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Pursuing Strategy in the Wrong Language: The Consequences of Political Correctness
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Article Index
Pursuing Strategy in the Wrong Language: The Consequences of Political Correctness
Indifference to Religion Undermines Effective Relations with Muslim Leaders Who Oppose Al-Qaida
Identifying the Strategic Center of Gravity
Conflicting Views on the Center of Society
Conclusion: Defining an Effective Strategy
All Pages


Ignoring religion in international relationships is a dangerous error that inevitably leads to an endless stream of policy miscalculations. To give lip service in this politically-correct era to a basic understanding of Islam and Islamic culture and then to proceed with secular American objectives is to functionally disregard the realities of Islam and Islamic culture as well as the religious foundations of our own attitudes and worldviews….

A profound but unintended problem that Americans have created is that our disregard for the place of Islam effectively abandons the Muslim world to extremists. Dismissing religion as a proper basis for strategic interaction gives away the primary battlefield to our opponents. Strategically, Americans are fighting the wrong war — directly ignoring Clausewitz’s dictum. —excerpts from this paper

By Reverend Wylie W. Johnson, D.Min., M.Div., M.S.S.; Chaplain (Colonel), U.S. Army Reserve, Senior Pastor of Springfield Baptist Church, Springfield, Pennsylvania and Command Chaplain for Military Intelligence Readiness Command

Introduction: The “Elephant in the Room” of Western/Islamic Dialogue

Throughout the Islamic world, religion is the fundamental means of communication. About one quarter of the world’s seven billion persons is Muslim. Regardless of the wide variety of languages spoken by a myriad of Islamic nationalities, the Umma1 communicates through a commonly held religious worldview. Islamic faith is founded upon revealed sacred texts (Koran and Hadiths) which disclose divine purpose and destiny for all humanity. This commonality of understanding transcends national borders, language, and cultural peculiarities.

Religious communication is rational, based in revelational truth2 and contains common concepts understood by all humanity. All religions hold in common some understanding of the human-divine relationship. This understanding resolves itself into personal and social norms that are surprisingly consistent around the globe (i.e. proscriptions on adultery, murder, theft, etc.). Most importantly, religion fundamentally informs people groups about Truth,3 human purpose and destiny — all of which illuminates a commonly held worldview.

In Islamic4 contexts Americans are at an overwhelming and self-imposed strategic disadvantage. Further, it is a common but disastrous categorical mistake to assume that religious discourse is non-rational or even irrational. Religious conversation is based upon a foundation of ontological meaning and epistemological assumptions rooted in divine revelation.5 Such intercourse also includes eschatological end states and experiential methods.

Political discourse in all of its permutations (academic, cultural, conflict, diplomatic, economic, ethnic, and religious, etc.) is dynamic conversation about how life is to be lived. Religion is always a potent factor in the dialogue — either overtly or covertly. This is so because both disciplines are about how humans will live their lives. When diplomatic discourse carefully avoids all suggestion of faith, religion inevitably is the elephant in the room.

War is a conversation between people groups, and we know that most of the time, the dialogue goes badly. War has been called the failure of diplomacy. “Historically, war results when political conflict escalates to violence…after options short of violent force have failed to attain important political ends.”6 Clausewitz famously asserted that war is found on the continuum of “politics by other means.”7 He defined war as “violence intended to compel [rather than persuade] our opponent to fulfill our will.”8

The conduct of war has long been the bane of humanity because of its boundless violence and criminality. Genghis Khan‘s conquest of Eurasia; the Goth and Visigoth conquests of Europe; and World War II are examples of war without limits. Liang and Xiangsui coined the term Unrestricted Warfare9 to refer to conflict “unrestricted by the rules that apply to super powers in a regulated international system.”10 Clausewitz, however, denied the possibility of absolute (unrestricted) war, noting that every nation or entity has (ethical or cultural) boundaries it will refuse to cross.11

Persons of faith labor to apply universal ethical principles to violent conflict. In the Christian West this is known as Just War doctrine. Just War doctrine is not simply an ethical checklist cynically consulted on the way to do what we intend to do anyway. Rather, Just War considerations are essential moral principles guiding communal and individual behavior throughout the spectrum of conflict. Such ethical principles guide one to understand what behaviors are permitted or forbidden — and (importantly) how to discern the difference.

National ethical boundaries are rarely sharp cut but are more often ill-defined frontiers between good and evil. Furthermore, a relentless stream of technological developments continues to alter the moral terrain. Just War doctrine must continually evolve to comprehend these new challenges.

Just War12 principles are the practical application of faith to the ethical conundrums brought about by nationally- and internationally- sanctioned violence. The conduct of Just War requires careful understanding of our own motives and the motives of others. Just War doctrine must be an on-going and robust conversation with one’s allies as well as one’s enemies.

A fact that seems to be routinely overlooked in current academic Just War discussions is the fact that war is a deadly competition that must be won. Losing a war has unthinkable consequences for a people. The ethical conduct of war is not a synonym for a suicide pact. Just War doctrine provides moral regulation while in pursuit of victory on the battlefield and beyond. Thus this article will discuss a basis for American victory in the current wars in Islamic lands.

Christian13 and Muslim civilizations both believe that humanity is divinely created with both head and heart, thus a rational-emotional integration of Truth is necessary. Further, both religions hold that moral boundaries are integral to human well-being. Sacred texts contain standards of morality that the devout seek to faithfully apply across the spectrums of human endeavor.

In the West, we inherit Just War principles from a long tradition of Christian teaching, largely beginning with Church Fathers Ambrose and Augustine. However, clerics and philosophers alike have taught that Just War principles are firmly rooted in universal ethics. Pre-Christian Western philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, derived a complete set of cardinal virtues for human behavior. Church Fathers studied and incorporated such virtues in Just War doctrines.14 Just War morality in the West is derived from Christian teaching, and it is also universally based upon human “prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice.”15

Universal morality is affirmed by the Christian scripture, which reveals the omnipotent Creator who created humanity in His own image.16 Because of this shared fundamental unity (imago dei), humans also share in a universal morality given by the Creator.17

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 April 2012 16:30