Ralph Peters reflects on how we can effectively combat an enemy that we're afraid to name.
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer and the author of 25 books, including best-selling, prize-winning novels and influential works on strategy. He is also an opinion columnist for the New York Post and a regular contributor to Armchair General Magazine. A popular media guest, he became Fox News’ first strategic analyst in 2009. He is the author of the new book, Endless War: Middle-Eastern Islam vs. Western Civilization.
FP: Ralph Peters, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us about your new book.
Peters: Thanks Jamie.
My new book focuses on cutting through the ideological nonsense perverting our national discussion of war, peace, terrorism and justice. My fight is to force people to deal with facts, rather than allowing them to make up cozy myths about humanity–or the inhuman creatures we call “terrorists.“ Really, the key to the entire book lies in the introduction, which lays out the terrible price we’re paying for allowing the left to take over our education system and destroy (and virtually eliminate) the teaching of history. That means we get legislators who vote in an intellectual vacuum, journalists who can’t put the things they witness into context, and voters susceptible to wild lies. As the book says, those who do not know history will die of myth. And nowhere in the current yelling contest that passes for a national debate is myth more powerful than in the refusal to accept that Islamist terrorists really do exist and really do believe that they’re doing their god’s will. So I try to base my judgements and make my cases on historical facts–the sort that are not subject to dispute (except by the left’s myth-makers, of course).
Beyond that, the book’s a world tour of our problems–not merely recounting them, but trying to understand why the problems have emerged and why it’s so difficult for us to combat them. It may sound self-contradictory, but I’d describe the book as a work of “impassioned rationality.“ And by the way: I don’t toe anybody’s line. I want to challenge independents and conservatives to think for themselves, too, since we’re so terribly susceptible, as a species, to group-think. The herd mentality is an even greater enemy than al-Qaeda. So I’m willing to risk unhappy readers–as long as I can spur them to think for themselves.
FP: Why your subtitle?
Peters: (He said with a laugh) Every non-fiction book has to have a sub-title these days, doesn’t it? For example, Nancy Pelosi’s forthcoming autobiography, NANCY! How I Turned a Bad Date With America into an Awful Marriage While Turning Men Into Mice on Capitol Hill…
Seriously, it’s an interesting question, since, in a sense, this book could have been written at any point since the seventh century, when Islam began its endless jihad. Of course, the details would have been different, but not the overall theme: That you have to fight Islamist fanatics to the death, there’s no alternative. That said, had the book been published at any time prior to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the sub-title would have been different, it would have been “Middle-Eastern Islam vs. Christian Civilization,” rather than “Western Civilization.“ But the West, overall, is no longer Judeo-Christian, except in heritage. The USA excepted, we’re a secular civilization, with all the good and ill that brings along. So that’s one more asymmetry in the current struggle: We fight for values, our enemies fight for faith.
The first third of the book recounts the high points (and low points) of the long military struggle with Islam, as I try to arm the reader with facts to refute the utter nonsense that “Islam’s a religion of peace.“ I document some of the most-important battles and campaigns–exciting to read about, but often grim in their results–over the centuries, looking at Islam’s centuries of military triumphs that almost destroyed our civilization, then the recent centuries in which the tide turned as Islam failed to compete as a civilization. Those tales from history are fun to read (God knows, the left hates the thought that history might offer interesting stories that teach us something), but they’re also essential to understanding the deep roots of today’s wars.
FP: What is wrong with the U.S. approach toward our enemy? How must we change it?
Peters: We refuse to recognize our enemy or call him by his name (I think, always, of Goethe’s line from Faust, “Wer darf das Kind beim rechten Namen nennen? “Who dares to call the child by its true name?”). Recently, President Obama promised a Muslim audience that he’d eliminate any reference to Islamist terrorists or the like from our national security documents. Good Lord! It’s as if, in World War II, we decided we couldn’t utter the word “Nazi,” since it might hurt our enemy’s feelings. Our mortal enemies are jumping up and down, screaming that they’re terrorists in the name of Islam. Our response? “Oh, they don’t really mean it…“ Yeah, well, they do mean it. Not every Muslim is a problem, but some Muslims certainly are.
How can we effectively combat an enemy when we’re even afraid of the enemy’s name? This is political correctness beyond the bounds of sanity. So another thing the book does is to dissect the twisted language our government and even our military now uses to avoid acknowledging that fanatical religion is the crucial factor in our current struggles. It’s astonishing: We have generals who insist that Islam isn’t involved in any of this, and doctrinal manuals that ignore religion. We refuse to apply common sense: If you could subtract Islam from the problem, you just wouldn’t have al Qaeda or the Taliban. They’re fighting for other factors, too, of course. But Islam is the primary motivator, the primary sustainer, and the primary objective. Pretending otherwise just kills our troops for nothing…although, sadly, both political parties are fine with that, as long as we don’t offend anybody. (And this is a key point: While the Democrats are the worst offenders, plenty of Republicans in Washington are outright cowards on this issue.)
