It's a truth all but entirely unacknowledged by anyone who matters in the western world.
In any war, you have to be able to prioritize: You can't win everything, so where would you rather win? Raqqa or Rotterdam? Kandahar or Cannes?
Yet, whenever some guy goes Allahu Akbar on the streets of a western city, the telly pundits generally fall into one of two groups: The left say it's no big deal, and the right say this is why we need more boots on the ground in Syria or Afghanistan.
This year on 9/11 President Trump said he was committed to ensuring that terrorists "never again have a safe haven to launch attacks against our country".
By that he means "safe havens" in Afghanistan. But the reason the west's enemies are able to pile up a continuous corpse count in Paris, Nice, Berlin, Brussels, London, Manchester, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Orlando, San Bernadino, Ottawa, Sydney, Barcelona, [Your Town Here] is because they have "safe havens" in France, Germany, Britain, Scandinavia, North America, etc. Which "safe havens" are likely to prove more consequential for the developed world in the years ahead?
Who's winning what turf? After 16 years of western military occupation, the Taliban control more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since the first US troops went in. On the other hand, after 16 years of accelerating Islamic immigration, Europe has more no-go zones, more sharia courts, more refugees, more covered women, more Muslim-dominated schoolhouses, more radical mosques, more female genital mutilation, more grooming and gang rape, more Muslim Brotherhood front groups, more Muslim mayors and legislators, more Muslim-funded Middle East Studies programs at universities ...and fewer churches, fewer Jews in Toulouse, fewer gays in Amsterdam, fewer unaccompanied women out after dark in German and Swedish cities, fewer historical representations of Mohammed in Continental museums, art galleries and scholarly books, fewer mixed bathing sessions at municipal swimming pools, fewer lessons on the Crusades and the Holocaust in European schools ...and less and less free speech in some of the oldest democracies on earth.
In Afghanistan, we're fighting for something not worth winning, and we're losing. In Europe, Islam is fighting for something very much worth winning, and they're advancing. And, according to all the official strategists in Washington and elsewhere, these two things are nothing to do with each other.
To be fair, a lot of the ever increasing restraints on free expression are self-imposed: newspapers decide that it would be "insensitive" to publish certain cartoons, publishers politely decline novels on certain themes, and in Minnesota white progressives agonize that remembering 9/11 is "Islamophobic". Which is weird - because a space alien visiting the United States for Monday's ceremonies would have been stunned to discover that Islam had anything to do with 9/11.
As I mentioned previously, the President forbore to mention Islam at all: Instead, we were attacked by "horrible, horrible enemies" and "enemies like we've never seen before". Well, we've seen a lot of them since, and they appear to have certain things in common - things that this President was once not shy about mentioning. Yet, insofar as Islam got a look in from officialdom, it was a passing reference in the speech of Defense Secretary "Mad Dog" Mattis:
Maniacs disguised in false religious garb thought by hurting us they could scare us that day.
Well, whoever they are, these "maniacs" can evidently scare grizzled hard men called "Mad Dog" into concluding that, when it comes to mentioning the I-word, discretion is the better part of valor. "False religious garb" means we're back to the standard Euro-squish line that all this Allahu Akbar I'm-ready-for-my-virgins stuff is a "perversion" of the real Islam, which is a peaceful faith practiced by millions of people for whom self-detonation is an unwelcome distraction from traditional activities such as clitoridectomies, honor killings and throwing sodomites off tall buildings. Stop me if you've heard this before, but these "maniacs" are hijacking this "religious garb" in order to peddle a "false" vision of Islam. Foaming-canine-wise, Mad Dog sounds about as mad as, say, Theresa May. I take it that, even in today's politically correct military, you can't earn the epithet "Mad Dog" simply by handing out diversity awards to the Transgender Outreach Liaison Officer of the Month, and General Mattis served honorably and impressively in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, when it comes to strategic clarity, that may be the problem.
In Iraq, everyone's Muslim - mainly because all the Christians got chased out on America's watch. So it's both reasonable and necessary to distinguish between Muslims - between the ones who want to kill you no matter what, and the ones who might be more flexible on that point. I sat in cafĂ©s in Rutba and Ramadi and got on well enough with the locals, but I confess I was more circumspect about the clitoridectomy shtick than I am above. Nevertheless, the distinctions one makes in the Sunni Triangle are not useful in the wider world. Old-school imperialists understood this. In 1939, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Sanders (who was born in Abbotabad, where Osama bin Laden met his end) accepted an invitation to lunch from the Waziri tribesman who'd blown him up and cost him his right arm a week earlier - because, in Waziri terms, this particular tribesman was less worse than many of the others. That kind of unperturbable imperial Ă©lan would strike the contemporary world as slightly nutty. But what the Colonel would have found truly nutty is inviting thousands of that Waziri tribesman's relatives to live in England.
In 1980, when a concerned official apprised him of electoral irregularities in certain areas during Zimbabwe's pre-independence election, the Governor Lord Soames (Winston Churchill's son-in-law) scoffed: "Good God, man, this is Africa, not Surrey." The ability to distinguish between Africa (or the Middle East, or the Hindu Kush) and Surrey is vital. General Mattis' line about "maniacs disguised in false religious garb" might be politic or even sincere when advanced in Tikrit or Basra, but delivered at the Pentagon it's the most feeble dissembling 16 years into an existential struggle. And its deployment on 9/11 itself - on the home front, on sacred ground where blood was spilled - is not a small thing. It underlines that, in a profound sense, the dreary endless unwon wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere are not just a peripheral distraction from the real, central front, but an obstacle that prevents even the shrewdest and bravest of men from framing the struggle correctly.
In a sense, we have a hot war and a cold war operating simultaneously. The hot wars are in those bits of barren sod I mentioned previously - places where we're tourists with last decade's Baedeker: As one appreciates when looking at all those dodgy chaps John McCain was having his photo taken with a few years back, no one really knows who the good guys are in Syria - and anyway today's good guys all hold that designation conditionally and you've no idea where to look on 'em for the "best by" date. It's like the old 1066 And All That joke about the Irish Question: whenever the English get close to the answer, the Irish change the question. That goes quintuple for the Syrian, Afghan, Yemeni and Libyan questions.
Meanwhile, there's a cold war - the remorseless incremental Islamization of the heart of Christendom. Of course, there were simultaneous hot wars during the last big Cold War, too. But we were more clear-sighted with the Soviets: We understood that Afghanistan was peripheral, and that what mattered was preventing our enemies from hollowing out the free world. Today, the men running this new war think Afghanistan is the be-all and end-all, and that the hollowing out of the free world by the west's enemies is not merely irrelevant but in fact evidence of our moral virtue.
You can't connect what's happening in Molenbeek, MalmĂ¶ and the other "safe havens" of the west with the "safe havens" of the east if you think what's going on is about random "maniacs" adopting "false religious garb". And until we do make that connection we are doomed to lose.
And incidentally the continuous protestations that hardcore incendiary extremist Islam is an unfortunate aberration would be more persuasive if western politicians ever paid the slightest attention to genuinely moderate voices within Islam. But they don't. They either ignore or consciously marginalize them. Case in point -Yahya Cholil Staquf:
Western politicians should stop telling us that fundamentalism and violence have nothing to do with traditional Islam. That is simply wrong... The approach you describe won't work. If you refuse to acknowledge the existence of a problem, you can't begin to solve it.
He's right. Which is why, 16 years on, we haven't begun to solve it. Maybe in lieu of this year's speakers they could book Mr Staquf for next year's Pentagon ceremony. Or would that be Islamophobic?