The irony is almost poetic: We now have a deeply troubled and humbled Presidency the historical legacy of the incumbent of which will now rise or fall based on his success as a war President! That is if and when he ever really admits that he in fact is a war President. You can’t make up this stuff.
And as I have said before, when one takes the long view backward and forward, we have really only been focused on the tactics of war, the various terrorist “groups” and the compartmentalization of the battlefield, and insufficiently on the global strategy to defeat the ideology. This is what has been missing since the inception of this war, at least since 9-11 and arguably since 1979. This is World War IV–one threat, one war, many battles, global commitment. For Obama, this notion, this worldview is totally alien, for the facts on the ground don’t fit his narrative of anti-colonialism and the priority of American withdrawal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets it, as evidenced by his recent speech to the United Nations; Obama does not, and neither does the substantial majority of our intellectual class.
Why not? We refuse to deal directly with the threatening ideology because of the cultural relativism that has become embedded in our institutions. We don’t want to be accused of waging war on or even being critical of Islam. But the unwelcome fact and inconvenient truth is that it is in Islam itself that is embedded the ideology that must be reformed or defeated. This is the reformation that awaits and it is a deeply philosophical problem that is centuries old and that will require decades to resolve. After all, the Christian Reformation lasted over 150 years; the Islamic one is just beginning.
No one has understood this better than Pope Benedict XVI, who expressed it in no uncertain terms in his controversial Regensburg Lecture in 2006. Without getting deep into the philosophical weeds, in essence, the problem is the nature of Islam itself, which holds that God or Allah is pure will (sola voluntas), implying a Godhead whose power is not limited even by the foundational principle of noncontradiction, the principle that governs reason. Without that, there is no philosophy and science is impossible, which is a significant reason why Islamic societies did not participate in the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment. Once this is understood, one can understand that the ultimate threat comes not simply from a perversion of Islam, but from its core.
There are voices attempting to break through on this issue, with much difficulty. One is the persecuted Somali-born American activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who very courageously is defying death threats to explain the true nature of the issue. Recently, she had this to say: “The core idea of Islam is submission, specifically submission to the will of Allah…….the West has been exercising restraint in dealing with the metastasis of that demand for submission……..And we seem to be gearing up to go after the new brand name called “Islamic State”. But we have failed to challenge the underlying reality, the core idea, that makes Islam a threat”.
She is exactly right and we had better listen: military action is a necessary, but insufficient response to the problem. More importantly, so-called moderate Muslim leaders and the Islamic intellectual class had better listen to the implied call and need for reformation of a religious faith that went off track a long time ago.