Creating Terror Is Easier Than Fighting It

President Barack Obama pauses during a news conference following the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

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President Barack Obama pauses during a news conference following the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015.

Obama’s critics are hard-pressed to explain how they would lead a war-weary public against ISIS.

Pres­id­ent Obama hor­ribly un­der­es­tim­ates IS­IS. He called the Is­lam­ic State a JV team” be­fore it be­headed Amer­ic­ans. He claimed IS­IS was “con­tained” be­fore it at­tacked Par­is. Now he al­lows his for­eign policy/pub­lic-re­la­tions team to say IS­IS lacks the cap­ab­il­ity to at­tack the United States be­fore … God-knows-what.

So this column is not a de­fense of Obama, a war­time pres­id­ent elec­ted by a pub­lic tired of war. But I would like to ac­know­ledge that the pres­id­ent’s op­tions range from bad to worse and that nobody has an easy or cer­tain re­sponse to erad­ic­at­ing a cult of Is­lam­ic ex­trem­ists whose aim is to des­troy West­ern civil­iz­a­tion.

The easi­est way to ex­pose the phony bin­ary nar­rat­ive is to un­pack one. I’ve chosen The Wash­ing­ton Post op-ed by 2012 GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee Mitt Rom­ney. Head­lined, “Obama must de­feat the Is­lam­ic State, not har­ass it,” the former Mas­sachu­setts gov­ernor writes: “After Par­is, it’s clear: Do­ing the min­im­um won’t make us safe. It’s time the pres­id­ent stopped hedging and took mean­ing­ful steps to de­fend us and our al­lies.”

OK, so what do we do?

“We must be­gin by identi­fy­ing the en­emy.” Like many oth­er con­ser­vat­ives, Rom­ney wants Obama to use the term “rad­ic­al Is­lam­ists,” be­cause we can’t de­feat an en­emy we’re afraid to name. Set­ting aside the Bush-era reas­on­ing be­hind lan­guage sens­it­iv­ity, it’s silly to sug­gest that the IS­IS could be des­troyed by the uni­ver­sal ad­op­tion of an ad­ject­ive.

Obama must “con­struct a com­pre­hens­ive strategy that in­teg­rates our ef­forts with those of the Kur­ds, Turks, Saudis, Egyp­tians, and Jord­ani­ans.” If that sounds fa­mil­i­ar, it’s be­cause Obama is already work­ing with these and oth­er al­lies to fight IS­IS in Ir­aq and Syr­ia with air­strikes, in­tel­li­gence, train­ing, and even U.S. troops.

Many ar­gue that Obama should in­ject thou­sands of more troops, but some­body needs to con­vince an Amer­ic­an pub­lic burned by the Ir­aq war that an­oth­er “surge” is in its best in­terest. Some­body also needs to find fresh troops, be­cause we’ve already asked too much of the over-de­ployed vo­lun­teer force. Wouldn’t it be more in­tel­lec­tu­ally hon­est for hawks to sup­port a draft? If IS­IS is an ex­ist­en­tial threat, why not con­sider something less than a draft: re­quir­ing young Amer­ic­ans to serve for a year in the mil­it­ary or a do­mest­ic-ser­vice pro­gram?

“The Is­lam­ic State’s re­cruit­ing pro­pa­ganda must be countered with a much lar­ger, more fo­cused ef­fort to dis­cred­it it and re­place it with tra­di­tion­al Is­lam­ic val­ues.” Pres­id­ent Bush ap­poin­ted Kar­en Hughes to this chal­lenge after the Septem­ber 11, 2001, at­tacks and dis­covered two things: It’s harder than you’d think to counter cult­ish pro­pa­ganda, and neo­con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­ans think it’s a waste of time. Per­son­ally, I’d wel­come a push by GOP law­makers to in­crease fin­an­cing in this area. Un­til they do, this is just a talk­ing point.

“The West much stop the in­san­ity of wel­com­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of people from the Middle East without know­ing who ex­actly they are.” First, the straw man: “without know­ing who ex­actly they are.” The United States has the cap­ab­il­ity to safely screen most of the Syr­i­an refugees; Rom­ney con­cedes the point in his next sen­tence, which gives near-blanket ab­so­lu­tion to wo­men, chil­dren, and the eld­erly. Second, the po­ten­tial hy­po­crisy: A polit­ic­al party rooted in the pro­pos­i­tion that life is sac­red can­not take an ab­so­lut­ist anti-refugee stance.

This column is not an at­tack on Rom­ney. He is giv­ing voice to con­cerns about Obama’s at­tent­ive­ness. He is us­ing his plat­form to press for a bet­ter res­ult un­der the next pres­id­ent. And, in the end, Rom­ney’s lack of new or cer­tain policies are a re­mind­er that cre­at­ing ter­ror is easi­er than fight­ing it.

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