fighting. This why some of the more prevalent names – War on Terror, War against Violent Extremism, and War for the Free World – don’t work for me. Terror doesn’t describe an enemy, but rather a method the enemy uses. Moreover, we are not in fact, at war with all who use terror as a weapon. I know of no effort to exterminate the Irish Republican Army. Hugo Chavez’s goon squads are not on anyone target list (OK, not on any military‘s target list). Stalinist North Korea has been committing terrorism longer than the mullahs of Iran, yet war is the last thing anyone in Washington seems to want there. Thus, War on Terror falls short (as does War against Violent Extremism, for that matter).
As for War for the Free World (Frank Gaffney’s favorite) this may be more wishful thinking than an accurate description. Don’t get me wrong; I admire Gaffney a great deal, he is one of the few leading pundits in Washington who understands the threat from Communist China. However, that’s the entire point, he is one of the few. Hardly anyone in power is noticing that Communist China is the leading sponsor of terrorism on the planet, let alone taking the appropriate policies to combat this.
I do believe Communist China is fighting a cold war against us (I call it Cold War II), but that doesn’t help in describing this war. After all, Cold War I had two wars within it (Korea and Vietnam), so even if our enemies are being backed by Communist China (and they are), the name of this war still eludes me. That said, if this were a War for the Free World, Washington would get serious about the Communist threat, and that is not happening right now.
The other four monikers for this war – War against Islam, radical Islam, Islamism, or Islamo-fascism, actually try to describe our enemy, but I think they all fail.
To call this a War against Islam is far to broad a brush. The fact is, there is at least one spiritual “denomination” (the Sufi) who claim Islam is not a violent faith, and considers those Muslims to support violence to run counter to the true faith. Now, the blogosphere is full of arguments about the validity of this, but so long as there is an argument within Islam on this, one cannot call it a war against all Islam, or even “true” Islam.
Moreover, the War on Islam theme ignores the role of the secular Ba’ath Party in this war. Saddam Hussein’s regime had radical Muslim friends, but it was never an Islamic regime. Its most public face (besides Saddam himself) was Tariq Aziz, who was a practicing Catholic. This is not to say Saddam’s regime wasn’t dangerous (those would say so are wrong) or that the liberation of Iraq was unjustified (ditto – more on this in a future post). It is to say that the War on Islam moniker misses a very important enemy force, and thus is incomplete (this also applies to the other three: radical Islam, Islamism, or Islamo-fascism).
So how do we name our enemy? I would suggest we simply list them.
This wouldn’t the first time a war was named for its enemies. What the rest of the world calls the Seven Years War (1756-63), we still call the French and Indian War – named after the French and Indians defeated by the British and colonial forces. With that precedent in mind, who are we fighting?
Clearly, al Qaeda leads the list, but al Qaeda has ties to several other groups that we or our allies are fighting, be it in Somalia, the Philippines, India, Afghanistan, etc. What holds them together is the deeply ideological strain of Islam known as Wahhabism. The Wahhabists are among the most radical of all Muslims, and wherever they have gone (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan), they have created throwback tyrannies and breeding grounds for terrorists (or in the case of SA, terrorist financiers – see National Review Online). While I have repeatedly said Islam is not a violent faith, I give no such ground to Wahhabism. Given Saudi Arabia’s record as a fundraiser for terrorists (here’s more from the Christian Science Monitor), and Pakistan’s new coziness with the Taliban, I think one can safely say Wahhabism is an enemy, the protestations of the Saudi royal family notwithstanding.
Given Saddam’s regime, Ba’athism certainly should be added to the list. The actions of the lone Ba’athist regime left on earth (that would be Syria) would only further justify its inclusion (for the uninitiated, Ba’athism is a secular Arabist ideology brought to the Middle East during World War II by Vichy France – see Cliff May, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies).
The final enemy in the war is the mullahcracy of Iran, which is not only arming militias in Iraq to kill Americans (NRO: The Corner), but also had a hand in the Khobar Towers bombing of 1996 (NRO). However, the people of Iran have and most likely want nothing to do with this war. In fact, they want nothing to do with the mullahs who are running their country into the ground.
What drives the mullahcracy to tyrannize its own people and terrorize everyone else? It is the “teachings” of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the regime first theocratic ruler from 1979 until his death ten years later. Thus, I use the term Khomeinism to describe the last enemy, which would thus also cover the regime’s terrorist proxies: Hezbollah and Hamas.
Thus it becomes clear, we are at war with Wahhabists, Ba’athists, and Khomeinists. We face all three in Iraq, the first and last in Afghanistan, and the last two in Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine. The Wahhabists also lead the enemy charge in India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Somalia.
Therefore, I would humbly submit the best description for this conflict is the Wahhabist-Ba’athist-Khomeinist War (or WBK War for short, hence the category name).
However, we must remember that our enemies have one common benefactor, the Chinese Communist Party. So long as the regime in Zhongnanhai, Beijing is given a free pass, neither Cold War II nor the WBK War will be won.