Tonight President Obama will give a nationally televised address about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the group of murderous terrorists who have seized territory in those countries and intend to establish their own nation. It’s an important speech for the President, and for our country.
It’s important for the President because he desperately needs to reestablish his credibility in the area of foreign affairs. He has been dogged by ill-advised comments, like the one describing ISIS as a kind of “junior varsity” squad, that paint him as possessing a curious mixture of overconfidence, naivete, and ignorance about history and human motivation.
The President seems to believe that an inevitable historical arc will move us toward a world of eternal peace, diversity, and right-thinking people who inevitably will adopt every democratic liberal precept — without realizing that there are fanatics, like those who make up ISIS and Boko Haram, that are dead set on establishing an historical arc that bends in precisely the opposite direction. In the past, President Obama has been unwilling to admit that he’s made mistakes, but if the brutality of ISIS at least causes him to shed his rose-colored glasses about the dangerous world outside our borders that’s a step in the right direction.
As for the country, it’s important that we recognize that ISIS is a different, and immensely significant, threat. Unlike itinerant terrorist groups like al Qaeda that move from place to place depending on local conditions and shifting political winds, ISIS intends to establish a nation. It has captured funds and an arsenal of weapons from Iraq and seeks to control oil wells and oil refineries that would provide long-term, ongoing funding for its terrorist aims.
There is an additional dangerous element to ISIS. Any group that would videotape and publicize its beheading of innocent journalists obviously doesn’t subscribe to accepted social norms, and ISIS’ treatment of civilians and captured soldiers in Syria and Iraq further speak to its utter brutality and depravity. ISIS actively seeks to recruit like-minded jihadists from countries across the globe, including the United States and Great Britain, and it’s not shy about describing its intention to take the jihadist fight to our homeland. We should take them at their word. No one should doubt that ISIS poses a grave threat to America, and if we don’t act to punish and defeat them the threat will only grow more severe.
According to the Washington Post, tonight the President will announce a plan to launch airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, and Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Middle East building support for broader action against ISIS. This seems like a mirror image of the situation before the first Gulf War, when the actions of a rogue state threatened to destabilize an entire region and spread chaos on a much wider scale. It’s time for the United States to form and lead a coalition, again, to defeat the latest rabid threat to the world to spring from ever-fertile grounds of the Middle East.
If President Obama is willing to accept that responsibility, I support him. I don’t think we have any choice.