President Obama gave a good speech last night about going after ISIL. I am glad he refused to call them the Islamic State, because I agree with him that they are not representing Islam.
I think there are four strands within ISIL: psychopaths who seek brutality for its own debased pleasure, young men without a future who are drawn by the allure of a purpose and a community, true believer religious fanatics who see themselves carrying out the will of God by claiming the world for Islam, and cynical and disaffected Sunnis who are joining this Sunni extremist group as a way to fight back against the Shiite tyrannies of Iraq's Maliki and Syria's Assad. Fortunately Maliki is out of power, so this group may be able to be lured away from ISIL going forward.
So, ISIL is barbarous and needs to be stopped. But, I repeat what I have been writing about for some time, this is a civil and religious war within Islam, it is their war. We need to defend ourselves against future attacks on our country and against the West. But if we become the big military force, air power and boots on the ground, against ISIL all that will happen is that ISIL will have lured the US into fighting them and creating massive flooding of Islamist Jihadis joining with ISIL to fight against a foreign power trying to stop the spread of Islam. A direct US invasion to fight ISIL would become a massive recruitment of Muslims to fight against the West.
Instead, Obama is trying to do a tricky thing: support others in the region to fight against ISIL. Try to help a reformed Iraqi government (we hope) to defend Iraq against the Sunni extremists of ISIL. Try to help the more moderate Sunni fighters in Syria to fight against the ISIL fanatics in Syria. Training, supplies, air support, intelligence, diplomacy, economic and political support - the many levers of power that the US superpower has at its fingers. Oddly enough, our mighty military becomes ineffective if used directly because it only helps the bloody Islamic opposition rally to their cause.
So, strategically and tactically, I think Obama is making some good choices, ones that I have been hoping for.
What I wrote of earlier is that there is no Voice that the world can rally around and be led by in this effort. What I mean by that might be explained by comparing our fight against terrorism to our fight against Communism.
Communism had a clear vision: the government was to overthrow exploitive and greedy capitalists and empower the people who would become free of the exploitation and become the naturally giving and sharing people that was their fundamental natures once they were no longer under the thrall of the false consciousness of exploitive capitalism. It was understood around the world what this vision and Voice of Communism was. The voice was Marx and Lenin, followed by communist leaders like Castro and Mao, etc.
American democratic capitalism had a clear vision as well: capitalism was a natural expression of free peoples in search of better lives for themselves and it created a vibrant and growing economy that raised the standard of living and the quality of life for the vast majority of people, raising far more people out of poverty than any centrally controlled government ever could, and this system by its very nature fostered personal freedom which demanded and created political freedom of a democratic and prosperous society. The voice was Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Reagan, and a slew of business leaders, etc. It was understood around the world what the vision and Voice of Democratic Capitalism was.
In today's ideological struggle for the ear of the world, the vision and voice of Islamist extremist is pretty clear: western society is an immoral cesspool of licentiousness and greed and betrayal, which puts riches, corporeal pleasures, and greed above all else, and has lost any connection to God, spirituality, and cleanliness of mind and body. It is being voiced by Islamic leaders around the world and is being responded to by young, angry, lonely, and desperate men with revenge in their hearts. It is a vision and voice understood around the Islamic world.
So, what is the ideology and voice of the West? of the Muslims who want to be part of the modern world? Bush said it was about freedom. But, that was just kind of repeating the old Cold War vision and trying to apply it to the Islamic religious war against the West and western influence in Islamic lands.
Obama said something about freedom and dignity, and those are good, but what is the story? the vision? the clarion call against the Islamist dream? It is fine to point out how the Islamist vision is false and it is just being used as an excuse for brutality and revenge. And that is being voiced very well by Obama and the rest of the West. But it is not a countering dream that can call away the young Islamists into a dream of joining the modern world that exists in peace with the Muslim world.
I don't have a clear vision to state right now myself that opposes the Islamist view of the West as deeply corrupt, debauched, and spiritually vacant. What is needed is a vision that exalts the human spirit, a sense of purpose beyond momentary satisfactions, and a spiritual connection with the world and its people, and to connect that to building a prosperous and abundant life for yourself, your loved ones, and the people of the world.
Obama had one of the most compelling political voices in American history when he successfully ran for president in 2008, but once elected his voice collapsed and most of what he said since then has had little real effect. He lost his Voice. But, if he could find the inspiration, vision, and creativity in creating a clear and inspiring modern vision to offset the fundamentalist Islamist allure, he could provide what is missing, what is needed beyond good strategic choices, a dream of a world coming together against a false spiritual vision of fanatical, bloody Islamism, a world of healthy, prosperous, free, giving, caring, men and women of all stripes creating an abundant and loving world.