Does the “civilized” world have what it takes to defeat the self-declared Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS?
To be sure, the U.S. has launched air strikes on ISIS targets over Iraq, Congress and President Barack Obama finally seem in gear, and there are ongoing efforts to put together a coalition involving NATO and countries such as Saudi Arabia to combat the world’s leading producer of snuff videos. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius angrily calls ISIS “throat cutters.” And after ISIS beheaded British aide worker David Haines, British Prime Minister David Cameron labeled the terrorist group “monsters,” not Muslims, “the embodiment of evil,” and vowed to “drain this poison from our society.”
Nice ringing words -- from everyone. The language from the politicos and leaders is of vowing to do what it takes, but you get the sinking feeling they’ll fumble or flinch in the end.
After a notably tepid start, Obama is coming on strong, pushing aggressive special ops and air operations while pooh-poohing a suggestion by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey that the U.S. could conceivably send in ground troops.
Part of Obama’s ongoing problem has been his inconsistency in his ability to lead and inspire the nation. Sometimes it takes him a while. You get a feeling that if Barack Obama had been the one to do “fireside chats” during World War II, the fire would have fallen asleep.
But sometimes thoughtful restraint makes wise policy. The Daily Beast reports an apparent rift between Obama and his military advisors. The military advisors (no surprise) want a more extensive pushback, but Obama (no surprise) wants to keep it more limited and not veer out of control. However, balance isn’t a virtue these days among partisans, and the ideological media that make big bucks off of polarization and fiery polemics.
On Fox News, the execrable Sean Hannity now has his nirvana issue. He can rail about border security, fan resentments about illegal aliens and cite unsubstantiated charges (flatly denied by Homeland Security and the FBI) that ISIS trying to get across the Mexican border into the U.S. “If something happens, I will blame members of Congress for not doing their job!” Sean Hackery told Democratic Rep. Luis Guitierrez, who replied: “Because that helps your ratings, every night, I get that part!” File that statement in your “No Duh File.”
Some MSNBC hosts are as tiresomely predictable and as boring as Hannity. Several IMMEDIATELY slipped into the-government-is-going-to-do-another-dumb-war mode, lacing reports with an I-told-you-so tone about Iraq and smug mentions of George W. Bush. Many Democratic liberals are as knee-jerk and predictable in their IMMEDIATE opposition to anything suggesting war as conservatives are in their endless “Benghazi” fixation and lame jokes about Obama and golf. (Uh, oh, here come the False Equivalency Police!)
ISIS has shown sophistication in its use of social media and its appeal to 21st century young people. What’s “better” than a slasher movie? Why, a REAL video of a guy getting his head sawed off. The perfect 21st century recruitment tool!
This is a time when -- more than ever -- there’s a need for courageous, t-h-o-u-g-h-t-f-u-l policy makers. If battling ISIS requires a long-term commitment to a new kind of conflict that could last a decade, do the countries ISIS seeks to take over or terrorize have the fortitude to wage it?
The Greek tragedian Sophocles wrote: “There is no greater evil than men’s failure to consult and to consider.” The operative word here is “consider” -- consider it thoughtfully. The 20th century movie star John Wayne once said: “Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway.”
Will policymakers fall into the trap of being influenced by the knee-jerk (and endlessly parroted) partisans and ideologues? Or will they consult, consider and, no matter how daunting the task, saddle up anyway, balance themselves on the horse and gallop forward -- realizing that the horse, addle and rider could be at risk in the long term if they don’t have the patience and have the guts?
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He also writes for The Week’s online edition. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be booked to speak at www.mavenproductions.com. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joegandelman