Peggy Noonan has figured out how to defeat terrorism. Believe me, I’m just as surprised as you that the solution to this longstanding and multifaceted problem that has befuddled world leaders and governments for decades emerged from the mind of a Wall Street Journal columnist, but the evidence can’t be denied. Terrorism will meet its end, and it will do so at the hands of a pundit.
Noonan’s column Friday, headlined “How To Defeat Radical Jihadism,” dives into the international response to this week’s terrorist attack in Brussels and diagnosis the problem: our leaders are saying the wrong words. Per Noonan, “the usual glib talk of politicians — calls for unity, vows that we will not give in to fear — will produce in the future what they’ve produced in the past: nothing." She faults President Obama in particular for saying that terrorist entities like the Islamic State, while dangerous, are not an “existential threat” to the nation. And Noonan, who supposedly has no patience for glibness in the face of the terrorist threat, offers this fantastically glib rejoinder: “If you were at San Bernardino or Fort Hood, the Paris concert hall or the Brussels subway, it would feel pretty existential to you.”
Having deftly embraced glibness to defeat glibness, Noonan employs to what she acknowledges is “child’s math” to size up the terrorist threat:
Let’s say only 10% of the 1.6 billion [Muslims worldwide] harbor feelings of grievance toward “the West,” or desire to expunge the infidel, or hope to re-establish the caliphate. That 10% is 160 million people. Let’s say of that group only 10% would be inclined toward jihad. That’s 16 million. Assume that of that group only 10% really means it—would really become jihadis or give them aid and sustenance. That’s 1.6 million. That is a lot of ferociousness in an age of increasingly available weapons, including the chemical, biological and nuclear sort.
My math tells me it will be a long, hard fight. We will not be able to contain them, we will have to beat them.
This half-assed calculation told Peggy Noonan that the terrorism fight will be hard – a fact one might have otherwise gleaned from the duration and manifest difficulty of the terrorism fight in which we’re currently engaged. But by starting with the entire global population of Muslims and arbitrarily whittling off 10-percent chunks, Noonan has created the impression (based on nothing but her own sense what might possibly be) that there’s a 1.6 million-strong terrorist army lurking out there waiting to unleash hell. That sounds very scary, which is almost certainly why Noonan relied on her own third-grade arithmetic rather than pointing to actual estimates of the numbers of jihadist militants worldwide. One report from 2014 said the number could be as low as 85,000 and as high as 106,000. But why bother with what experts believe when, like Peggy Noonan, you can sense the vibrations?
Having embellished the magnitude of the threat and summarily dismissed the empty words of the feeble leaders in America and Europe, Noonan arrives at the solution for halting terrorism. The plan – and you’ll never guess that a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan would say this – is to be more like Ronald Reagan:
We must absorb that central fact, as Ronald Reagan once did with a different threat. Asked by his new national security adviser to state his exact strategic goals vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, Reagan: “We win, they lose.”
Remember how politicians can’t be glib in the fight against terrorism? Yeah, me neither, nothing matters.
As Noonan sees it, the problem with our world leaders is a tendency towards irreligiosity makes them unable to understand the terrorist threat:
An ardent Catholic, evangelical Christian or devout Jew would be able to take the religious aspect seriously when discussing ISIS. An essentially agnostic U.S. or European political class is less able. Thus they cast about—if only we give young Islamist men jobs programs or social integration schemes, we can stop this trouble. But jihadists don’t want to be integrated. They want trouble.
An intriguing theory! Unfortunately it suffers from the fact that our previous president, himself a devoutly Christian man, embodied the very us-versus-them, “we win, they lose” philosophy that Noonan advocates, and the “War on Terror” he launched was an unalloyed disaster that set in motion much of the chaos that has unfolded across the Middle East.
Hmm… maybe Peggy Noonan hasn’t solved the problem of international Islamic terrorism after all. A pity, really. I guess from now on she’ll just have to stick to her established areas of expertise, like pipeline construction and halting Ebola outbreaks.