I was recently asked to answer this question: What is the most problematic and damaging piece of conventional wisdom in American foreign policy today, and why?

Here’s my answer in a nutshell: Islamofascism. 

Islamofascism represents an attempt to link the fight against terrorism today with past fights against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.  Its proponents seek to cast their opponents to that fight as today’s appeasers.  Although the comparison between twentieth century totalitarian states and twenty-first century terrorist networks may sound like a stretch, it has gained widespread acceptance among the policymaking elite, including President Bush.  Indeed, among both Democrats and Republicans, it has become all too common to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the security threats that the United States faces today by uniting Islamism with fascism. 

There are many reasons to think that this piece of conventional wisdom is faulty, not to mention dangerous, but the main one is that Islamofascism encourages us to conflate extremely different groups together under its banner, whereas we should distinguish their beliefs and goals and then plan our policies accordingly.

Now that we are in the fifth year of the war on terrorism, many answers to the key questions for American national security strategy remain unclear.  How have we defined the threat?  How have we defined success?  Is clear victory possible?  The concept of Islamofascism only takes us further away from answering those questions and thus enacting an effective foreign policy.  As John Lewis Gaddis has keenly pointed out, the policy of containment, too, was characterized by debates over whether or not to conflate different types of communism around the world.  In order for the United States to develop a national security policy that will be as ultimately successful as Kennan’s containment, there must serious rethinking inside of the Beltway about the true nature of the threats that the United States faces today.

Anyhow, that’s the short version of my answer.  What do you think the worst conventional wisdom is?

Advertisements