The legendary Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu rightly observed generations ago that “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” But he also taught that “if you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” And right now, our strategy suggests we know neither the enemy nor ourselves.
That must change, and quickly.
The president refuses to know that our current adversary in radical Islam lives by an apocalyptic worldview – one that relies on unconscionable levels of slaughter to bring about its final caliphate. One cannot rationalize away such an irrational ideology. No medieval battles over Jerusalem, no features of Guantanamo Bay and certainly no aspect of Western culture can justify this level of bloodlust. And yet the current administration stubbornly searches for a clarification that might explain that militant Islam is the result of something other than irreconcilable religiosity. It is a theme akin to “we have met the enemy and decided to deny its existence.”
This obfuscation and denial is the pattern of the administration, one revealed early on when officials termed the Islamic terrorist attacks as “man-caused disasters” and combat operations as “overseas contingency operations.” This willful ignorance has prompted a dangerous mismatch in priorities. The president telling future military leaders, for example, that they are derelict in their duties if they deny climate change creates an environment of false truths, resulting in unsafe policy. Those on the front lines cannot defend against the threat when the threat is purposely misidentified.
It has also led to dishonest conclusions, such as arguing that the loss of territory equates to American military success, and the frequency of terrorist attacks represents the Islamic State’s desperation. Even those with a cursory knowledge of jihadists understand that the successful execution of an attack is seen as a signal of divine support. Frequency only strengthens their resolve.
One should never be so intransigent as to deny the truth of the enemy. That only concedes the initiative and gives the enemy an ability to outmaneuver you strategically.
Indeed, that’s partly why gruesome scenes unfold almost weekly in cities all over the world — Americans almost always counted among the victims. From Fort Hood to Chattanooga and San Bernardino to Orlando, from Paris to Brussels and Dhaka to Nice, the current national security strategy has done little more than teach geography.
Instead, we must get into the head of the enemy. All three of us have been there. It’s not pretty. There exists an unparalleled devotion to their cause; a fanatical adherence to Islamic conventions.
Take for instance Abu Zubaydah, a senior Al Qaeda leader captured in 2002. His religious fidelity led him to actually thank his overseers for enhanced interrogation because, according to him, those captured were permitted by Allah to provide information once they reached their own limit for physical or psychological hardship. He said “you must do this for all the brothers.”
They are resolute in their convictions. They are dedicated to the slaughter of any who do not share their warped vision for the future. That’s the enemy.
But America must also know itself. Jihadists do not distinguish between black and white, young or old, poor or rich.
Our enemy sees us all as Americans, and we should do the same. It is essential that we champion American exceptionalism — defined not as a pompous view of self, but as the beacon of light for individual freedom in a world lacking it. We must have a shared understanding that our country, our constitutional republic, will always be the last great hope for liberty. And above all, we must agree to protect it.
The government must also know its responsibilities. The next administration and each one thereafter must embrace its constitutional obligation to provide for the common defense, and must never put the interests of others above those they serve. Those leaders should clearly and correctly define the enemy, and articulate an unambiguous national and international strategy to defeat it.
Make no mistake; we are at war. And the enemy possesses an unalterable 7th century ideology with 21st century capabilities. But even the most dogmatic can be defeated. They have been defeated when the United States, leaders and citizens alike, chose to know the enemy and resolved to defeat it. From the Barbary Wars to Nazism, Imperial Japan to communism, America chose sacrifice over compliancy, bravery over fear. The American people squared their collective shoulders and faced the threat head-on.
All of this can be done. And we will do so with unwavering integrity, renewed strength and unapologetic resolve. Knowing ourselves and our enemy will ensure victory.
Allen West is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and is the Executive Director of the National Center for Policy Analysis.
Dr. David Grantham is a Senior Fellow at the NCPA, served with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and holds a Ph.D. in history from Texas Christian University.
Lt. General (Ret.) Michael T. Flynn spent 33 years as an intelligence officer. He served as the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Senior Military Intelligence Officer in the Department of Defense. He is the founder of the Flynn Intel Group, a Commercial, Government, and International consulting firm. He is the author of the forthcoming book, written with Michael Ledeen, of “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies” (St. Martin’s Press, July 12, 2016).