What Are Our Enemies Saying?

On January 20, 1981, just after Ronald Reagan delivered his first inaugural address, Iran formally released the 444 hostages it had seized from the American embassy and had been holding for about 14 months. It is hard to fathom the entire reasoning behind the gesture by the Iranians. Perhaps it was the prospect of having $8 billion in frozen assets released or being offered immunity from international civil litigation, or perhaps the propaganda value of the hostages had been fully exploited and no longer worth the diplomatic difficulties it was causing. It is also possible that the election of a new American President, Ronald Reagan, altered the Iranian calculus. Reagan was reputed to be far more willing to employ force to free the hostages. In any case, they were unlikely to get any better deal from the new president the past one. It is at least plausible to suggest that the election of President Reagan sent the Iranians the message that the United States did not want to sit passively by. Perhaps another rescue attempt would be better planned, executed, and include substantially more force.

Nonetheless, it is dangerous to always assume that what your enemy considers an unfavorable development is necessarily a favorable one for you and visa versa. One’s enemies very well could be mistaken in their assessment. However, we should be concerned about the message received (though not intentionally sent) to Islamic extremists by the Democrats gaining control of both houses of Congress in the recent midterm elections. Are the radical Islamists likely to be concerned that there is a new party in power more capable of conducting the War on Terror or are they persuaded that the recent election results confirm their long held belief in the weakness of the West?

At the very least, the conclusion our enemies provide in public should give Democrats and the rest of us as well cause for concern. The leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq has judged that “The American people have put their feet on the right path by … realizing their president’s betrayal in supporting Israel. So they voted for something reasonable in the last elections.” Yet is hard to imagine how much reasoned dialogue can be exchanged with a leader who also states. “We will not rest from our jihad until we are under the olive trees of Rumieh and we have blown up the filthiest house — which is called the White House.”

Some on the Left have argued that Al Qaeda sought a Republican victory because it is in Al Qaeda’s best interest for the US to remain in Iraq. The argument is a concession that the reaction of our enemies to our election results remains a legitimate subject for argument. We can believe that both political parties have the same goal of success in opposing prescriptions for success. However, the argument that Al Qaeda would not benefit from a US withdrawal is inconsistent with recent history the past suggests that American withdrawals from the Mideast have emboldened rather than pacified radical Islamists.

When President Ronald Reagan pulled troops from Lebanon after the bombing of the Marine barracks, when President Bill Clinton pulled troops from Somalia after American serviceman were killed in the “Black Hawk Down” episode, when President Clinton had only a feeble response to the bombing of US embassies and a deadly attack on the USS Cole, Islamic extremist concluded that the US was a paper tiger, so casualty adverse that it would not stand up to any assault. This judgment as to American resolve allowed our enemies to believe they could strike us on September 11 with impunity.

Let us hope that our enemies do not interpret the recent election results as a similar lack of resolve.

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