n politics, effective leadership requires more than passionate words. You also have to strategize toward an achievable end game. And you must communicate that plan and those goals to your constituents.
Nowhere is this disconnect more apparent than with counter-terrorism policy in America today. Nowhere is true leadership more greatly missed.
In the Bush years, America's counter-terrorism strategy was driven by unapologetic strategic purpose — deterring state adversaries and defeating international terrorists. This was a worldview with a vision — more freedom would equal more peace. Whether you agreed with him or not, we all knew where George W. Bush stood with it came to fighting terrorists.
Today's conservatives have failed to offer such a compelling and clear vision on counter-terrorism.
We can't agree on the threat and how to handle it. We can't agree on our objectives, and how to achieve them. What do we stand for? It's not easy to pin down, and that's a major problem.
Listening to some conservative politicians, you'd consider the Islamist terrorist threat as unitary in nature. But this understanding is neglectful of undeniable facts — the fact, for example, that Shia and Sunni extremists hate each other almost as much as they hate us. It's not simply us vs. them. There are many thems, and sometimes, it's them vs. them.
We conservatives have also allowed our counter-terrorism discourse to be tarred by sociopaths like Pamela Geller; deluded souls who see all Muslims as a threat. We have to be smarter and better than this.
We also need to get away from the common conservative belief that regards engagement with the Islamic world as unnecessary. The reverse is true. If we conservatives are silent, Muslims around the world hear only one voice from America — that of President Obama. And let's face it — his message, even if it's well-intentioned — is essentially one of equivocation. It breeds the false idea of an America without courage of conviction. An America unworthy of friendship and unworthy of respect.
It needn't be this way.
Many commentators, especially on the left, believe that America is hated abroad because of our supposedly ill-conceived actions. In reality, though, we're hated based on the false perception of some nefarious motive behind our actions. This is a critical distinction. We're hated because instead of articulating why we support Israel, we just support Israel. We're hated because instead of explaining why Guantanamo Bay must remain open, we just keep it open. We're hated because we wage wars of liberation and then quietly wish for authoritarians. We constantly fail to justify our actions — even when clear justifications exist.
Conservatives need to step in and remedy this. Defending America doesn't just require arms. It also requires explanation.
The urgency is profound. But first, we conservatives must get on the same page. And we must get serious.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- The sexual politics of Game of Thrones just got enormously worse
- 14 wonderful words with no English equivalent
- Why atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion
- Entrepreneurs: A dying breed?
- Wounded in Boston, two brothers endure
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why Easter is so important to Christians
- The Democrats have a mega-donor problem
Subscribe to the Week