(We haven’t) come to terms with how much time and money and commitment and unity it’s going to take to prevent radical Islam from reaching its goal and that is the subjugation of the United States and the western world. They say they’re right on schedule, and we’re going to have to do a lot of things better. ~Fred Thompson

Here’s the thing: “radical Islam” has so far made next to no progress towards this goal.  Check that–it has made no progress towards it.  Actually, “radical Islam” doesn’t have any goals–“radical Muslims,” if you like, are the ones who have goals and try to reach them, and these have not been at all successful in moving towards this goal of this subjugation.  This isn’t to deny that such jihadis have a strong interest in such subjugation, but simply to look at the actual strength of such people to seize and rule territory.   

Let’s suppose that “they” do say that “they” are right on schedule–should we accept this at face value?  What does a brief glance around the globe tell us?  Far from trying to subjugate any Westerners, “radical Muslims” are mostly focused on two things: getting Westerners out of Muslim countries (or those they consider to be historically Muslim territories) as much as possible, and enforcing their sort of Islam on the people in those countries (to date, they are not having all that much luck with either of these goals, either).  It is only to the extent that “radical Islam” is influencing the Muslim populations in Europe and here that there is any remote chance of such “subjugation,” and this is still fairly remote.  (This is not an argument over whether, in theory, Muslims seek the subjugation of all lands to Islam, but whether there is any chance of this actually happening in any Western countries in our lifetime.)  Even the Eurabian thesis is not one of jihadis subjugating the West, but it is instead an argument that white Europeans will die out and be replaced by growing Muslim populations.  The problem in that case, of course, is one of demographic change, migration patterns and the non-assimilation of immigrants.  Since the more extreme cases are to be found in Europe, it is not clear what an American President is going to do about this, no matter how much money, commitment and unity he can muster. 

On the other hand, if Fred believes that jihadis are on pace to conquer the West (“right on schedule”), it seems to me that he shouldn’t be entrusted with any position of responsibility connected to our foreign policy.  Al Qaeda itself actually has a pretty lousy record of taking, holding and governing territory, since its “administration” these days largely consists of murdering people and alienating the locals, and the Taliban’s horizons have never realistically gone beyond Afghanistan.  In principle, jihadis are ultimately out to conquer, but at the present time their priorities and their theaters of operation seem focused on throwing out perceived occupiers and invaders, reclamation of old territory, irredenta.  Thus far, the only places where mujahideen have been reasonably and more or less permanently successful have been those places (e.g., Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo) where Washington either encouraged the introduction of foreign jihadis into the territory and/or gave those already there weapons or direct military support.  “They” have enjoyed some moderate, often fleeting, success in those regions loosely or poorly controlled by central states (e.g., Somalia), which means that jihadis tend to thrive in the absence of effective public authority but are not terribly good at displacing and then replacing existing authorities.  They do not fight like armies of conquest, but have instead adopted the tactics suited to a role of being Islamic insurgents.  Some jihadis may talk about the glories of medieval Cordoba, but their chosen type of warfare is that of modern guerrilla.  Describing this conflict in terms of defending against territorial occupation may be psychologically and ideologically satisfying for neo-imperialists, since it obscures the role of U.S. policy in helping to worsen the danger and allows any act of U.S. aggression to be cast as pre-emptive defense, but it is not an accurate description of the nature of the conflict.  

It must be disappointing for people raised on the glories and myths of WWII and who lived during the entirety of the Cold War, and who have always wanted to have another Great Cause of their own where they get to take the leading roles, to find that the epic “existential” conflict of their time is neither epic nor existential.  For people accustomed to thinking in terms of hunting the geopolitical equivalent of bear, warding off and swatting hornets and mosquitoes must seem beneath them–hence the constant refrain from these circles about the “global” struggle, WWIV, the “existential threat” and the impending appearance of the green flag and crescent over Washington and London.  One other problem with a nationalism that demands that the nation be the preeminent world power is that it forces its adherents to believe that anything less than a major, lengthy, global, existential conflict is unworthy of the mission of the nation’s world-historical “mission.”  It ceases to be a matter of coolly assessing the scale and scope of foreign threats–the threat must be as dangerous as, if not more dangerous than, anything we have ever faced before, because nothing less will suit the “indispensible nation.”