Overwhelmingly in Europe, and to a lesser but still large extent in the United States, the vastly unpopular Iraq war has been conflated with the broader war against radical Islam. ~Tony Blankley
This is true about American attitudes, if we’re talking about what supporters of the Iraq war routinely say about it. As we all know, war opponents have been ridiculed for years for claiming that the two are distinct conflicts that have little or nothing do with one another. I know that war supporters would also very much like to make opposition to Iraq into opposition to the very different fight against jihadis, but almost the only ones conflating and confusing the two have been defenders of the invasion of Iraq. Indeed, they have to lean very heavily on this claim, since there is no rationale for remaining in Iraq that really captures the public’s attention quite like the fear of an “Al Qaeda stronghold” being established in Iraq. Never mind that this has become entirely unlikely–what matters is the constant repetition of it to cow the public into submission and support.
Meanwhile, the Europeans and others around the world might reasonably be confused by our government’s deliberate conflation of the two conflicts. If Mr. Bush and so many in the political class insist that Iraq is the “central front in the war on terror,” the argument might go, who are they to say that the two are not one and the same? For the many opponents of the war around the world, the distinction between Iraq and “the war on terror” does tend to get lost because the administration and its supporters have worked overtime to make sure that the lines are blurred. As a result, if they oppose Iraq they might find themselves drawn towards opposition to anti-jihadism as such. Mr. Blankley has helped demonstrate here how Iraq has undermined and jeopardised the real fight.
Of course, as a matter of policy, all NATO countries remain officially committed to the mission in Afghanistan, and several of our European allies have been collaborating with us all along in the Horn of Africa and in running interdiction efforts in the Red Sea. European governments and peoples are not persuaded that jihadism is the “existential threat” alarmists make it out to be because, well, the threat isn’t nearly that grave. Talk of WWIV is ludicrous on its face, but that doesn’t mean that those who mock the WWIV crowd don’t believe that jihadis are very dangerous. Having been warned about new totalitarians and new Hitlers ever since the Cold War ended, there really is a strong inclination to disbelieve the alarmists when they begin talking about jihadis as new totalitarians, because they have been wrong so many times before in their dire warnings. (In fact, jihadis are totalitarian in a sense, but precisely because they are religious fanatics who have a totalising view of the role of religion that subsumes everything to it; they are unlike secular totalitarians in significant ways and our inability to speak about them except in 20th century ideological terms continues to be a great hindrance in understanding and countering them.) Disbelief turns to bewildered astonishment when they begin speaking of “Islamofascism” and other such absurdities.
Anti-jihadists have exaggerated and overreached so much in their rhetoric, and they have tended to support questionable or foolish policies to such an extent that they have created a backlash of intense skepticism about the scope and scale of the threat and anti-jihadist proposals for addressing that threat. One might conclude that if many anti-jihadists were so badly wrong about Iraq, for instance, or if they indulge in fantasies in lieu of analysis that anti-jihadism in its entirety is not credible. This would be a terrible mistake to make, since there is a serious threat from jihadis, but this mistake is one that many anti-jihadists have encouraged people to make.