Obama vs. Daesh/ISIL: Freedom is more powerful than Fear & We Refuse to take the Bait

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Obama addressed the nation on Sunday night, in an attempt to calm the public mood after the San Bernardino killers were tied to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) — though the connection seems to spring merely from common radicalism and murderousness rather than any organizational tie.

Obama stood firm against the temptation to use the shootings at a facility to aid the challenged as a pretext for war abroad.

One of Obama’s main points is that radical Muslim terrorist groups have had to evolve since September 11, since governments and industry have put in new safeguards that make big operations against significant infrastructural or security more difficult.

As a result, such groups and individuals are now hitting “soft targets” to spread fear and panic. Whereas the 9/11 operation killed nearly 3,000 Americans and deeply harmed the travel industry, taking about 1% off economic growth for one year, more recent instances of Daesh or al-Qaeda violence in the US look more like lone wolf mass shootings than like guerrilla operations capable of doing any significant economic harm. Security procedures have made it much more difficult to inflict significant harm. Forestalling lone wolf attacks by persons unconnected to the terrorist group except as consumers of propaganda is almost impossible. But in turn, such attacks don’t do significant or lasting damage to the national economy, though of course they are traumatizing and a tragedy for the direct victims.

Obama’s advice to the American public is to tough out these soft target attacks by sticking to our values and preserving our liberty, and by not being baited into big foreign military quagmires.

Obama’s message is entirely plausible as a response. After all, the Right wing in the US has for decades has insisted that the right response to hundreds of mass shootings is to preserve their peculiar interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. Yet the same American Right, in the face of a small number of radical Muslim mass shootings, wants us to dump overboard the first, fourth and eighth amendments and the rights and liberties they guarantee us.

Obama also warned against the corrosive influence of Islamophobia, and of establishing religious tests for refugees and for other purposes.

Obama went beyond urging the public to just be steadfast in their commitment to liberty. He suggested a 4-point plan to roll up Daesh.

1. Bombing Daesh in Syria and Iraq

2. arming and training Syrian and Iraqi troops to fight Daesh

3. disruption of Daesh terrorism in West through intelligence work

4. negotiating the Syrian civil war to an end

What Obama did not say is that these various measures aren’t all that effective and will only have an impact over several years. Bombing a territory from the air with no ground force to take advantage of it is about as close to useless and a military tactic can get. US training programs have not been effective. Daesh’s kind of terrorism is hard to disrupt, since they attempt to appeal to lone wolves rather than running direct agents. As for peace in Syria, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Whether this message of patience and steadfastness will be enough to assuage anxieties is not clear. And more important than anxieties are the war lobbies, fueled by campaign cash to hawks in Congress, which demand really big wars that are good for their business.


Related video:

CNN: “President Obama: ‘Freedom is more powerful than fear”

27 Responses

  1. Since USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, how many Mujahidden organizations were created by the USA? How many terrorist organizations created and supported by the US & UK? For the last 50 years, America is bombing one or the other country somewhere in the world. America is constantly at war. Is it destroying or creating more enemies?

    Looks like America is becoming more unsafe & paranoid.

    • Obama is disingenuous:

      He and Nato have been supplying arms for the overthrow of Assad – clearly.
      Why doesn’t he close the border between Turkey and Syria and stop supplying ISIS with troops and equipment?
      Why doesn’t he align with Russia?
      Why doesn’t he prevent Saudi Arabia from funding ISIS?
      Why doesn’t he tell Israel and Jordan to stop supporting ISIS.

      Obama wanted to bomb Syria a year and a half ago, but public opinion in Britain and the US prevented him. Now, He, Nato and ISIS are working together to achieve their goals.

  2. “We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us…”

    Utterly disingenuous bullsh*t. The only thing “we’ll” be destroying is our Constitution. And, oh yes, the planet’s ecosystem.

    While it may be possible to destroy Daesh as an organization, the beliefs and ideas from which it has sprung will continue to thrive.

    Best would be to move forward to a sustainable energy economy and eliminate the need for US meddling in the MIddle East (and beyond). Then provide the Israelis with an incentive to end the occupation and theft of Palestinian land and resources, as in no more US $$$$$$ until they work it out.

    The present course of US foreign “policy” is the very definition of insanity and it appears Mr. Obama is unwilling or unable to change it.

    Also, a country can make guns more difficult to obtain, but until that country can act in a way that will end the desire of individuals to commit violence, those people will find a way to do it.

    • The problem is not President Obama. 70% of Americans favored the invasion of Iraq in 2003. A brand new poll shows 70% of Americans now favor sending ground troops to fight ISIS. Right wing politicians , especially neocons, are relentless in pushing the war mentality and far too many in the US public buy their message. Obama is way out ahead of the American public and has to throw a sop about being tough. This is the political REALITY.

      • So POLLS are the new “political reality”;
        Thankyou for that thunderbolt.
        When potus is “…way out ahead…” it will be when war is ended, diplomacy transparent and perps such as shrub, cheney, et al are prosecuted.

        Stop the Illegal and Immoral Wars!

      • Mr. Page: the problem is absolutely Mr. Obama as he is perceived to be at the helm of American foreign policy. But I’ll allow that it’s not his problem alone.

        You believe yourself “realistic”, but you overlook Obama’s actual words, which are clearly a deliberate lie and will only be believed by the most gullible citizens, or those most in denial about the ability of the US government to eradicate people’s beliefs.

        I’m willing to bet President Obama is very much looking forward to the end of his term.

