The Muslim world, for its part, is rich with the opportunities created by great longing, great resentment, and great anger. Those longings (for a more glorious role for Islam) and those resentments (over the fallen estate of Islam) have been brewing for a long time. For those in the Muslim world moved by these sentiments, the attacks of September 11, 2001, offered the satisfaction of a victory and produced admiration for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
But Osama also promised further victories, that this was the beginning, not the end, of the new Islamic jihad. And in this he has not been successful, presumably because of the vigor of American and allied attacks on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Even in Iraq, where al Qaeda under the direction of Abu Musab al Zarqawi keeps up the battle, it has not yet achieved its aim of driving American forces out and may not. Moreover, its engagement in Iraq has had liabilities for al Qaeda, which were the substance of al-Zawahiris letter of last summer. Al Qaeda as such may be in decline.
In these circumstances, Ahmadinejad has attempted to step into bin Ladens place as the leader of the radical Islamic movement, as the man with the will and capacity to challenge and threaten the United States. Ahmadinejad has already enjoyed some success in parts of the Muslim world. This has been accompanied by the resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and especially Palestine, where Hamas won control of the Palestinian Authority. This has permitted him to assert, as he does in his letter, that the forces of radical Islam--or, as he would have it, simply Islam--are on a roll. Ahmadinejad has bent every effort to support and join forces with Hamas and may well succeed. And, as always, he has Hezbollah in Lebanon at his disposal.
From all these developments, the radical movement has gained renewed confidence in the claim, first put forward by Osama bin Laden, that its adversaries, principally the United States, do not have the stomach for a long fight, or even a short one. Islams enemies can and will be pushed back and defeated by radical forces, because the latter, unlike their enemies, do not fear death and even welcome it. They can even, as Ahmadinejad recently said, accept the possibility of nuclear war as a necessity of the struggle. Altogether the spirits of the radical Islamic movement are high, and Ahmadinejad is the most powerful voice of that spirit.
[W]hat is known, or what should be known and deeply grasped, is that everything Ahmadinejad--and for that matter the radical movement as a whole--does is guided by an ideological vision and commitment. It needs to be addressed as such. For the moment and not only for the moment, this requires that liberal democrats declare that they have no intention of abandoning their way of life and see no need to do so, since they are fully prepared to defend it and because that way of life provides the resources--political, economic, and military--to defend itself.
It is necessary to inform Ahmadinejad and his radical allies that they are in for a real fight. This may not suffice to lead them to question their fundamental assumption and inspiration that we are on the run. But it may give pause to the many Muslims and non-Muslims standing on the sidelines, who see radical success and do not see American or Western resolve.
Of course the best person to make the first such declaration is President Bush--not as a Christian but as the worlds leading liberal democrat. And not to Ahmadinejad, for whom a direct reply would be a victory, but to the Iranian people, the Muslim world, and the non-Muslim world.
Unlike GWB, who ultimately professes confidence in everyones innate longing to be free, Fradkin offers no such assurances. What is necessary, regardless of how one answers the question regarding the universal attractiveness of liberal democracy, is resoluteness in its defense. The expression of resoluteness (at which GWB has been quite good, as have others in the Anglosphere) is, however, only a beginning. The words and deeds have to be sustained. For a long time.