In a 2015 speech on defeating the Islamic State, then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said, “The obsession in some quarters with a clash of civilization, or repeating the specific words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ isn’t just a distraction, it gives these criminals, these murderers more standing than they deserve.”
Throughout the subsequent year, her pointed refusal to connect radical Islamism in any way to radical jihadism — a term she used comfortably in the aforementioned speech and thereafter — was turned against her to great effect and for good reason. Only the Western political Left is confused about who the enemy is. Only Westerners hear a distinction between “Islamism” and “jihadism.”
The people whose feelings we’re trying to spare aren’t impressed, and jihadists hear terminological gymnastics like Secretary Clinton’s and laugh. To the enemy, our failure to name them is a symbol of weakness; to our Muslim allies, a symbol of trepidation (even if it makes it easier for them to defend Western alliances and money to their public).
Those of us burdened by that “obsession … with a clash of civilization” understand that the first order of business is to win. And it turns out that Secretary Clinton knows this, too. She just has different enemies than we do.
Much ink will be spilled in the coming days over the politics of Secretary Clinton’s appalling interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in which she argued against being civil to half the population of her own country.
Hearing her comments, I couldn’t help but think back to her views on combating radical Islam — or, more specifically, refusing to combat it — and how they differed from her strategy for fighting Republicans. Because unlike radical Islam, Secretary Clinton actually cares about beating Republicans.
“You cannot be civil,” she explained, “with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about. That’s why I believe if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again. But until then the only thing the Republicans seem to recognize and respect is strength.”
Change “political party” to “ideology” and “Republicans” to “Islamists,” and you’d have the philosophical underpinning of an effective policy to keep the free people of the world safe from — let’s use the Secretary’s term — radical jihadism. It just so happens that radical Islamists want to destroy what the West stands for and cares about. And the only thing they recognize and respect is strength.
And, lest we forget, Secretary Clinton’s espoused views on radical Islam – who knows what she really believes? – are downright Rumsfeldian compared with the ascendant left wing of her party, a subsection of which seems nearly sympathetic to radical Islamism due to their shared loathing of the United States.
In 2004, then-presidential candidate John Kerry infamously said, “We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance.” Like gambling, prostitution, or organized crime, he said, terrorism couldn’t be eliminated, but it could be contained.
Aside from then-senator Kerry’s characteristic tone deafness, sustainable containment of terrorism — meaning policies that don’t require never-ending global warfare — necessitates destroying the ideologies that foster and promote it. And that’s just to achieve a policy of containment! There’s no such thing as détente with radical Islam. There’s capitulation or victory. Pick one.
Obviously, victory is hard to define and harder to achieve. And it isn’t something the United States or even a united West (which we don’t have, anyway) could do by itself. But like all fights, winning this one requires moral clarity and the likelihood of upsetting some people whose help we may eventually need.
Secretary Clinton, to the cheers of the base of her party, seems to understand that – when the enemies in question are conservative Americans. Less so when the enemies are people trying to kill us all.
Jonathan Greenberg is vice president of the public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Greenberg is an expert in Middle East policy and a former staffer at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Follow him on Twitter.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.