|Rise of the Islamic State -- A retrospective
By Mark Alexander
In the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton recorded the First Law of Motion in his foundational work, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, as translated: "When viewed in an inertial reference frame, an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force."
Indeed, that law can be applied metaphorically to the objects of domestic and foreign policy, where actions also have consequences.
Last marked the anniversary eve of the September 11, 2001 attack on our nation by al-Qaida, formerly the dominant asymmetric threat representing Jihadistan, that borderless nation of Islamic extremists that constitutes Muslim terrorist groups around the world.
It is no small irony that Obama chose this date for an address to the nation about the latest iteration of this asymmetric threat, a murderous legion of cutthroats, which calls itself the Islamic State. Of course, his remarks were predicated on political calculus for the 2014 midterm election, and his desperate effort to retain his Democratic Party majority in the Senate.
Obama had hoped he could get through the upcoming election on the deception that his foreign policy was successful. After all, he got through is 2012 re-election bid on that same deception. But alas for him, it's not to be.
After major meltdowns under Obama in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, ad infinitum, and major expenditures of blood and treasure in Iraq, the latter has been overwhelmed by the metastasizing jihadist heir apparent of al-Qaida, properly know as the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL).
Unlike al-Qaida, which was a terrorist network, ISIL is building a terrorist state, and plans to expand it throughout the Levant -- and globally. (Note that al-Qaida never had a flag.)
ISIL is headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims to be a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad. His objective is to establish a caliphate over the Levant -- a region historically including Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and parts of Mesopotamia (Iraq), Turkey and Egypt. ISIL presents a clear and present danger to the U.S. and other Western nations, and that threat is arguably worse than al-Qaida.
According to Mike Rogers (R-MI), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, "I've never quite seen it this bad. ... They are one plane ticket away from U.S. shores."
So how did it become this bad?
Let's take a trip down memory lane.
For starters, the planet's most violent terrorists currently are, and have been for decades, Islamist adherents. Unfortunately, both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama pandered to politically correct fantasies that this threat was something less than what George W. Bush rightfully called a "war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation."
Notably, Bill Clinton, who with co-president Hillary made all manner of overtures pandering to Muslims in the U.S. and around the world, passed on opportunities to kill Sheik Osama bin Laden, preferring instead to "bring him to justice" in the federal courts for his murderous masterminding of U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, among other infractions.
Michael Scheuer, former CIA chief of the team responsible for tracking down Osama, confirmed with great contempt that SpecOps had not one, but two opportunities to kill OBL before 9/11. With bin Laden literally in their sights, however, Clinton pulled the plug twice on pulling the trigger. Consequently, he allowed a well-organized terrorist cell of OBL's jihadis to settle into American suburbs and set up the 9/11 attack.
In a 1999 speech to graduates of the Citadel, then-presidential candidate George W. Bush said, "In the late 1930s, as Britain refused to adapt to the new realities of war, Winston Churchill observed, 'The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences. ... Our military and our nation are entering another period of consequences -- a time of rapid change and momentous choices."
Given that Clinton had refused to open FBI case files on suspicious activities of foreign Muslims in the U.S., Bush had no warning of the threat that would surface eight months after he took office.
After the 9/11 jihadi attack, Bush's resolve was clear and steadfast. In his 2002 State of the Union address, he warned the world about Iraq, Iran and North Korea: "States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. ... The price of indifference would be catastrophic." For this clear-eyed assessment, Bush was roundly ridiculed in the media and among the Left elite.
On 19 March 2007, the fourth anniversary of the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Bush called out his critics: "It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home. That may be satisfying in the short run, but I believe the consequences for American security would be devastating. If American forces were to step back from Baghdad before it is more secure, a contagion of violence could spill out across the entire country. In time, this violence could engulf the region. The terrorists could emerge from the chaos with a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they had in Afghanistan, which they used to plan the attacks of September the 11th, 2001. For the safety of the American people, we cannot allow this to happen."
In July of that year, after ordering a surge of U.S. troops, he offered critics of the war (chief among them then-Sen. Barack Obama) this prophetic warning: "I know some in Washington would like us to start leaving Iraq now. To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we're ready would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States. It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al-Qaida. It would mean that we'd be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we allowed the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous."
In Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign against Obama, McCain was asked about possibly having a military presence in Iraq in 50 years. In response, he said, "Make it a hundred." The Left, of course, reflexively pilloried him, but he was correct; this was the Bush administration's long-war strategy via an agreement with the Iraqi government. As I outlined in a 2005 national security estimate on Iraq, "One closely guarded objective in securing a free Iraq is to establish a forward-deployed presence in the Middle East -- a presence that would certainly include personnel but whose primary component would be massive military-equipment depots that could be tapped for future rapid-deployment military operations in the region."
