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A Thirty-Year War—If Americans Will Have It

Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA and secretary of defense, says that defeating our enemies in the Middle East and North Africa “is going to take a long time.” How long? “I think we’re looking at kind of a thirty-year war,” Panetta predicts.

Whether or not the United States will be involved in this war for thirty years is an open question. But the notion that such a lengthy war is necessary is nonsense.

America has astoundingly sophisticated weaponry—combat drones, nuclear submarines, satellite surveillance, aircraft carriers, stealth bombers, GPS-guided missiles, bunker busters, thermobaric bombs, and so on. We have the most intelligent, best trained, most competent soldiers and special operations forces on the planet. We can eliminate large cities in a matter of seconds. We can take over large countries in a matter of weeks, if not days. We can bring any enemy to its knees in short order—if we so choose.

So why accept a thirty-year war? Why accept even a thirty-week war?

The only reason Americans will accept a long war is that they have lost (or never gained) confidence in their right to defend themselves against those who seek to kill them. If we are to defeat this god-awful enemy and return to normal, jihad-free living in a reasonable amount of time, Americans must regain confidence in the fact that we have certain rights and that our government must use the full capacity of our military to protect these rights when foreign aggressors aim to violate them.

We have a moral right to live our lives free from “Allah’s will” or any such nonsense. We have a moral right to defend ourselves against those who have faith or “just know” that they should convert or kill us. We have a moral right to kill those who seek to kill us. In short, we have a moral right to life, liberty, and self-defense.

Of course, few Americans would deny that we have such rights. Most would say we do. The problem is that saying we have these rights is not the same thing as knowing we have them. And knowing we have these rights is a precondition of confidently demanding that our government protect them.

In order for the United States to summarily end the Islamic regimes and jihadist groups that seek to kill us, Americans must learn what rights are, where they come from, and how we know we have them. It will not do to say “Rights come from God, my faith tells me so” or “Rights come from nature, though I can’t say how” or the like. People who don’t understand where rights come from and why we have them are not certain that we have rights; thus, they cannot say with certainty that our government must protect our rights. Certainty follows from understanding, not from “revelations” or mere assertions. (For a concise primer on the source and nature of rights, see “Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights.”)

Americans who lack sufficient motivation to do the mental work necessary to grasp the source and nature of rights may find such motivation by looking at the things and people they love and by seriously considering what it would be like to lose them. Look, for instance, at your life, your career, your goals, your (relative) freedom, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your husband or wife, your children or grandchildren. Are you willing to permit jihadists who are dead set on destroying your values and killing your loved ones (or worse) to continue their efforts toward that end? These values are precisely what is at stake. These are the things and people we stand to lose so long as the U.S. government fails to end the jihadist assault. And the only way to get the government to end the assault as quickly as possible is to remind the government and all Americans who will listen that the government is legally required to protect our rights—moral rights we can prove we have. It’s that simple.

What’s terrifying is not that a man with Panetta’s political history and visibility says a thirty-year war is necessary. What’s terrifying is that almost no Americans are properly challenging such assertions. Let’s change that.

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