The American Interest

To Lose a War

President George W. Bush’s highly anticipated prime-time speech to mark the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America was supposed to be nonpartisan and conciliatory.  It offered him an opportunity to present mature thoughts on one of the most momentous events in this country’s history, to correct several manifest flaws in his conceptual approach to the “War on Terror,” and to chart a coherent strategy without which it cannot be conducted successfully.

Instead, he presented a host of clichés, platitudes, and assertions as ideological as his first State of the Union Address in 2002 and as misguided as his most recent one last February.

“Since the horror of 9/11, we have learned a great deal about the enemy,” the President said in the opening paragraph.  “We have learned that they form a global network of extremists who are driven by a perverted vision of Islam—a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent.”

The notion of “a perverted vision of Islam,” as I have argued repeatedly in these pages, is a fundamental error, the mother of all others in Mr. Bush’s understanding of September 11 and its implications.  The enemy is not merely “a global network of extremists” but an inherently aggressive, demographically vibrant, and ideologically rigid movement that...

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