The book makes it clear that Islam was born by the sword, spread by the sword, and still reverts to the sword when under stress. And it makes the case using historical facts, not rhetoric.
All that said, I do want to make it perfectly clear: I don’t believe that each and every Muslim spends each and every day dreaming up ways to kill us. The problem lies among those who find their faith a spur to violence, the fanatics, the true believers who want to return the world to a “pure Islam” that never really existed (Wahhabism is an eighteenth century Bedouin heresy posing as the one true Islam). But we don’t understand them, either. For example, the book dissects our idiotic counterinsurgency doctrine–our guidebook for Afghanistan–which not only doesn’t mention Islam, but can’t tell the difference between ideological revolutionaries and religious reactionaries. In Afghanistan–which is discussed at length–we’re the revolutionaries, the ones trying to bring change. Our enemies are fighting for traditions, myths and darkness. We’re muddled, befuddled and failing.
FP: Obama appears to be bullying and abandoning Israel. Meanwhile, we have the horror of a nuclear Iran on our hands, and their first target will be Israel. What must Israel do, now that, it appears, it is alone?
Peters: On a recent Fox broadcast, I made the point that I don’t believe the Obama administration would respond militarily even if Iran popped a nuke on Israel. The situation’s hateful to me, but this administration will not defend Israel. Obama is already resigned to the advent of an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability. The sanctions nonsense is just window dressing, at this point. So what does that mean? At some point, Israel will feel compelled to act pre-emptively…but Israel only has the capability to set back, not to destroy, Iran’s nuke program (which is widely dispersed, buried deep and/or located in heavily populated areas).
The Israeli strike will be a bloody mess, the Iranians will respond asymmetrically by closing the Straits of Hormuz and hitting Gulf oil fields and infrastructure, and we’ll be stuck defending Arab autocracies–while avoiding resolute military action against Iran. At best, the situation would be catastrophic. Obama’s just hoping it doesn’t happen on his watch–and he’ll do all he can to discourage Israel from defending itself as long as he’s in the White House. At this point, it’s clear that Obama finds Israel distasteful and that his sympathies lie with the Arabs. The US now has a president with a Third-World outlook locked in the 1970s campus prejudices of his youth. But, then, at no time in his past has Obama had a pro-Israel friend I can identify. Throughout his lifetime, his public associates have been pro-Palestinian. He is who he is.
FP: Your thoughts on the Obama administration and how it is or isn’t dealing with the terror war and protecting U.S. national security.
Peters: I do give the Obama administration credit for continuing and even expanding the Bush administration’s use of drones and other means to target terrorists on foreign soil. Obama knows he can’t afford–politically speaking–a major terrorist attack on the US during his presidency. He’s not protecting America, he’s protecting his career and the historical legacy his acolytes are already engraving in marble. Beyond that, Obama’s actions across the board amount to a negative for our national security. He’s a leftwing ideologue who prefers developing-world thugs to our traditional allies. And he’s a narcissistic fool. Obama’s most dangerous quality is his unbounded faith in his own charisma.
The next few years will be interesting.
FP: You’re a hardworking writer, every five seconds or so you have some new piece of work out. What’s your next book?
Peters: This one will be very different. I recently finished another novel, The Officers’ Club, set on an Army post in the early 1980s. It’s scheduled for publication next January. It’s R-rated, and it could as readily have been called Lieutenants Behaving Very, Very Badly. It’s set at a time when the Army was still recovering from Vietnam, our society was still reeling from the excesses of the 1970s, and Reagan had just taken the helm. That was the battered Army in which I grew up…strait-laced on duty, but wild after hours… On one level, the novel’s a murder mystery–it begins with the murder of a female lieutenant–but, really, it’s my memorial to a bygone Army, the good, the bad and the ugly. Today’s military is much, much better (and certainly better-behaved). But I’ve just never seen a well-written book about “my” Army. The book will surprise those who know me only through my writing on strategy and security–but, fair warning, the next book after that will be even more surprising. Writing’s an adventure. Just like life. When you become predictable, it’s time to pack it in.
FP: Well, I’m very much looking forward to reading this book for sure!
Ralph Peters, thank you for joining us.