EDITORIAL: Behind is no place for a leader


Killing people and breaking things is what war is all about, and all indications are that Donald Trump understands that. He was elected in large part to execute a war-fighting mission that Barack Obama stubbornly refused to pursue. It’s no less than necessary to guard the nation against radical Islamic terrorism.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has produced the blueprint for defeating — not “degrading” — the Islamic State, or ISIS. The details are yet to be revealed, but for any plan to succeed it must include the crucial guarantee that an equally virulent successor terror cabal will not be allowed to rise from the ashes of ISIS. The people have been waiting for eight years for a strategy for final victory.

To “rapidly defeat” the terrorists, as a Pentagon spokesman describes the mission, the U.S. military must make good use of more money and more warriors. Mr. Trump’s budget, released Monday, seeks $603 billion for the Defense Department, a 10 percent increase over 2016. The president calls it a “historic increase in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America.” He proposes to pay for it by cutting an equal part of non-defense spending, including cuts to foreign aid.

Mr. Trump’s critics will inevitably accuse the president of wanting to slay people instead of encouraging them see the error of their ways. Such accusations are foolish. President Obama plied Iran with billions of dollars while the mercenaries of the aggressive Islamic regime assisted in killing American soldiers in Iraq. Mr. Trump understands the Reagan strategy of “peace through strength,” and that when America flexes its muscles the evil slink into caves and the world breathes easier.

The plan to defeat ISIS as Mr. Mattis presented it to the commander in chief is said to include roles for several government agencies, and extends beyond Iraq and Syria to terrorist strongholds in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Southeast Asia. Creating safe zones for refugees in Syria might require American troops to protect them. Americans are eager to see the terrorists destroyed, along with their strongholds, but will not long tolerate an endless round of war-making, like that which sapped the resolve of the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. There’s ample evidence that President Trump understands, and shares, that conviction.

One strategy waiting for a fair test is leaning, hard, on Muslim allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, to stop sending money to terrorist organizations that share a common radical theology. Following Sept. 11, George W. Bush famously said, “Either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists.” But certain nations figured he didn’t really mean it and have continued their duplicitous game with the United States. It’s a game the Trump administration should unmask.

Unless the United States breaks the cycle of defeated terrorist groups becoming new cartels under different leadership to dodge the consequences of destruction, the Middle East is destined to continue its miserable history of violence and thumbing its nose at civilization and decency. Leading from behind is folly. President Trump must signal friend and foe alike that the civilized world will no longer countenance barbarism in its midst. This time the peace must stick.


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