        • One definition of politics is “the art of the possible.” Try actually studying foreign policy. Especially instructive is FDR’s foreign policy in the second half of the 1930’s. Remember that FDR had a majority in both houses of Congress and recognized the danger of Hitler and Japan and remember that the first selective service act barely passed and then was renewed by 1 vote in the House. I have actually worked in the political sphere before and it doesn’t matter much what you want, what matters is what you can get done. Sigh, ideologues.

    • Steve, Obama, with the decisive help of Rand Paul has made progress against infringement of our Constitution.

      We are no longer dependent on Middle Eastern oil.

      We are gradually moving in the direction of petroleum-free power generation. It is not fast enough but we’re going to get up a head of steam there.

      These gains will be consolidated only if a Democrat is elected. Nothing will be done under one of “W’s” clones.

      You’re flailing about here. To make a contribution you have to choose a major issue, maybe two, join the relevant movements, keep the focus relatively narrow and work at it selflessly and relentlessly. Personal sacrifice is what it’s about.

      Juan is paying the price year in and year out. So are Norman Finkelstein, Phil Weiss and thousands of others.

      • Mr. Watson: without intending any personal disrespect, I would submit you have no clue when you say, with a supposedly straight face, that Obama (with Rand Paul, no less) has made progress against infringement of our Constitution.

        But if you will cite examples, I might have to reconsider.

  3. I would only add that Mr. Obama did not mention U.S. policies and actions that incite resentment in predominantly Muslim nations, much less propose any change to such actions. Our unqualified support for the dispossession and oppression of Palestinians by Israel is one example of such U.S. policies.

    • Exactly. That is the tap root of the instability in the region. The greatest of all American interests lies in convincing Zionist Israel to settle at the green line with swaps. We need the help of the French. Will its Resolution even be filed in the UNSC? Will we veto it? If not, will the EU and individual great nations of the West sanction Israel until she complies? It’s not complex, but it will take courage.

  4. Is it possible that Daesh/ISIS and this widespread civic lawlessness are symptoms of an era of multipolar or, as Orwell proposed, tripolar distribution of global power and influence rising up against the unipolar aspirations of the US and largely Christian West, with what Bush termed the axis of evil the principal front line? There are American, British, French, UAE, Jordanian, Australian, Iraqi, Syrian. Iranian and Russian military aircraft, backup, manufacturing, and intelligence resources currently involved in the area, not to mention unprecedented domestic security activities. When one ponders the level and incalculable cost of resources currently engaged in this struggle, resources which might be flowing towards the betterment of human life, it seems scarcely surprising we find anarchy and ‘terrorism’ rife in our societies. As for Obama’s sticking to our values and preserving our liberty, some might see the relentless US/Western effort to export those values, a purpose ever an ingredient of empire building activity, the real threat to fast fading liberties. In a tripolar world, the leaders could come together, if only temporarily, to deal with common threats, in fact they would be better equipped to forestall them altogether.

  5. Alas while Obama isn’t willing to take the bait his political opponents, eager for a domestic advantage in an election year are jabbing the hook into their own mouths sans bait.

  6. As a daily reader and supporter of your work I am constantly impressed with your views and knowledge that provides context for these issues. While I agree with much of what you say and the comments concerning our own culpability for many of these problems, I can’t get past the problem of Wahhabism. Here is an ideology that even in its less radical forms promotes hate for others and is promoted worldwide through Saudi sponsors. It seems (I admit I have no research) that the spread of AQ, Taliban, ISIS, Boco Haram, etc. is closely associated with Saudi promotion of Wahhabi ideology through its Madrasas. While the less radical elements of this ideology have denounced terrorism it seems the interpretations and belief at the core lead to our current situation when combined with issues such as lack of opportunity, oppression, etc. I have similar concerns with Christian Nationalist ideologies. I keep wondering if it is possible to deal with these issues without directly confronting Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism?

    • Please read the chapter on Wahhabism in my *Engaging the Muslim World.* The 20 million Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia are not terrorists. The Salafis in Egypt are not terrorists. Narrow-minded maybe, though not all. Terrorism is a commitment to violence that these movements often lack or even oppose.

      • Yes I understand that Salafis and most Wahhabi are not terrorists but the ideology of “the other is evil” is a short distance form “the other must be destroyed”. And even those who oppose the violence understand the reasoning behind it.

  7. How can anything, at least as far as foreign and military policy, that Obama says be believed when it has been amply demonstrated in academic studies that the U.S. is a plutocracy, ruled by private industries and Crassus-like individuals, and as such has frequently no insentives (quite the contrary) to truly inform its citizens regarding its true geopolitical aims and policies, their true effects and costs (in other words, the real human, sociopolitical, and environmental logic and economy of ongoing imperialism)?

    • Most citizens don’t want to take the time or trouble to learn. Despite the fact that with the internet people can find the answer to any question within seconds, I think the populace is probably as uninformed as ever. When I read histories of the US 100 and 150 years ago, (e.g., 10,000 people and up turned out for each Lincoln–Douglas debate when the population was much smaller) I think the average citizen then was actually more informed than they are now, because they cared more. Thus, right wing propaganda, especially when propounded by media sources like Fox News, is easier to propagate because people want their information spoon fed and don’t want to bother to learn things for themselves. So, while the plutocracy is a huge problem, so is the intellectual laziness of the American people.

  8. I read antiwar.com news aggregation, and every day I can to the site, and see a similar Paris or San Bernadino event happen in Iraq, Syria, Libya, or Yemen.

    Every day.

  9. And Obama is supposedly the “Good Cop”?

    No flying, no weapons all without due process. And no warning.

    The Middle East is boiling and the US MIlitary will be adding fire. Doesn’t sound like a good recipe for all.

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