On battling militant Islam, neither Trump nor Clinton has a clue: Kevin O'Brien
Everything about Islam's war on the West has evolved over the last 15 years, including our leaders' response. It's more timid.
Veterans look on as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during NBC's "Commander in Chief Forum" Wednesday in New York.Evan Vucci/Associated Press
Militant Islam has been at war with the United States for more than three decades. We noticed 15 years ago Sunday.
About half of us decided almost immediately not to take it seriously as a national security issue, but recognized it as a great domestic political issue.
The other half tried to take it seriously, but didn't quite know how.
The "compassionate conservative" who was going to turn Big Government to a new course that would truly benefit Americans got stuck being a wartime president instead.
We needed to make sure terrorists couldn't crash airliners into tall buildings anymore. We needed to make sure our intelligence agencies understood that defeating our enemies in a real war mattered more than defeating one another in turf wars. And we needed to make clear to other nations that harboring terrorists would bring serious consequences.
To an extent, we did those things, though we -- all too predictably --gave up on that last one. Too hard. Too expensive.
Defending the nation had to be done circumspectly. Defeating our enemies was a delicate process.
We chose very early in the game to downplay our enemies' religious motivation. We fought battles over theology with at least as much tenacity as we fought about U.S. policy, military strategy or national defense.
In every war, armchair generals use fabulous powers of hindsight to say what the real commanders should have done. In this war, the current U.S. commander in chief -- the guy who bosses the real generals -- prefers the role of armchair professor of comparative religions, lecturing endlessly on who is or is not a genuine Muslim.
The president has also taken to reminding us that Americans are more likely to die from slipping in their bathtubs than from terrorism.
The next time a terrorist hollers "Allahu akbar!" and starts blazing away in a gun-free zone, I want to think someone's last thoughts will be, "Whoa! How far out of touch with the tenets of true Islam is this guy? And thank goodness I'm not standing in a bathtub right now."
For a while, al-Qaida made Americans nervous about flying commercial or hanging around iconic U.S. locations. Now, "lone wolves" inspired by al-Qaida's successor in big-name terrorism, the Islamic State, make us queasy about leaving our houses. Even more than we were 15 years ago, we're living on the front line of this war.
Our enemies have figured out that they don't have to finance and plan grandiose attacks when any radicalized dope can drive to the bar or his own office and find Americans in large groups who are squeamish about protecting themselves with guns.
Meanwhile, cynical politicians use terrorist attacks to advocate more limits on law-abiding Americans' possession of guns. It doesn't get much more unserious than that.
Nor is it likely to get any better during the next four years, no matter who wins November's presidential election.
At NBC's "Commander in Chief Forum" Wednesday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump inspired no confidence that either is capable of a serious effort toward radical Islam's defeat.
Clinton: "We have to defeat ISIS. That is my highest counterterrorism goal. And we've got to do it with air power. We've got to do it with much more support for the Arabs and the Kurds who will fight on the ground against ISIS. We have to squeeze them by continuing to support the Iraqi military. ... We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again. And we're not putting ground troops into Syria. We're going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops."
If defeating ISIS is her highest counterterrorism goal, she's not paying attention. ISIS is getting the current headlines, but it's based on the same principles as the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Africa, Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, the Chechens in and near Russia, a number of Islamic militias in Indonesia, al-Qaida and its several offshoots, etc.
A coherent counterterrorism strategy would accept the religious, worldwide nature of the enemy and the ideological nature of the war against Western civilization, and use the knowledge to the United States' advantage, rather than minimizing the conflict or pretending it's about something else.
And if Clinton won't use U.S. ground troops to achieve her "highest counterterrorism goal," what would she use them for?
Donald Trump: "I've always said, shouldn't be there, but if we're going to get out, take the oil. If we would have taken the oil, you wouldn't have ISIS, because ISIS formed with the power and the wealth of that oil. ... I would be very, very cautious. I think I'd be a lot slower. She has a happy trigger. You look, she votes for the wars, she goes in Libya."
Cautious. Slow. Completely out of touch with the ideological underpinnings and the financing of terrorist organizations.
She would act by proxy. He might not act at all.
Oh, well. A serious prosecution of the war against radical Islam has waited this long. Now we'll see what difference four more years makes.
O'Brien is The Plain Dealer's deputy editorial page editor. Read more..
Terrorism United States Taliban President of the United States Iraq War Al-Qaeda Islam Donald Trump