You may note approvingly of the scathing, sarcastic, even condescending reactions of leading conservatives to President Obama’s speech the other day laying out the broad lines of a strategy to defeat the self-described caliphate which has raised its black banner of death against us — and everybody else it disapproves of.
They sure did not lose time letting go their verbal barbs at our beleaguered top exec — elected by the American People in a free and fair election — not even waiting for the airwaves to calm down a bit. The experts at Fox News seemed to be obsessed with the notion that Mr. Obama is entirely “poll-driven” rather than a thoughtful statesman motivated solely by what is right and what is just and what will work for our Republic; nor could they not resist a few jabs of the we-told-you-so and too-little-too-late variety.
On the war of ideas front, the intellectual heavyweights of the right patronized the boss with comments on how mistaken he is on everything from just who the enemy is to what we must do to stop him. Our redoubtable truth-saying TAS colleague Jed Babbin writes flat out the President’s vaguely sketched strategy does not have a chance of success, while Frederick and Kimberly Kagan in the Weekly Standard say the same.
Daniel Pipes, one of our finest real experts on Islam, who speaks and reads the languages on which it is founded and through which it evolves, could not resist scolding the president for claiming the caliphate is not true Islam. The Kagans fault the White House tenant for calling the caliphate a terrorist organization when, they say, it is much more, a territory-holding entity that fields significant military formations in disciplined order as it attempts to extend its conquests.
Okay, okay, but why not add that the prez is a lousy tennis player, too?
There are times in the affairs of men and nations when you have to show some degree of cohesiveness, you know? Solidarity? Politics stops at the water’s edge and all that?
I cannot disagree with Daniel Pipes, a national resource, when he says that the caliphate is Islamic. These boys do everything they do in the name of Islam : massacre whole villages, rape and enslave Christian girls and women, run their swords through little children, gleefully warn they will kill every Jew they find on their path, drop a nuclear bomb, if they ever get one, on an American city. So how are you going to absolve Islam?
Observe that, contrary to some American Islam organizations such as CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations, which Daniel Pipes has reported on), several Islamic institutions here and abroad have denounced the caliphate. That does not make the caliphate any less Islamic than the Inquisition was Christian, notwithstanding many Christians were appalled by its excesses.
The President pointed out that most of the caliphate’s victims are other Muslims. So what? Since this story began — in the seventh century? — Muslims have been slaughtering other Muslims, so let us not make excuses, and let us note, in the best spirit of American fair play, that intramural slaughter within religions is not confined to Islam.
The President also reiterated the old clichés about no-ground-troops and the other one about in-the-end-it’s-their-problem. We have been hearing those since at least the Vietnam War era. However, while surely a clear-talking president is always welcome, is it entirely realistic to expect to get one in the context of our hyperventilating media environment? No president likes to send our men into harm’s way, and why should he not, even at a late hour like now, still hope against hope he may not have to.
There will be time to criticize the faults of conception and the faults of execution. Let us hope they will not cost us, that the caliphate will not profit from the delays caused by the learning curve that is almost a built-in handicap of the kind of government and political culture we have. Consider too, however, that the international political environment is not as simple to deal with as we would like. Fix one fault line, the pressure builds up somewhere else. Put a coalition together, discover that you are aiding powers that do not wish you well.
On that last point, moreover, we should know by now that when the commander in chief says he is building a coalition to meet the challenge and is demanding that our so-called allies in the region assume their burdens, of course he is engaging in wistful thinking. And who can blame him, other than the most hardnosed armchair expert?
Of course we would like the Saudis to take over the business of policing Mesopotamia. They have an air force and an army that is equipped by us, so why not let them do the job? Of course we would like the billionaire Qataris to pay for the costs of it all, instead of funding terrorists all across the Islamic world from North Africa to South Asia.
The Algerians have, according to Global Fire Power, which tracks militaries, over 500,000 troops, an equivalent number of reservists, and they know from hard experience what it means to be the targets of caliphate-wannabes, so where are they? Where is the old pan-Arab solidarity? Egypt too has half a million men in uniform, eight hundred thousand reservists; Saudi Arabia a quarter million, twenty-five thousand reservists.
What is the matter with these people? What are their hundreds of aircraft and armored vehicles for? Crowd control?
President Obama inherited a foreign policy which, across party lines, always went along with the unstated presumption that our strategic interests in the Arab-Muslim world are such that it is better to put up with these people and shoulder their responsibilities than risk the alternative, such as the loss of energy resources, the control by our enemies of maritime and land routes critical to our security. Assuredly, to be worthy of an inheritance, you must manage it well, not blame your predecessors, but that is another matter and in the meantime, the president is surrounded on all sides by “realists” and “democracists” and what-all whose respective track records might be cause for some modesty.
The problem of expecting one thing of the Arabs and getting something else is not new. It has been going on at least since the time when, during World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt sat down with Abdulaziz ibn-Saud and said you get this and I get this, we square? A few years later President Eisenhower said to Gamal Abdel Nasser, the young colonel who led the Free Officers movement in Egypt, I call off the Brits and the French and you get the Canal and you play ball with me, got it? And so on and so forth, down to when Republicans, with Democratic support, tried to stop mass slaughter in Mesopotamia, fifty thousand casualties per day, poison gas and children sent into minefields, between Saddam Hussein and the ayatollahs who had just taken over Persia, by playing footsie — considerably more than footsie, in fact — with both sides.
None of this helped our cause more than in the shortest of short terms. In longer terms, it caused us nothing but trouble, but it is always easier to say that in hindsight.
The Saudis hate and despise us, elements within their incestuous regime are alleged on strong authority to have been behind the 9/11 attacks and surely are involved in fomenting hate and war (against fellow Muslims!) from Senegal to Sudan. The Egyptians thumbed their noses at Ike and went over to the Soviets and ever since have said essentially, give us the money and leave us alone. The Iraqis and the Iranians, of course, went right on slaughtering one another and blaming America for everything, threatening our only friends in the region with nuclear destruction, and spewing hate and cruelty, sometimes with tacit encouragement from our pals in Europe and at a really helpful institution called the United Nations. Claudia Rosett, a true investigative reporter, documented how complex and corrupt the politics of dealing with Arabs and Persians have been over the years.
Keep in mind the mullahs of Persia hang young people for holding hands in public and the Saudis have been known to behead young women for falling in love with the wrong guy. The Qataris employ slave labor. Saddam had a family who enjoyed watching their real or imagined opponents put through shredders, as well as gassing entire villages and countrysides. In private, I suspect every president since FDR has considered the advice formulated years ago by Robert Tucker, seize the oil fields of the Arabian Gulf and if anyone complains just dare him to do something about it.
Advice as criticism is needed. Let us always take seriously the right — the responsibility — for the most vigorous debates on all subjects, including war strategy, for our liberty depends on it. President Obama has shown that he needs advice as much as he resists it.
He is the president we have. But let us keep in mind who the enemies of freedom are, who the enemies of America. All presidents err in foreign policy, it is the nature of the beast. Our gallant French and British allies are joining us, once again, at crunch time as we embark, however hesitantly President Obama wants to say it, on yet another “savage war of peace.” For sure, we should give up not one ounce of critical gray matter, but our first instinct must be to close ranks and pray, pray for “the thin red line of heroes, when the drums begin to roll.”