Trump, Afghanistan, Syria and radical Islam

Once again, President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE has exhibited the leadership and courage to challenge accepted postulates and to ignore established rules and precedents. An unwavering sense of the national interest led him to reconsider previous commitments to Afghanistan, Syria and possibly Iraq. After almost a generation of fighting in the so-called “war on terror,” trillions of dollars and thousands of dead and wounded, the questions are: Are we better off than we were 17 years ago when the war began? Are the countries we engaged in better off today?

Not so long ago, ISIS marched in unrelenting waves of religious acclamation and territorial expansion, accompanied by terrorism and atrocities the world has not seen since World War II. When Trump, during the 2016 presidential campaign, promised to destroy the caliphate “very quickly,” he was mercilessly ridiculed by his opponents and the media. In less than two years, Trump decimated the caliphate, cleared 99 percent of its territory, and killed thousands of fighters.

Nevertheless, despite that astonishing success, it would be utterly naïve to expect the fanatics, who adopt an apocalyptic vision of the world and yearn for death, to cease perennial warfare and become productive citizens.

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In this war, America and the West confront a peril they have never faced. Radical Islam is not only a religion; it is a political totalitarian movement, just like communism and fascism. The movement embraces religious supremacy and a Marxist-type utopian/egalitarian standard of virtue. However, unlike communism and fascism, which were adopted by countries that could be defeated militarily, radical Islam is not a country; this mass movement represented by multiple groups is sustained by an ideology embodied in unlimited human resources around the globe.

Another critical distinction is that this war challenges the conventional definition of victory. In a conventional war, an army loses if it does not win; in the war on terrorism, terrorism wins if it does not lose. And it does not lose, because it has nothing to lose: The purpose of terrorism is not to win but to terrorize, to break the will of and paralyze a society into submission.

Hence, diplomatic solutions cannot be found, nor is it possible to defeat it in strictly military terms.

To face up to the enemy, we must recognize that the war with radical Islam is not just a military confrontation; it also is an ideological and a political affair. First and foremost, this monster has to be defeated ideologically by superior principles advanced by Islam itself.

And that is not a "mission impossible." Some Muslim leaders are awakening to the realization that violence will not turn the clock (which the Arabs invented) back to their greatness. They find support among the majority of Muslims who adhere to a peaceful, pluralistic interpretation of their faith. Indeed, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has denounced Islamist terrorism and challenged religious clerics and scholars to “revolutionize the religion” and bring it in line with Western morality.

In his inspiring yet direct speech during his visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, Trump emphasized both countries’ common interest in charting a constructive outcome. He offered Saudis, who spent billions spreading Islamist extremism across the globe, a choice: They had to decide whether they are a country, respected by the world community, or a cause.

At an October 2017 conference for international investors, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responded positively by laying out the Saudis’ new approach to radical Islam: “We want to live a normal life … coexist and contribute to the world … We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with these destructive ideas.”

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Trump is determined not to repeat the strategic blunders of his predecessors. He is replacing fraudulent idealism with efficacy. Trump’s raison d'etat — keeping up the torch of international leadership — does not mean providing a security shield to the rest of the world. The idealistic goal of removing tyrants and building democratic nations hasn't worked in the Middle East: Removing Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and Hosni Mubarak created chaos and fertile ground for the extremists. Condemning Islamic radicalism and restraining the dogs of war, militarily if necessary, is in the best national interest of the Muslim world.

In international affairs, solution often leads to a new set of problems. At this juncture, it is impossible to predict how an acceptable outcome can be distilled from the divergent political interests of Syria, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Turkey and the Kurds. However, the status quo that requires continued spending of lives and treasure cannot be tolerated by the American people.

Alexander G. Markovsky is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a conservative think tank hosted at King’s College, New York City, which examines national security, energy, risk-analysis and other public policy issues, He is the author of "Anatomy of a Bolshevik" and "Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It.” He is the owner and CEO of Litwin Management Services, LLC.