In my opinion the Islamist threat does not arise from any particular relationship the United States has had, nor does it arise from the celebration of the Islamic principles that Islamists hold. Rather, it arises from the general role of the United States as the leading Western country. The idea that the United States could avoid hostility by changing its policies fails to understand that like the dangers in 1800, the threat arises independent of U.S. action.

But militant Islamism does not threaten the United States existentially. Therefore, the issue is how to apply the Jeffersonian principle in this context. In my opinion, the careful application of his principle, considering all the risks and rewards, would tell us the following: It is impossible to completely defeat militant Islamists militarily, but it is possible to mitigate the threat they pose. The process of mitigation carries with it its own risks, particularly as the United States carries out operations that don’t destroy militant Islamists but do weaken the geopolitical architecture of the Muslim world — which is against the interests of the United States. Caution should be exercised that the entanglement doesn’t carry risks greater than the reward.

Jefferson was always looking at the main threat. Securing sea-lanes and securing the interior river systems was of overwhelming importance. Other things could be ignored. But the real challenge of the United States is defining the emerging threat and dealing with it decisively. How much misery could have been avoided if Hitler had been destroyed in 1936? Who knew how much misery Hitler would cause in 1936? These thoughts are clear only in hindsight.