“Would you send your son to go fight ISIS?”
That was the provocative question posed to me over dinner last week. Of course, I wouldn’t be keen to send my children to fight in any war, but my dining companion wasn’t really arguing that point. Instead he was charging that we don’t own the problems of the Middle East. His was another flavor of the cliche that “America isn’t the world’s policeman.”
Pundits and politicians step over one another to assign blame for the world’s problems. It does not serve our national interest. As Peggy Noonan wrote last week, “you have to unhitch yourself from your predispositions and resentments and face what is happening now.” Normative judgments are fine and good as a way to defend policy prescriptions, but they do not address the problems at hand. People are rightly exasperated with President Obama’s reluctance to admit how Islamic thought is motivating today’s biggest security threats. That said, we are not in an existential war against political correctness. Our clear and present danger arises from a growing set of deranged actors. The president’s primary fault is his failure to articulate a coherent strategy and lead the fight against our enemies.
Obama set off a firestorm in his homily at the recent National Prayer Breakfast, where he ostensibly likened the crimes of the medieval crusaders to those of modern day jihadists. Without debating the historical merits or otherwise of his comments, it’s unsettling how much this president moralizes about metaphorical stone throwing instead of orchestrating a global campaign against the sadists who are literally throwing stones as he speaks. Being action-oriented and practical minded doesn’t make you a practitioner of realpolitik. We should lead where we can — not because we caused a problem, but because we fear the alternatives to our leadership.
When I travel in pro-Israel circles, it’s not uncommon to hear advocates recite a laundry list of transgressions by the Palestinian people and their leadership. The Arabs have rejected compromise, fomented hatred, celebrated violence, and glorified murderous suicide. It’s impossible to defend such behavior with a straight face. It gives context to Israeli policies which vex the liberal conscience. What your adversaries deserve, however, is not the foundation of a strategy to deal with them. The most persuasive proponents of a two-state solution in Palestine are those who enumerate the practical risks of denying civil rights to an occupied population. Palestinians need an independent state as a way to resolve Israel’s continuing security and diplomatic challenges of the conflict. It’s not that Palestinians “earned” independence by their conduct. Israel must stay the course of negotiations because it serves its best interests to do so.
Which brings me back to the thorny question of ISIS and its fellow travelers across the globe. Do Americans want another military incursion in the Middle East? Not very likely. Do Americans want battle-hardened jihadis hitting our shores to blow up subways in New York or scatter bullets across newsrooms in Washington, DC? Also not very likely. We own the problem of radical Islam whether or not we share some responsibility for its incarnation. What we need is a clear-headed strategy for countering the threat. Let’s back up the comparatively civilized front-line fighting forces (e.g., Jordan’s army and the Kurdish Peshmerga) with arms, resources, and unhindered logistical support. Let’s use our best diplomatic and intelligence capabilities to rally the like-minded against a metastasizing global menace. I shudder to think of those I know and love suffering at the hands of jihadi terrorists. Washing our hands of the problem won’t make it go away.