Something that Rand Paul said early on his speech this morning left me puzzled. He said:

Some libertarians argue that western occupation fans the flames of radical Islam – I agree. But I don’t agree that absent western occupation that radical Islam “goes quietly into that good night.”

There are several problems that I see with this. The first is that I’m not aware of anyone who makes the second argument about jihadism. No one argues that jihadist groups would cease to exist or would no longer have political and religious agendas in their own countries. Some do argue that the U.S. and its allies make themselves targets of at least some of these groups by interfering in predominantly Muslim countries in one way or another (usually through support for local regimes or military action), but they make no claims that stopping this interference would make these groups disappear.

Referring to “radical Islam” as if it were a unified movement or cause obscures the different goals of varying jihadist groups, and it potentially leads to the error of lumping together all Islamist groups regardless of their goals and methods. This can lead to confusing statements, such as one that Sen. Paul makes a little later: “Though at times stateless, radical Islam is also supported by radicalized nations such as Iran.” The Iranian regime supports specific Islamist proxies, but it can’t be said to support a generic “radical Islam.” Iran doesn’t sponsor the jihadist groups most responsible for security threats to the U.S. and Europe. If the goal is avoid making the mistake of early Cold War anticommunists, who interpreted containment doctrine far too broadly, it’s important to distinguish jihadist groups from one another according to the political objectives of each one. It’s also important to distinguish between jihadists’ theoretically global ambitions and their normally very limited means. Containment implies opposition to some form of expansionism, but in this case there is no expansionism to be contained.