America’s Challenge With Political Islam

Eugene Robinson (Photo: Supplied)
Eugene Robinson
(Photo: Supplied)

Destroying, degrading or containing the Islamic State — whichever goal President Obama chooses — will be the easy part. Finding ways for fundamentalist Islam to express itself peacefully is a bigger, tougher and more important project.

In his remarks Tuesday following the beheading of journalist Steven Sotloff, Obama offered a smorgasbord of options. “Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy” the Islamic State, he said, although it sounded like two different objectives. He added that the goal was “to make sure that the Islamic State is not an ongoing threat to the region.” Then he said the aim was to reduce the terrorist group to “a manageable problem.”

Before the warmongers have a cow, keep in mind that Obama’s idea of managing a terrorism problem involves killing people, without warning, even in countries where we are not at war. Just this week he authorized an airstrike in Somalia in an attempt to kill the leader of al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda offshoot. Obama’s fondness for drones as instruments of surveillance and assassination is such that any terrorist leader is foolhardy if he ventures to take out the garbage.

But the Islamic State is clearly not “manageable” in its current state, flush with weapons, cash and eager recruits — and occupying a huge tract of land in Iraq and Syria. Obama will have to destroy or degrade, but all the focus on his decision misses the larger context: the fundamentalist political instinct that the Islamic State represents, or rather misrepresents.

We’re talking about 15,000 or so fighters — not much of a challenge for the greatest military force the world has ever known. Why not just smash this group and be done with it? Let’s look at recent history.

The U.S. military invaded Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks, quickly routed the Taliban and eliminated the safe haven from which Osama bin Laden orchestrated his mayhem. Eventually, al-Qaeda was decimated and bin Laden was killed.

But jihad did not disappear, it metastasized. It turned up in Yemen, where an active al-Qaeda affiliate plotted attacks against the United States, including the failed underwear bombing. It emerged in Iraq, after the U.S. invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein created a vacuum for extremists to fill. It popped up in Somalia, in Libya, in Mali.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Westerners — mostly Europeans but some Americans as well — have gone to fight on the side of the Islamic State. The butcher who was shown executing Sotloff — and, earlier, fellow journalist James Foley — spoke English with a British accent. “I’m back, Obama,” he said.

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SOURCE: Pal-Item – Eugene Robinson

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