Barbarians at the Gate, with Buttercup on the Ramparts

by Sydney Williams The world has always been dangerous. However, […]

Image by © Dreamstime

Image by © Dreamstime

by Sydney Williams

The world has always been dangerous. However, as much as we all would like to live without war, as long as there are men and women driven by passion rather than reason the possibility is unlikely. Following World War I (the war to end all wars!), Europeans desired nothing more than to live in peace. Their families, their homes, places of business, their churches, synagogues and mosques had been destroyed. Woodrow Wilson proposed a League of Nations so that men could discuss differences without resorting to bloodshed.

It failed; though was ultimately reborn as the United Nations, but not until another war killed millions more. Vera Britain, author of Testament to Youth and who had lost both her brother and fiancé in the Great War, typified that desire when she wrote a plaintive letter to students at the University of Minnesota in 1934 urging them not to join the army. As a nurse in France, she knew first hand the horrors of war.

Yet just over twenty-years after the guns along that “Great White Line” were silenced, Europe found itself enmeshed in an even bloodier conflict. The Left persists in the myth that when the Right stipulates they want a strong military, it means they are anxious to go to war. It does not. They want peace; but they believe that strength is more conducive to peace than appeasement. It was preparedness and resolve that were needed in the 1930s. While his intentions may have been noble, Neville Chamberlain did not bring “peace in our time.” A well-educated friend of my wife’s recently asked what I thought of Benjamin Netanyahu speaking before a joint session of Congress. I told her I thought it was important that the American people hear from a man for whom Iran getting nuclear weapons is not an academic exercise, but would represent a mortal, existential threat. She responded: “But why does he want to go to war?”

Mr. Netanyahu does not want war. He wants to live peacefully in his small country – an oasis in a desert surrounded by those who want his country annihilated; a haven provided the Jewish people in the aftermath of a War that exterminated more than half their population. But he knows he cannot survive if he allows his enemies to be militarily stronger than is he. Who would you rather have the bigger gun, the sheriff or the bandit?

Similarly, the United States, as the richest and most powerful nation on earth, has an obligation to all civilized people to come to their defense when attacked. Obviously, we cannot do so alone. We need allies. There is a need for a United Nations where peoples from all over can come together to talk; for dialogue is far better than fighting. But, just as no city could survive without a police force, no civilization can survive without a well-intentioned nation willing and able to provide a strong military. The reason we arm our police officers is to allow the 99% – the law-abiding citizens – to go about their daily lives protected and unafraid. It is why the United States, the policeman to the civilized world by default, must maintain a strong military presence – not to be deployed wilfully, but to ensure that peace prevails.

“This is not true Islam.” President Obama was speaking at last week’s White House summit: Countering Violent Extremism. ISIS, al Qaeda, al Shabaab and Boko Haram may not conform to Mr. Obama’s definition of Islam or, in fact, represent “true” Islam, but their leaders use religion as a recruiting tool, and they kill in the name of Allah. A caliphate is what these terrorists want – an Islamic government led by a successor to the Prophet Mohammed. Sharia law, with its draconian limitations, has already been imposed in parts of some Western countries. Mr. Obama’s assertion makes the dubious implication that he would know “true” Islam if he saw it. Most religions are spectrums. St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Old Lyme, which I attend on those rare occasions when I go, is quite different from the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago where the Reverend Jeremiah Wright preached to the young Barack Obama, yet both are Christian churches. I certainly agree with the sentiment that it is hard to equate barbaric practices with religion of any sort. However, like many sentiments, that conclusion is grounded more in dupability than in historical fact. Religion has often been used as an excuse for violence, and the spread of Islam during the 7th and 8th Centuries was certainly an example. Christianity did not prevent the rise of Nazism in Germany, nor Fascism in Italy. Shintoism in Japan did not stop the brutality of their militaristic state in the 1930s and ‘40s. It may seem repetitive to say it, but it is hard to combat an enemy without acknowledging who they are. The fact that these terrorists are Islamists should be highlighted, not hidden away like a disreputable uncle. It should not be offensive to true believers of the Muslim faith if we destroy those who hi-jacked their religion.

The war against Islamic extremism is not a war against Muslims. It never has been. George Bush was clear on that point more than a decade ago. In failing to offer a coherent foreign policy, other than to be the non-Bush, Mr. Obama has led us into far more treacherous waters. Since becoming President, Syria, Nigeria, Libya and Yemen have become failed states. If Iraq is not one, it soon will be. Pakistan, a nuclear power, is rapidly disintegrating into chaos. The Taliban look likely to return to supremacy in Afghanistan. Iran is certain to become a nuclear power. Israel, the one democracy in the region, has been largely abandoned. One could add to the list of failed foreign policies by citing what is happening in Russia, China, Turkey, Venezuela and Argentina. Democracy, which had been on the increase since the end of World War II, and especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been in decline for the past six or eight years.

There is nothing simple about foreign relations. We live in a confined and complex space. We must get along with our neighbors and trading partners. But we should not atone for and we should never forsake the principals that gave rise to the success of our country. Nor can we ignore the loyalty and needs of our allies whose very survivorship depends on our friendship. That should not make us prideful. Humility is a good quality. But we must have superior intelligence and a strong military presence. For political purposes we have neutered our intelligence services and reduced our defense budgets. Yet, it is our might that best ensures peace. Appeasement did not prevent the Second World War; it will not succeed against Islamic terrorism.

As guardians of all civilized people, we should remind ourselves that we are in this position not because we sought it, but because of circumstances: our history, geography, government and people. When we stand at the ramparts, it cannot be as a buttercup; it must be as a centurion – not one looking for a fight, but one prepared, unafraid and willing to lead from the front, when (not if) the need arises.


The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.

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