Why Isn’t ISIS an Existential Threat?
By Ken K. Gourdin
National Security Adviser Susan Rice, in her delivery of the Obama Administration’s National Security Strategy, says that the threat posed by ISIS is “not existential.” Rice said, “While the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they are not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or the Cold War. We can’t afford to be buffeted by alarmism and an instantaneous news cycle.” Don’t watch or read the news, and everything will be hunky-dory! Join us in burying your head in the sand: sure, you won’t be able to see much, and it’s awfully dark down there, but at least it’s nice and cool! Got it!
By the way, wasn’t the alleged “Cold War” simply a “crisis” that was manufactured by conservative hawks to sow an imaginary “existential” fear in the hearts and minds of Americans? I mean, sure, Uncle Fidel tried to put offensive nuclear weapons in Cuba right under America’s nose, before President Kennedy (who, no doubt, was simply suffering from a case of irrational “existential fear”; but wasn’t he one of those dovish, peace-loving Democrats?) convinced Castro to back down. But, heck, that was over fifty years ago, now. I’m sure Uncle Fidel has turned into an old softy in his old age, so why not normalize U.S.-Cuba relations?
I’m at a loss, however, to explain why ISIS is not an existential threat. Is it because ISIS is not a legitimate nation-state? ISIS certainly has statist aspirations: its preferred form of government, however—rather than democracy or republicanism or even theocracy—seems to be terrorocracy, and its motto (even as regards other muslims) seems to be, “Do what we want, or we’ll kill you.” Seems pretty “existential” to me! Is it because neither ISIS nor anyone who might sympathize with the organization has yet perpetrated an attack on the scale of that carried out by al Quaida on September 11, 2001? If so, and if one believes the words reportedly uttered by one erstwhile-and/or-aspiring terrorist when he was released from Guantanamo Bay (“See you in New York”), it’s only a matter of time.
Not to worry, though! No matter how many legitimate governments ISIS might topple, and no matter how much death, destruction, and terror it might leave in its wake, to quote the president’s immortal words, it’s “just the [junior varsity]. Just because they might put on Laker uniforms doesn’t mean they’re Kobe Bryant.” Nonetheless, the president might want to update that particular metaphor: Last I heard, Mr.Bryant was busy picking slivers out of his @$$ from riding the pine while being injured most all of this season. (I heard a rumor that LeBron James might’ve volunteered to replace Bryant in the metaphor; President Obama might want to check it out.) And it’s not as though there are any unaccounted-for nuclear or biological weapons floating around out there which ISIS or another such group would love to get its hands on. Nope! No existential threat there!
Meanwhile, at the latest National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama reminded us that “people have committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” I’m with you, Mr. President, insofar as you contend that we should not tar all of Islam with the same broad, extremist brush, but no atrocities such as the Crusades or Inquisitions have been committed in the name of Christianity for hundreds of years, and despite the religious dominance of various stripes of Catholicism, a good portion of the Christian world is composed of Protestants and of other flavors of Christianity, and thus bears no responsibility (even historically) for any such atrocities, anyway. And whatever historical responsibility the ancestors of anyone now living might bear for such abuses, one shouldn’t punish the sons for the sins of the fathers.
Seemingly, President Obama disregards anything that is not consistent with his world view, refuses to see the world as it is, and insists, instead, on seeing the world as he would like it to be. I’ve got good news and bad news for you, Mr. President: The good news is that [President Bush’s!] “war on terror” is over; you ended it. Congratulations! The bad news is that someone forgot to tell the terrorists. I suspect America’s withdrawal from various areas of the world has (and will) create various power vacuums which I believe those whose aims are inimical to U.S. interests (to put it mildly) will be eager to fill. I don’t think any number of apologies, any amount of collective self-flagellation for our historical national sins, or any amount of capitulation will mollify them.
Meanwhile, even ISIS’s beheading of American citizen James Foley wasn’t enough to keep President Obama from his previously-arranged tee time. Way to not be “buffeted by alarmism and an instantaneous news cycle,” Mr. President. (On the other hand, given the number of national controversies about which President Obama has told the White House press corps, “I first learned about this the same way you guys did—on the news,” perhaps the president ought to allow himself to be “buffeted by an instantaneous news cycle” a little more often.) And the president is infamous for drawing amorphous, ill-defined, empty-threat (dare I say “meaningless”?) “red lines.”
If the beheading of American citizens won’t do it, one wonders where, exactly, any meaningful “line crossing” by our enemies might occur in the mind of our ever-calm, ever-unflappable, never-ruffled, “I-saw-[insert-crisis-here]-coming-from-a-mile-away-and-everything’s-under-control,” (almost comatose?) president. (Would such a line finally be crossed if ISIS were to put an American citizen in a cage, douse him in flammable liquid, strike a flame, and burn him alive while creating a video of the horror to post on the Internet? Speaking of which, no one better tell the friends and family of Muadh al-Kasasbeh, or Jordan’s King Abdullah II that the ISIS threat isn’t “existential.”)
If American (and other) lives didn’t hinge on President Obama’s world view and on his stubborn refusal—save for uttering the occasional placating platitude or glittering generality, much like those contained in most all of Rice’s remarks—to confront obvious realities, I would be content to agree to disagree with him; but American lives do hinge on the president’s world view and on his refusal to confront obvious realities.
One hopes more Americans—let alone people in other parts of the world—don’t pay too heavy a price for that before the president leaves office.