There were problems with President Obama’s speech last night which could suggest that he really is not ready to engage the issue of radical Islam. To begin with the problem of ISIS is a problem within Islam and needs to be solved by Muslims. It is a serious conflict historically, politically, and religiously. While it is polite and appropriate to be politically correct, the President was unable to make it clear that the West cannot solve radical Islam’s dramatic takeover of many parts of the Muslim world. While there are many Muslims who absolutely oppose the movements identified by Al Qaeda, ISIS, etc., radical Islam is gaining a significant following even in the West. His suggestion that it represents a small part of the Muslim world is unfortunately a semantically play on what he means by small.
Second, the notion that the Islamic State seeks to create an Islamic Caliphate is very attractive in the eyes of many Muslims. The fact that they have already seized control of huge segments of Iraq and Syria suggests that ISIS, while it may not have borders, a capital, currency, a flag, etc., yet, it is very much on the verge of becoming a state. Unlike Al Qaeda, the Islamic State has huge capital resources, on-going sources of revenue from oil, markets to sell to, and also a wonderful supply of U.S. military equipment that previously belonged to our Iraqi allies.
Third, the President, except with respect to Iraq, remains very skittish and unclear as to whether, if, how, or under what circumstances he is prepared to take action against ISIS in Syria. The fact is that Obama wants to attack ISIS but not help Assad and that is impossible. At the end of the day the U.S. and the West may need to decide whether it is better to support the horrific Assad regime in a fight against ISIS or humor itself that if they wait long enough a moderate opposition force will emerge within Syria to take out both ISIS and Assad. (Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron announced already today that Britain will not be part of a coalition which would attack Syria. So much for the grand coalition that the President suggested was being arrayed against ISIS.)
Finally and perhaps most alarming, was the fact that the President made no reference to the on-going tension with Iran’s evasive tactics to avoid taking decisive action to scuttle or downgrade its nuclear program. If the President seriously expects support for his efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS, he is mis-reading Iran’s regional role. Any positive role Iran would play in Iraq would be negated by its support for Assad in Syria. Involvement of Iran also can very quickly lead to antagonizing Saudi Arabia which has signed on to the President’s presumed strategy.