Monday, December 7, 2015
Barack Obama’s Sunday evening speech on terrorism said little we haven’t heard before and assuaged very few. He correctly pointed out that ISIS wants a major ground war with the United States, a strategy he continues to reject. He also correctly pointed out that our drilling down on American Muslims, absent evidence of nefarious involvement, changes who we are as Americans, reinforces ISIS message that the United States has declared war on Islam (a recruiting bonanza for ISIS) and makes matters much worse. Muslim Americans are part of the solution, he stated, and as Americans we are spending more time turning on ourselves than generating a national cohesiveness to fight a horrific foe. And, most of all, Obama continued his quest to curtail the use of assault weapons, the lack of clear and uniformly applied background checks and the denial of weapons to those on “no fly” lists, all as part of this war on terrorism. But not long on specifics.
But then, would we really want a detailed presentation on exactly what we are doing and will do against ISIS? Should ISIS have those publicly-disclosed strategies? What do the major candidates say? Hillary Clinton, while noting that the conflict against ISIS is at its nascent stages and will develop as time passes, chimed in to support the American consensus that the president could and should do more to combat this Islamic terror group. She suggested the deployment of more special forces to the region and a stepped up bombing campaign.
The Donald suggested that the speech proposed so little, the president needed to be replaced “fast.” Like every other Republican, he totally rejected the proposed gun control restrictions, and repeated his stated (many of which were based on non-existent facts) drilling down on U.S. Muslims and targeting the “they know what’s happening” wives and families of terrorists. He then added that the U.S. needs to shut down Muslims traveling here for any reason. Lindsey Graham delivered a policy directive – declare a full war on ISIS – that ISIS so longs for. Ted Cruz chimed in with a parallel platform, telling supporters he would simply direct the Department of Defense to do whatever was necessary to “destroy ISIS,” while totally rejecting the acceptance of the proposed Muslim immigrants. Jeb Bush rejected Ted Cruz notion of “carpet bombing” ISIS-held lands, suggesting that we better train Iraqi forces to take on the ground war, apparently unaware that Iraqis almost uniformly believe that ISIS and the United States are in cahoots. Marco Rubio wants more internal surveillance and also opposes bringing in these Syrian immigrants. Voters are moving closer and closer to wanting U.S. boots on the ground, forgetting how quickly we tire of the wars we have started.
The massive schism between Republicans and Democrats on gun control may or may not have strong terrorism implications. Lone wolves, who are not directed by ISIS, simply inspired by its message (like the San Bernardino killers), benefit greatly by easy access to their desired tools of death. But even for strikes organized by ISIS itself, there is little reason for them to contemplate smuggling guns across our border (which would make them so much easier to detect) when they can get more than they need at a local gun show with no background checks to worry about. Some reactions have been rather extreme, such as Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. who openly stated that all of his students should purchase guns and get concealed-carry permits.
Violent crimes, outside of mass shootings, are down, even though two-thirds of U.S. homicides are via guns. Anti-gun control advocates reject what they perceive is a limitation on limit assault weapons, because they believe they have a right to use such weapons against an objectionable government. We just may be turning on ourselves. Gun control advocates got a minor boost on December 6th as the Supreme Court denied a petition for a hearing (which cannot be interpreted as a clear precedent) to reverse a state-level restriction imposed on gun owners. While non-precedential, this refusal to hear the appeal suggests that at least reasonable regulation a local level is probably not violative of Second Amendment rights.
The war on Islamic terrorism is a balancing act, a mission that requires a complex blending of strategies. The flow of terrorist fundamentalism will not stem unless and until the Islamic world itself shuts down the underlying frustration, economic malaise and humiliation that funnels recruits into terror, unless the entire world clamps down on those – many of whom are in the regional oil rich monarchies – who suborn mosques where clerics proselytize holy war and schools (madrassa) that press jihadist fundamentalism and until the West stops succumbing to ISIS’ manipulation that lures them into taking what ISIS can later use as evidence of the West’s “war on Islam.”
The vast bulk of victims in this holy war are Muslims, a fact we conveniently seem to forget in the “no-holds-barred” election campaign. Without truth, facts and rational strategies based on how it really is versus how it is depicted in the press or in the misguided campaigns of under-informed candidates, ISIS will not be defeated. Its pernicious message will not be silenced. We will become increasingly subject to its whims and not our directives. We need to figure out how to stop internal bickering that is clearly the biggest holiday gift we can give ISIS and its sympathizers.
I’m Peter Dekom, and “a house divided” appears to be turning on itself.