“Counterterrorism Campaign”: Is Obama Still Underestimating ISIS?

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Since before he took office, President Obama has been careful about using the word “terrorism” to describe America’s enemies. From the beginning, this was a clear effort to paint a contrast between him and George W. Bush. Later, this avoidance was part of his overanxious need to make sure we didn’t offend any Muslims around the world. In his speech on ISIS (or ISIL, as he insists on calling them), though, he threw that caution to the wind. He dubbed ISIS as terrorists again and again, drawing a clear distinction between them and actual sovereign states. While that distinction is useful, Obama’s emphasis makes me wonder if he isn’t STILL underestimating the threat. He’s taken back his use of the term “JV team,” but he’s still talking in a way that presents them in the same fashion.

This has a couple of undesirable consequences. One, it assures the American people – wrongly – that this is something the military can handle without even getting its hands dirty. Yeah, it’s going to cost a few billion dollars in bombs, but we’re not going to have to worry about troops coming home in flag-draped coffins. Easy-peasy, nothing to it. Don’t get me wrong; American military strength is unmatched by any force in the history of the man-made world, but that doesn’t mean we can defeat enemies from behind a computer screen. We’ve seen on several occasions what happens when we enter a war with our hands tied behind our backs.

The other consequence of presenting ISIS as al Qaeda, part II is that is plainly mischaracterizes their own stated goals and actions. If the full extent of the group’s efforts could be summed up by the beheading of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, calling them mere terrorists would be right on the money. But that’s to ignore the wide swath of military ground they’ve conquered in the last couple of years. Take a look at the map below. The part in red is the territory under full ISIS control as of September, 2014. Does that look like the work of a terrorist cell?

 

ISIS control

ISIS may never have a seat at the UN, but that hardly means anything in this context. No one but the most brain-damaged liberals (although, admittedly, they do exist) is suggesting that we start carving out a homeland for ISIS. But that doesn’t change the fact that their goals are far larger than the simple act of “terrorizing.” They have stated implicitly and explicitly that they want to control the entirety of the Muslim Middle East, establishing a dynastic caliphate in the name of their extremist version of Islam. Somehow, in the face of that kind of ambition, relying on a term like “counter-terrorism” seems a bit small.

It would be one thing if Obama’s use of these terms was strictly a psychological ploy. It would be one thing if his way of characterizing ISIS was meant only as a way of putting American minds at ease. But unfortunately, it is coloring the entirety of his military response. Unless we admit that these “terrorists” are growing exponentially stronger by the month, we’re going to find out just how ambitious their goals really are.