Your editorial, "George Habash," made a crucial point: the enemy cannot simply be characterized as "Islamist extremism" [Editorial, January 28, 2008]. Indeed, America is currently engaged in its most serious military campaign in thirty years in Iraq — and nearly 4,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice there.
If "Islamist extremism" is the enemy, then President George W. Bush made a terrible blunder in deciding to oust Saddam Hussein. But maybe the problem is really with those flogging the notion that the enemy is properly characterized as "Islamist extremism?"
In his 2002 State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush broke with the Clinton-era concept that the biggest threat to America was stateless entities, denouncing instead an "axis of evil" — Hussein's Iraq, Iran, and North Korea — to which he might have added Syria, now fueling violence, including "Islamic" violence, in both Iraq and Lebanon.
John Bolton's excellent Surrender is not an Option—which resembles Bush's 2002 speech in its definition of the enemy — never once mentions "Islamist extremism." Rather, it focuses on the threats posed by states, including Iran's continuous advances in its nuclear program. That danger, however, is not properly described as "Islamist extremism" — a vague and fuzzy term — but in the clear language that we once used: "Iran's nuclear program."
Indeed, as I've argued on the pages of this newspaper and elsewhere, there is good reason to believe that the radical Islamic networks are penetrated by states that use them for their own purposes. But we fail to see that — even consider it — because during the Clinton years, groups became more important than states, words more important than deeds — the ranting of some demented Islamic figure of more import than a nuclear bomb.
Incredibly, many people remain attached to that way of seeing national security dangers. Yet defining the enemy in very abstract terms, like "Islamist extremism," quite arguably, does enormous harm to America and its allies, including Israel, because it diverts attention from major threats to something that lacks truly significant corporeal substance.
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