Before young conservatives fully commit to a 2012 presidential campaign, one of the first questions they should ask their candidate is, “What is your policy on the ideology of Islamism?”
For most of America’s political leaders, addressing totalitarian Islamist ideology is an afterthought. After all, they have the legalization of marijuana, gay marriage and corporate jet taxes filling up their plates.
Young conservative opposition to Communism back in the 1960s, then the greatest ideological threat to the United States, helped to spark and sustain the conservative movement that still exists in America today. Young Americans for Freedom, America’s oldest conservative-libertarian youth organization, stated in its founding document The Sharon Statement that, “[T]he forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to [our] liberties.” But today’s youth are starkly divided over the threat posed by Islamism, with some voices who claim to speak for conservatism downplaying the threat completely.
Of the current field of Republican presidential candidates, one in particular stands out for his naivety on dealing with Islamism — Ron Paul.
Rep. Paul (R-TX), now making his third run at the presidency, has repeatedly dismissed the threat of Islamism, choosing instead to focus on what he calls America’s provocation of terrorist attacks against the U.S. and our allies due to American foreign policy.
In an interview with John Stossel in 2007, Rep. Paul made clear that the long-held Islamist intent to subdue and conquer other cultures, namely the West, is not an issue.
“Religious fanatics hate us and want to kill us because of our culture,” Stossel posed to Rep. Paul.
“I don’t think that’s true,” Rep. Paul responded. “It is not Muslim fanaticism that is the culprit.”
Sadly, such thinking has infected the minds of many young people who think the solution for dealing with Islamist terrorists is to bring all of our troops home and try to “leave the Islamists alone” instead of trying to develop a comprehensive strategy for victory. President Reagan, known for his “peace through strength” approach to foreign policy, helped defeat the Soviet Union without confronting or destroying their military, but his approach was not “non-interventionist” by any means.
President Reagan recognized Communism as “evil” and executed a strategic policy that implemented diplomacy, propaganda, economics, subversion, military display and war to bring down the Soviet Union’s evil empire. This was not a pure spread democracy/nation-building policy or an isolationist/non-interventionist policy. It was a conservative foreign policy. Such a policy is desperately needed today to combat the Islamist threat.
“Some people just don’t want to recognize ideology. There are a lot of people who didn’t want to believe that Communist ideology was a threat,” said Zeyno Baran, a former senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World, in the Summer 2010 issue of The New Guard magazine. “If you’ve never done your homework … I understand they would say, ‘Oh it’s exaggerated. It’s only American foreign policy,’ but the Wahhabi movement started before America was even engaged with the Islamic world, or before Israel was even created as a state.”
In her book The Other Muslims: Moderate and Secular, Baran brings together about a dozen American and European Muslims to warn the West about ignoring the ideological threat of Islamism.
“[The] Islamist ideology is the singular root cause of radicalization, and radicalization … is the conveyor belt to terrorism,” according to Baran.
Islamism, like Communism, seeks to undermine the Constitution and destroy American society both from within and without. But Islamism is even more dangerous in some ways than Communism, and thus deserves greater scrutiny from conservative youth.
“The Soviet Union, for all its unyielding hostility to the West, was a prudent player on the international scene, and could be deterred from using its formidable military power by the countervailing arsenals of the advanced democracies,” Carnes Lord, former national security advisor to Vice President Dan Quayle, pointed out in his 2006 book Losing Hearts and Minds?, which addresses the need to reform our public diplomacy and strategic influence operations in order to combat Islamism.
Lord rightly points out, “[I]t is necessary to acknowledge that the war on terror can neither be understood nor effectively waged unless it is seen to be about more than terrorism.”
Both conservatives and their leftist-libertarian leaning detractors can probably agree with that statement, but where conservatives see a threatening ideology hell-bent on our destruction, libertarians see a threatening U.S. government inciting violent acts against America and our allies. Young conservatives must recognize that their best hope for 2012 is a presidential candidate who acknowledges the threat of Islamism and can deliver a strategic policy aimed at defeating it.
Adam Cassandra is the Young Americans for Freedom Maryland State Director, and is an Associate Editor of The New Guard, YAF’s official magazine. He received his M.A. in Statecraft and National Security Affairs from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C.