The United States has a problem with Islamic State. Its problem is that it refuses to acknowledge why Islamic State is a problem.
The problem with Islamic State is not that it is brutal. Plenty of regimes are brutal.
Islamic State poses two challenges for the US. First, unlike the Saudis and even the Iranians, IS actively recruits Americans and other Westerners to join its lines.
This is a problem because these Americans and other Westerners have embraced an ideology that is viciously hostile to every aspect of Western civilization.
Last Friday, Buzz Feed published a compilation of social media posts by Western women who have left Chicago and London and other hometowns to join IS in Syria.
As these women’s social media posts demonstrate, the act of leaving the West and joining IS involves rejecting everything the West is and everything it represents and embracing a culture of violence, murder and degradation.
In the first instance, the women who leave the West to join IS have no qualms about entering a society in which they have no rights. They are happy covering themselves in black from head to toe. They have no problem casting their lot with a society that prohibits females from leaving their homes without male escorts. They have no problem sharing their husband with other wives.
They don’t mind because they believe that in doing so, they are advancing the cause of Islam and Allah.
As the women described it, the hardest part about joining the jihad is breaking the news to your parents back home. But, as one recruiter soothed, “As long as you are firm and you know that this is all for the sake of Allah then nothing can shake you inshalah.”
Firm in their belief that they are part of something holy, the British, American and European jihadistas are completely at ease with IS violence. In one post, a woman nonchalantly described seeing a Yazidi slave.
“Walked into a room, gave salam to everyone in the room to find out there was a yazidi slave girl there as well.. she replied to my salam.”
Other posts discussed walking past people getting their hands chopped off and seeing dead bodies on the street. Islamic State’s beheadings of American and British hostages are a cause for celebration.
Their pride at the beheadings of James Foley and others is part and parcel of their hatred for the US and the West. As they see it, destroying the US and the West is a central goal of IS.
As one of the women put it, “Know this Cameron/ Obama, you and your countries will be beneath our feet and your kufr will be destroyed, this is a promise from Allah that we have no doubt over…. This Islamic empire shall be known and feared world wide and we will follow none other than the law of the one and the only ilah!” These women do not feel at all isolated. And they have no reason to. They are surrounded by other Westerners who joined IS for the same reasons they did.
In one recruitment post, Western women were told that not knowing Arabic is no reason to stay home.
“You can still survive if you don’t speak Arabic. You can find almost every race and nationality here.”
The presence of Westerners in IS, indeed, IS’s aggressive efforts to recruit Westerners wouldn’t pose much of a problem for the US if it were willing to secure its borders and recognize the root of the problem.
But as US President Barack Obama made clear over the summer, and indeed since he first took office six years ago, he opposes any effort to secure the US border with Mexico. If these jihadists can get to Mexico, they will, in all likelihood, have no problem coming to America.
Even if the US were to secure its southern border, it would still be unable to prevent these jihadists from returning to attack. The policy of the US government is to deny the existence of a jihadist threat by, among other thing, denying the existence of the ideology of Islamic jihad.
When President Barack Obama insisted last Wednesday that Islamic State is not Islamic, he told all the Westerners who are now proud mujihadin that they shouldn’t worry about coming home. They won’t be screened. As far as the US is concerned their Islamic jihad ideology doesn’t exist.
Whereas every passenger arriving in the US from Liberia can be screened for Ebola, no one will be screened for exposure to jihadist thought.
And this brings us to the second problem IS poses to the US.
As a rising force in the Middle East, IS threatens US allies and it threatens global trade. To prevent its allies from being overthrown and to prevent shocks to the international economy, at a minimum, the US needs to contain IS. And given the threat the Westerners joining the terror army constitute, and Washington’s unwillingness to stop them at the border, in all likelihood, the US needs to destroy IS where it stands.
Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the US is willing or able to either contain or defeat IS.
As US Maj. Gen. (ret.) Robert Scales wrote over the weekend in The Wall Street Journal, from a military perspective, IS is little different from all the guerrilla forces the US has faced in battle since the Korean War. Scales argues that in all previous such engagements, the outcomes have been discouraging because the US lacks the will to take the battle to the societies that feed them or use its firepower to its full potential out of fear of killing civilians.
Clearly this remains the case today.
Moreover, as Angelo Codevilla explained last month in The Federalist, to truly dry up the swamp feeding IS, it is necessary to take the war to its state sponsors – first and foremost Turkey and Qatar.
In his words, “The first strike against the IS must be aimed at its sources of material support. Turkey and Qatar are very much part of the global economy… If…the United States decides to kill the IS, it can simply inform Turkey, Qatar, and the world it will have zero economic dealings with these countries and with any country that has any economic dealing with them, unless these countries cease any and all relations with the IS.”
Yet, as we saw on the ground this weekend with US Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed mission to secure Turkish support for the US campaign against IS, the administration has no intention of taking the war to IS’s state sponsors, without which it would be just another jihadi militia jockeying for power in Syria.
And this leaves us with the administration’s plan to assemble a coalition of the willing that will provide the foot soldiers for the US air war against Islamic State.
After a week of talks and shuttle diplomacy, aside from Australia, no one has committed forces. Germany, Britain and France have either refused to participate or have yet to make clear what they are willing to do.
The Kurds will not fight for anything but Kurdistan.
The Iraqi Army is a fiction.
The Iraqi Sunnis support IS far more than they trust the Americans.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will either cheer the US on from a distance, or in the best-case scenario, provide logistical support for its operations.
It isn’t just that these states have already been burned by Obama whether through his support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi. And it isn’t simply that they saw that the US left them hanging in Syria.
They see Obama’s “strategy” for fighting IS – ignoring the Islamic belief system that underpins every aspect of its existence, and expecting other armies to fight and die to accomplish the goal while the US turns a blind eye to Turkey’s and Qatar’s continued sponsorship of Islamic State. They see this strategy and they are convinced America is fighting to lose. Why should they go down with it?
Islamic State is a challenging foe. To defeat it, the US must be willing to confront Islamism. And it must be willing to fight to win. In the absence of such determination, it will fight and lose, in the region and at home, with no allies at its side.