06 December 2015

President Obama says the Islamic State wants two contradictory things

In his address to the nation this evening on the continuing threat of the Islamic State, President Barack Obama claimed the Islamic State wants three things from the West:
  1. "Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for."
  2. "We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria. That’s what groups like ISIL want. They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield."
  3. "We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want."
President Obama is right to say that we cannot achieve victory over the Islamic State by "tough talk" or by "abandoning our values," however one might define them. I do not think he is right, however, to say that the Islamic State wants us to give into fear.
Last March, Graeme Wood laid out what ISIS really wants in his article of the same name. Some were skeptical of his claims when his article was first published, but his claims are proving more and more true each day. Here is, in a summary fashion, what the Islamic State wants:
Now that it has taken Dabiq, the Islamic State awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. Western media frequently miss references to Dabiq in the Islamic State’s videos, and focus instead on lurid scenes of beheading. “Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive,” said a masked executioner in a November video, showing the severed head of Peter (Abdul Rahman) Kassig, the aid worker who’d been held captive for more than a year. During fighting in Iraq in December, after mujahideen (perhaps inaccurately) reported having seen American soldiers in battle, Islamic State Twitter accounts erupted in spasms of pleasure, like overenthusiastic hosts or hostesses upon the arrival of the first guests at a party.

The Prophetic narration that foretells the Dabiq battle refers to the enemy as Rome. Who “Rome” is, now that the pope has no army, remains a matter of debate. But Cerantonio makes a case that Rome meant the Eastern Roman empire, which had its capital in what is now Istanbul. We should think of Rome as the Republic of Turkey—the same republic that ended the last self-identified caliphate, 90 years ago. Other Islamic State sources suggest that Rome might mean any infidel army, and the Americans will do nicely.
If the Islamic State awaits our forces on the plains of Dabiq to hasten the coming of the apocalypse (which it does), it certainly does not want us to give in to fear, as President Obama claims.

Curiously, he notes that the Islamic State does, in fact, want us to "
be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria." This is true. How else could engage the Islamic State in battle on the plains of Dabiq if not through a ground war in Iraq?

Regarding his third claim, President Obama is also correct. The Islamic State claims - rightly or wrongly - to be the authentic expression of Islam as taught by Muhammad. As such, the Islamic State does want the West to engage in war against Islam as expressed in the Caliphate. In point of fact, the Islamic State believes the West is and has been at war with Islam for many years now.

Given these considerations, President Obama's second two claims contradict his first claim of what the Islamic State wants, yet he then calls upon the Congress of the United States of America to authorize greater military intervention against the Islamic State:

Finally, if Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists. For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets. I think it’s time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight.
Whether this is a veiled request for a declaration of war against the Islamic State or not, I do not know, but it would be foolish for the Congress to authorize such military force until the Commander in Chief, his administration, and his military advisers have a proper understanding of what the Islamic State really wants.

Earlier in his address, President Obama called on the Congress to enact stricter gun control measures:
...Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.
While I certainly do not wish to allow any terrorist easy access to arms, I can think of one argument against such a measure: the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The United States of America is a nation of laws and it must remain a nation of laws if it is to remain a republic.


  1. But how does one prove a terrorist guilty? By definition, he or she must be caught committing an act of terror, which includes murdering innocents. I understand what an incredibly fine line must be drawn so as not to forbid innocent people from exercising their lawful rights, but must we say, "Sorry, this person has to kill someone before we forbid him or her from buying a gun"?

    1. Let's not forget that the guns used in the San Bernardino attack were already illegal under California law.

      Let's also not forget that not everyone on the Do Not Fly list is there legitimately; some are on the list because they share the same name as terrorist and others even because of simple computer or human error.

      Let's also not forget that 72 employees of the Department of Homeland Security are presently on the list, which only shows the list is ineffective.

    2. I'll accept the system is flawed--who could deny it? I'll also accept that if someone wants to get a gun there are other ways of doing so than buying one, including taking them from law abiding citizens who purchased them legally. What President Obama is trying to do is to keep terrorists from legally buying guns for themselves. Make sure they have to break the law to get the firearms in the first place. I'm sure every member of the government, especially those members whose names are on the no-fly lists, would be happy to hear of a better way to do so. Thoughts?

    3. I think you're being naive towards long-range plans. History proves time and again that every restriction of freedom happens incrementally.

  2. Probably. So ... what do we do? On the one hand you have a totalitarian government forbidding anyone to possess firearms, and on the other you have a minimally restricted legal ability to buy weapons that, if in the hands of the mentally unstable or religiously fanatic, can--and in fact do--kill innocent people. (Just to be clear, by innocent I don't mean those who have never sinned, I mean bystanders, non-combatants, children.) I'm seriously asking, what can we do?

    1. I don't have the answer to that question, but the President's political solution to what is a moral question will prove insufficient. If someone wants to kill, he or she will find a way to so. People who cannot legally buy guns do not generally steal them; they buy them on the black market. And those who want to kill will find a way to do so. Just look at the number of people killed in the U.S.A. with baseball bats compared to those killed with guns.

      The incremental banning of anything to those who have not been found guilty can all too easily lead to a totalitarian state. The Founding Fathers left this warning to us.

  3. On a related subject ... I ran across this article today

    It seems in retrospect there were multiple warning signs with reference to the San Bernardino case. Monday Morning Quarterbacking is a favorite pastime of people who want to know how these terror attacks could happen, but there seems to be a rather obvious trail. "Innocent until proven guilty" is a part of American Jurisprudence that we must hold on to at all costs, however, does preponderance of evidence count for nothing?

    1. Of course a preponderance of evidence counts for something. When you have it, issue a search warrant, charge with a crime, and prosecute your case in a court of large.

      It's worth pointing out that drugs are illegal and still people manage to obtain them. Violating due process because a person's name happens to be on the Do Not Fly list - on which even 8-year-olds have mistakenly been placed - is not a good idea and bodes poorly for the future.