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Guest Contributor
Joe Lieberman
Mr. Lieberman is U.S. Senator from Connecticut [go to Guest index]

The War Against Jihadists
The Senator addresses a symposium on “Iraq's Future and the War on Terrorism”...

[Senator Joe Lieberman] 6/21/04

Thank you to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy for sponsoring this important symposium on the future of Iraq and the war on terrorism. Through gatherings such as this one, the Foundation is helping “lead the war of ideas in the battle between freedom and totalitarianism.”

Today I want to discuss the war we are waging against Islamic terrorists in Iraq and around the world, and to argue that it is fundamentally a war of ideas and a war of values, a war of conflicting visions of humans and history, of faith and country. The war on terrorism we are fighting goes to the very heart of America's national purpose and national security. Our core principles of freedom and opportunity are at stake.

In the flurry of news bombarding us each day of the ups and downs from all fronts in the war on terrorism, it is easy to forget the larger ideals that it is all about. Car bombings in Baghdad… pipeline attacks in Riyadh… assassination attempts in Islamabad… foiled terrorist plots in Thailand… victories in Afghanistan… arrests in Columbus, Ohio… may cause people to lose sight of the values we are fighting for in this war – and the values we are fighting against.

We cannot let that happen. A democracy such as ours can only go to war and win with the informed support of the people.

The terrorists can never defeat us militarily. But they can divide us and defeat us politically if the American people become disappointed and disengaged, because they don't appreciate and support the overriding principles that require us to take military action. The same, of course, is true for our allies in Europe, Asia and throughout the Muslim world. They need to better understand and embrace our purpose and what it means for them.

What we are fighting for in Iraq and around the world is freedom. What we are fighting against is an Islamic terrorist totalitarian movement which is as dire a threat to individual liberty as the fascist and communist totalitarian threats we faced and defeated were in the last century.

What we are fighting for is an expanding worldwide community of democracies. What we are fighting against is the prospect of a new evil empire, a radical Islamic caliphate which would suppress the freedom of its people and threaten the security of every other nation's citizens.

The Chinese strategist Sun Tzu said that the keys to victory in any armed struggle are to “know thyself” and to “know thy enemy.” His ancient wisdom should guide our modern conflict.

To win the war on terrorism, we must better understand ourselves and our enemies.

First, “know thyself.”

From the beginning, we Americans defined our nation not by its borders, but by its ideals. They are spelled out in our founding documents. The Declaration of Independence says, “all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration also makes clear that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed,” not from the power of those who govern.

The Constitution explains that “we the people” sought to form “a more perfect union” to secure “the blessings of liberty.”

Equality. Opportunity. Democracy. Unity. Liberty. Those are the values America stands for, the ideals we are fighting for in Iraq and around the world. Those are the bright stars we must always chart our national course by.

As President Reagan once said: “What kind of people do we think we are? Free people, worthy of freedom and determined not only to remain so but to help others gain their freedom as well.”

In our time, that particularly means the hundreds and millions of men and women who live in Arab and Islamic countries, largely outside the realm of freedom which has otherwise expanded so magnificently during the decade and a half since the Berlin Wall was torn down.

American foreign policy has changed repeatedly over our 228 years of history to reflect changing realities. But remaining constant throughout has been our belief that we must protect and promote America's unique ideals throughout the world. And more often than not, we have succeeded. Presidents of both political parties have upheld this principled core of American foreign policy.

So too in Iraq today. In Iraq, we are not fighting for territorial conquest or economic plunder. We are fighting for freedom and security.

Next, we must know our enemy. The Islamist jihadist terrorists who wage holy war against us in Iraq and elsewhere represent a system of values exactly the opposite of America's.

There is no better way to know this enemy than to read their words. The father of the jihadist movement, Sayyed Qutb [KUH-tahb] of Egypt, wrote in 1952, “The death of those who are killed for the cause of God gives more impetus to the cause, which continues to thrive on their blood.” The cause of which he speaks is to “establish a [Muslim] state” that “sets moral values,” “abolish[es] man-made laws” and that would impose, by force if necessary, the Islamic system on “all human beings, whether they be rulers or ruled, black or white, poor or rich, ignorant or learned.”

This is a radicalized, violent vision of Islam, as yet embraced by only a minority of Muslims. Pluralism of any kind – a diversity of views or faiths – affronts this radical minority's absolutist vision. Their theological totalitarianism leaves no room for individual freedom.

Restoring the caliphate – the seat of secular and ecclesiastical power that existed for centuries across a wide territory – is their goal. You can read it in their writings: They would create a new evil empire, stretching from Istanbul to Islamabad, from Khartoum to Kabul, from Kuala Lampur to Bangkok, and beyond.

Osama Bin Laden is the leading advocate of this jihadist view in the world today, the current mastermind of this malevolent movement. Every American should carefully read his clearly stated words of intention to know why we must defeat him.

