By the time most people find this post, a wide variety of memorials and observances intended to honor both the victims of 9/11 and the military members who fought to destroy the Al Qaeda stronghold in Afghanistan will have begun. Most of these church services, silent minutes of prayer, and other events will include mention of the war with Iraq. Even though the links between these two wars are tenuous at best, because we fought them over the same time frame they will be forever linked in our minds. 9/11 now rests alongside Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Alamo, and the Battle of North Bridge in Concord as defining events in American history; moments of great loss, great sacrifice, and great courage. Beginning right from the day William Bradford and his ragtag band of Congregationalists set foot in what eventually became Plymouth Colony, the history of the United States has been marked by unending conflict, great sacrifice, and undying dreams of utopia. Our nation, more so than any other nation in the history of the world, is trapped between the dream of a better world and the realities of this one.
Already the internet is bubbling with controversy over what today's speech by President Obama really means and how it will affect our lives moving forward. A link to the complete transcript is below. I hear the echo of the Mayflower Compact in the President's words. There is unbridled optimism here, an almost delusional conviction that everyone in the world has the same dreams and if given the opportunity, they will gladly beat their swords into plowshares and live in perfect harmony with one another. He even asserts with absolute conviction,
ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.
American leaders have used nearly identical words throughout our history. Our critics declare otherwise, but the simple fact of history is that every major American war has been defensive. We fought and traded to gain a place to live. We fought to keep it when the original owners tried to take it back. We fought the French when they tried to use raids into our cities as a way to weaken England. We fought England when the nobility demanded more taxation than we felt we could endure, and then we fought them again when they came back and tried to force us to resubmit. We fought Arab pirates that raided our Atlantic trade and we fought Spanish armies that encroached on our borders. We fought each other when we could not agree on whether the States or the Federal government had the right to determine who was a citizen and who was property. We fought Mexico when she felt more entitled to islands we controlled than we were, and we fought Germany when a web of alliances threw the European continent into a war that threatened our ability to do business anywhere in the world that we could land a ship. We fought Germany again when a maniac tried to take over the world. We fought the Japanese when they bombed our naval base in Pearl Harbor in order to prevent us from defending our friends and allies in Southeast Asia. We fought to defend South Korea when the communist North tried to violently unify the peninsula. We fought communism again when the French fled South Vietnam in humiliation. Then we did something we had never done before. After a stunning military victory that decimated the North Korean military, we packed up our bags and left; thus allowing the remainder of the North Korean Army to stream southward unopposed. For a long time after that we avoided getting involved in world affairs. The risk was too great, the benefits too limited. Until a well-funded, poorly organized band of Islamic terrorists managed to hijack some planes and crash them into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. They had a fourth plane under control, but modern communications meant the passengers knew what the terrorists had planned and for the first time in a long time they fought back, forcing the last plane to crash in a Pennsylvania field.
9/11 reawakened our memory. We remembered our dream of a better world. We remembered our ability to destroy those who tried to steal that dream. And then, for reasons I will never understand, for yet a second time we again did something we had never done before: we invaded a sovereign nation based on a rumor. President Obama is right, his problems in Iraq are not President Bush's problems in Iraq. If anything, a powerful military attack on the land controlled by ISIS would be more in keeping with our history than was George W. Bush's overthrow of Saddam Hussein. That war was foolish and unnecessary, but this war is not. There was no reason for President Bush to invade Iraq. A nice air campaign would have been sufficient to destroy any chemical arsenal Saddam and his crazy buddy "Chemical Ali" had stashed away for a rainy day. This new threat, however, is not the same. We are not facing rumors. Instead, we find ourselves staring straight down the barrels of ten thousand AK-47s in the hands of an insane army of religious ideologues determined to force their version of utopia down the throats of everyone else. ISIS has far more in common with Adolf Hitler's dream of a Third Reich than it does with Saddam's messy chemical hobby. This "caliphate" they have established in the borderland between Iraq and Syria is far more than, "a terrorist organization, pure and simple." They are building a nation founded on ancient ideas of genocide and religious purity. Humanity has not faced this kind of insanity in over a thousand years.
I understand that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was foolish. There is no doubt in my mind that this was a great mistake entirely different from any war our nation has ever entered into. Granted, we were not seeking to add Iraq as our 51st State nor were we seeking to create some kind of oil-rich American colony. Technically, this was not a war of conquest. However, neither was it a defensive war. This was an invasion of a sovereign nation based on a rumor. Saddam Hussein was insane, absolutely, but he was not insane in the way that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is insane. It is unlikely that Saddam would have ever risen to be a threat to anyone other than Iran or Israel. Granted, he did invade Kuwait, but as a result his military was decimated and his nation's economy was utterly ruined. I doubt he would have made a similar mistake had he been allowed to continue. Now, of course, we will never know. The one thing we do know for an absolute fact is that al-Baghdadi's ISIS army has captured enough territory and resources to eventually follow through on al-Baghdadi's dream of rebuilding the ancient Abbasid Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid. It would take him another decade, maybe two, but the foundation of religious purity funded by oil-rich Syrian and Iraqi highlands would be the modern equivalent of the Umayyad Empire the Abbasids were able to co-opt as their own. ISIS is not a slow-growing cancer. It is a pack of wild dogs just organized enough to capture as much territory as they feel like having. Once their control is consolidated (another year, maybe two) they will strike at the nations around them. If ISIS is allowed to fester, then within two years they will control all of Syria, all of Iraq, and possibly Kuwait. Every city, town, and village between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea will be cleansed of dissent through mass murder of anyone who does not immediately accept both their political and religious oversight.
President Obama is right about one thing. Objectively, this is not an American problem. At least, not yet. However, he is wrong to assume that ISIS will never reach beyond the Middle East. Although it is unlikely that ISIS will become a direct threat to the United States before President Obama leaves office (unless they launch another 9/11-style mass terror attack), his successor will be forced to deal with both an aggressively expanding Islamic Caliphate and an aggressively expanding Russian Confederation. President Obama's speech implies that he is not going to sit by and let the world burn around him, but the four point strategy he has outlined will not be sufficient to deter al-Baghdadi from his dreams. At best, this strategy will slow the growth of ISIS just long enough for it to become someone else's problem. This is the same kind of strategic thinking employed by President Clinton, and it was Clinton's inaction that enabled Al Qaeda to organize well enough to successfully pull off 9/11. Al-Baghdadi's ISIS is far more ruthless than Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda ever dreamed of being. They are so ruthless, in fact, that Al Qaeda initially tried to wash their hands of al-Baghdadi and his followers. That will change very quickly if ISIS continues to consolidate and expand. The one thing even a terrorist admires is someone who can follow through on their goals and get the job done. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that goal is you and I on our knees either accepting Allah as the one true God and Mohammed as his prophet or taking a bullet to the brain so our head can decorate the local ISIS headquarters.
Washington Post: Transcript of President Obama's Speech on ISIS