The title of this essay is borrowed from the title of a recent article by John Bolton in National Review in which he lays out the challenge we now face in the Middle East from the latest personification of radical Islamist jihad in the form of the Islamic State, commonly known as ISIS or ISIL. He makes it clear, as others have, that our strategic objective must be to destroy this menace, not contain it, not simply protect constituents and other interests in the region, but unconditionally destroy it. The question is when or if we will ever hear this mission enunciated by our President.
In 2006, Norman Podhoretz wrote a controversial book, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, in which he outlined the history of the conflict that culminated in the attack of 9/11, the various responses to that attack, and suggestions about the way forward. He referred to the current conflict as World War IV because he believes as I do that this war is every bit as global in reach and will require at least the level of commitment for success as the first three in the series (the Cold War being number III). And he recognizes that, as he writes, “the question of whether and to what extent the American people of this generation can or will discharge the responsibility that 9/11 imposed on us will ultimately be answered by the outcome of [the] great war of ideas at home……nothing less than a kind of civil war”. Eight years later, this internal debate rages on, while the case for Podhoretz’s thesis continues to grow, and the threat posed by ISIS may be its ultimate validation.
From her recent interviews, Hillary Clinton seems to get it, suggesting that “jihadist groups are governing territory; they will never stay there, though; they are driven to expand……..this jihadism shows up in many contexts, but whether in Gaza or Syria or Iraq, it is all one big threat”. Meanwhile, as former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates notes in his revealing book, “for Obama, it’s all about getting out”. He made this pretty clear in a major speech at the National Defense University in May 2013, saying that the “perpetual wartime footing” and “boundless war on terror” that had permeated American life since 9/11 should come to an end. “This war, like all wars, must end”.
Well, ISIS didn’t get the memo, and the premature and unwise withdrawal of troops from the region and the vacuum in American leadership in confronting the challenges in Syria and Iraq provided them the opportunity to galvanize their message and resolve into a dangerous new brand of extremism unlike any we have seen since this war began in 1979. And they leave no mystery about their mission. It is well documented in sophisticated publications that are published online in English. Much as Mein Kampf spelled out Hitler’s world view ten years before he took power, these people have explained to us in no uncertain terms what they have in mind.
Returning to Podhoretz, he closes his book with a quote from George Kennan from his famous “X” essay written at the beginning of the Cold War: “……….the thoughtful observer of Russian-American relations will experience a certain gratitude for a Providence which, by providing the American people with this implacable challenge, has made their entire security as a nation dependent on their pulling themselves together and accepting the responsibilities of moral and political leadership that history has plainly intended them to bear”. Podhoretz suggests that to substitute “Islamofascism” for “Russian-American relations” in this statement makes every word of it apply to us as a nation today.