Speaking at a Democratic Party fundraiser recently, President Obama downplayed the threat that eruptions of Islamic terrorism and turmoil abroad pose to America. “This is not something that is comparable to the challenges we faced during the Cold War,” he said.
Given the complacency of this view, it is no wonder that he doesn’t “have a strategy yet” on combating ISIS in Syria. As jihadists behead and kidnap Americans, as they torch consulates and seize embassy compounds, Obama is still clinging to his 2012 campaign theme of terrorists “on the run.”
Americans, if anything, are probably nostalgic for the Cold War. At least that one was cold. This one against radical Islam is decidedly hot. The fanaticism of radical Islam makes the evil empire of the Soviet Union look almost lethargic.
It is curious that Obama draws upon the challenges of the Cold War to try and find perspective on the terrors of radical Islam. “I promise you things are much less dangerous now than they were 20 years ago, 25 years ago or 30 years ago,” he said at the New York fundraiser. Were he a politician back then, he would have sided with the peaceniks who accused Ronald Reagan of alarmism about the Soviet Union.
Margaret Thatcher said that Reagan “won the Cold War without firing a shot.” The battle against radical Islam affords no such possibility. Yet Obama somehow considers young jihadists to be less worrisome than aged Soviet premiers once were. He blames an unblinking media for exaggerating the destruction of jihadism: “The truth of the matter is that the world has always been messy.… In part, we’re just noticing now because of social media and our capacity to see in intimate detail the hardships that people are going through.”
To sustain his claim of waning terrorism, Obama has to resort to such strained explanations. The growth of jihadism on his watch, he would like people to think, is merely perceived. But, as the RAND Corporation recently pointed out, it is all-too-real: “Since 2010, there has been a 58 percent increase in the number of jihadist groups, a doubling of jihadist fighters and a tripling of attacks by al Qaeda affiliates.”
While Obama was bragging that “Bin Laden is dead,” off-shoots of his organization were coming to life. As he insisted that Islam is a “religion of peace,” its violent branches continued to spread.
Obama likes to call outbursts of jihadism “incomprehensible,” but they would be perfectly comprehensible to him if he adopted a realistic, rather than rosy, assessment of Islam. His unwillingness to acknowledge its doctrinal and historical tradition of jihad explains the eagerness with which he downplays the threat of radical Islam. He is ideologically committed to the notion that it is a marginal and fading movement even when all the evidence suggests otherwise.
After the beheading of James Foley, he said that ISIS “speaks for no religion” and “no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.” What good do fanciful statements such as this accomplish if millions of Muslims disagree with him? Obama’s duty is to protect the country, not to serve as a spokesman for Islam. Even if well-meaning, attempts to convince Muslims that jihad is alien to their religion clearly haven’t worked, as evident the growth of jihadism during the very period when those efforts were at their most intense. Obama’s overtures to the world of Islam only served as a signal of weakness and an occasion for less vigilance.
Seeing Islam as overwhelmingly peaceful, Obama was sure he could charm the Islamic world into a friendship. But his famous “re-set” has proven disastrous. Part of that re-set was to dismiss jihadists as minor players in that world — the mere junior varsity — and to assume that trusting formerly condemned groups with democracy would civilize them. The pictures this week from Libya of Muslim militants using the deserted U.S. embassy compound for a pool party indicates how well that assumption went.
If Obama “doesn’t have a strategy yet” for eliminating jihadism, that’s because the only one he thought he would ever need has failed. And it is still not clear if he feel that he even needs a new strategy. Judging by his remarks at that fundraiser, jihadism remains in his mind a manageable and diminishing problem that wouldn’t seem so bad if everyone agreed to stop talking about it.