In his “Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad,” issued in February 1998, Bin Laden says that “to kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim… every Muslim who believes in God and hopes for reward [must] obey God's command to kill the Americans and plunder their possessions wherever he finds them and whenever he can.”

In his November 1998 “Letter to America,” Bin Laden condemned the United States because, he said, like all democracies, it is a “nation who, rather than ruling by the Sharia of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, chooses to invent your own laws as you will and desire.” After September 11th attacks, he gloated triumphantly that “the values of Western civilization… of liberty, human rights, and humanity, have been destroyed.”

In this war of ideas and values, Bin Laden is the quintessential anti-American.

The values and ideas which we cherish and which Osama Bin Laden denounces are on the line in the Iraq war. To call the war in Iraq separate and distinct from the larger war on terrorism is inaccurate. Iraq today is a battle – a crucial battle – in the global war on terrorism.

It was the mortal and moral threats posed by Saddam Hussein that moved me to support his overthrow in 1991. And although many in my own party have disagreed, I am confident that support for the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein's regime of terror from Iraq and now to defeat the terrorists who are fighting us there is true to a long and proud tradition within the Democratic Party. The ideals for which we fight in Iraq today are “Wilsonian.” And they were upheld and advanced by other Democratic leaders against freedom's foes in their time, leaders like Franklin Roosevelt… Harry Truman… John F. Kennedy… Henry M. Jackson… Bill Clinton.

Democrats with a capital “D” have long been ready to stand up and fight for democracy with a small “d.” We must and will stand up and fight for democracy in Iraq today.

The connection between the Iraqi insurgency we are fighting today and Al Qaeda's worldwide campaign of anti-democratic terror is now clear. Bin Laden's henchmen are fighting side-by-side with Saddam loyalists on the streets of Baghdad, Fallujah, Najaf and across Iraq – killing Americans and killing Iraqis, striving to stop the onward march of Iraqi self-government, of democracy.

This should come as no surprise. Six years ago, in his 1998 Declaration, bin Laden made common cause with Iraq against the United States. Decrying the “American aggression against the Iraqi people,” bin Laden said that “in spite of the appalling number of dead, exceeding a million, the Americans nevertheless… are trying once more to repeat this dreadful slaughter…So they come again to destroy what remains of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors.”

President Bush and Senator Kerry have repeatedly declared their support for the war in Iraq and the principles at stake there. But nonetheless, today in America support for the war is in jeopardy. The continuing anti-American violence has turned off many who forget all that is on the line for us and the world in Iraq today.

The prison abuse scandal has caused many to question our moral standing in Iraq and to use it as an excuse to pull our troops out. That is thoroughly unjustified and profoundly dangerous. As I said earlier, the terrorists will never defeat us militarily. We cannot let them defeat us politically.

That is where you in the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and all who share your values have a critical role to play in the days ahead.

At the outset of the Cold War, President Truman made clear that might of arms alone would not be enough to win that war. He stressed the need to bolster the world's economy so prosperity would replace despair, and to share America's industrial and technical knowledge with the world's people so they could lift themselves out of poverty, and into freedom.

We must do the same. We must show the Iraqi people, and people throughout the Islamic world, that democracy can deliver, that opportunity can replace despair, that hope can conquer hatred. We must accelerate the distribution of U.S. reconstruction assistance to Iraq, and we must widen our focus to include not only infrastructure repair, but jobs. Unemployment in Iraq is sky high – and every pair of idle hands there is the terrorists' workshop. To win the war for democracy in Iraq, we must put Iraq back to work.

We must also persistently pursue our allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to invest generously in Iraq and thereby enhance their own future security and freedom. They deceive themselves if they believe they can remain non-combatants in the global war against jihadism and for freedom.

A generous Marshall Plan to vitalize and democratize the Middle East and Central Asia, like the one called for in legislation I recently cosponsored with Senator Chuck Hagel is urgently needed. In the end, the war on terrorism will be won not just with swords, but with ploughshares as well, in the form of economic opportunity and political freedom.

The outcome of the battle in Iraq will have ramifications that extend far beyond that country's borders. If democracy does not prevail in Iraq, it would embolden the terrorists and vindicate Osama bin Laden's offensive allegation that “we have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier…”

Instability would spread throughout the Middle East. Iraq would become a new base of operations for Al Qaeda and new impetus for Osama bin Laden's drive to replace the Saudi royal family and build a larger Islamic empire around it.

In his message to Congress in 1917 asking for a declaration of war against imperial Germany, President Woodrow Wilson said: “The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.”

We are fighting today in Iraq alongside Iraqis and throughout the world alongside freedom-loving Muslims against the jihadists for the same values President Wilson articulated nearly one hundred years ago. If we can hold the American people together again around our noble cause, we are destined to prevail and secure our liberties, and the people of Iraq and the Muslim world are destined to prosper in freedom and opportunity. CRO

Foundation for the Defense of Democracy's Symposium on “Iraq's Future and the War on Terrorism” June 16, 2004




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