But Obama was elected on a largely Democrat-manufactured economic crisis of confidence, as well as his promise to "end the war in Iraq" -- not by winning it, but by abandoning it.
In 2011 he insisted Iraq was in good shape: "Indeed, everything Americans have done in Iraq, all the fighting, all the dying, the bleeding, the building and the training and the partnering, all of it has led to this moment of success. ... We're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq."
His vice president, Joe Biden, went so far as to claim Iraq was "one of the great achievements of this administration."
But Obama's refusal to establish a status of forces agreement to secure our hard-won gains in Iraq and the region set the stage for ISIL's ascendance -- and necessitating that Obama resurrect the War on Terror.
In the dust of our Middle East retreat, and amid a plethora of his cascading domestic policy failures, Obama won re-election in 2012, largely via this campaign mantra: "Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq. I did." And as Stephen Hayes summarized in The Weekly Standard, Obama justified that retreat by proclaiming, "Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat ... Al Qaeda has been decimated. ... Al Qaeda is on the run. ... We have gone after the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11 and decimated al Qaeda. ... Al Qaeda is on its heels."
But Obama clearly knew that his "al-Qaida on the run" narrative was false. This was made clear by the 9/11 Benghazi attack and subsequent talking points deception just weeks ahead of the 2012 election.
He also knew that a far more lethal form of Islamist extremism, ISIL, had emerged in Syria and was spilling over into the vacuum we left in Iraq. Indeed, according to our sources, the Director of Central Intelligence, James Clapper, and the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, both warned Obama about the global ISIL threat.
Those warnings notwithstanding, in January of this year Obama characterized ISIL as "a JV team." He is now trying to disavow that assessment, claiming last week, "No, no no, keep, keep, keep in mind that I wasn't specifically referring to ISIL. I said that regionally there were a whole series of organizations..." That addition to his "BIG Lie" folder earned Obama four Pinocchios from the liberal Washington Post, which noted, "the interviewer was certainly asking about ISIL when Obama answered with his JV remarks."
It also earned him a rebuke from the parents of Navy SEAL Aaron Vaughn, who was killed in Afghanistan. They scolded Obama: "You, sir, are the JV team."
Of course, Team Obama's water boy, John Kerry, was the architect of Obama's last plan to "manage" ISIL. That plan called for a partnership with the planet's most notorious state sponsor of terrorism -- Iran, an emerging nuclear power -- to "collaboratively de-escalate the ongoing crisis in Iraq."
That collaboration is not going so well.
Two weeks ago, given his incessant 2012 campaign chant, "I ended the war in Iraq," Obama was asked, "Do you have any second thought about pulling all the ground troops out of Iraq?" His answer: "You know what I just find interesting is, uh, the degree to which this, this, issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision..."
Now that the consequences of our retreat from Iraq are clear, after fumbling around in search of a strategy to "manage this problem," Obama finally declared, "We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We're going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we're going to defeat them. ... I just want the American people to understand the nature of the threat and how we're going to deal with it."
And not a minute too soon.
Obama's Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared: "ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded has any group we have seen. They are beyond just a terrorist group. … This is beyond anything that we have seen so we must prepare for, for everything. ... I think the evidence is pretty clear. Yes they are in imminent threat to every interest we have whether in Iraq or anywhere else. ... They are ... something that we've never seen before, they are better organized, they are better funded, they're more capability, there are better structured."
And Martin Dempsey, Obama's Joint Chiefs Chairman, added, "This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated. Question: Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no."
Matt Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, concludes, "ISIL threatens to outpace al-Qaida as the dominant voice of influence in the global extremist movement. ... ISIL has the potential to use its safe haven to plan and coordinate attacks in Europe and in the United States."
On that note, Hagel said, "We are aware of more than 100 U.S. citizens who have U.S. passports who are fighting in the Middle East with ISIL forces. There may be more -- we don't know."
It is known, however, that some of those Americans fighting for ISIL held jobs in the U.S. that gave them access to do great harm, such as airline baggage handlers. And for every jihadi who joined the front in Syria, thousands of sympathizers are still in American suburbs. One mosque in Boston with ties to ISIL produced six jihadis, including Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombers.
Last week, Obama's 2012 presidential opponent, Mitt Romney, offered this assessment of Obama's foreign policy: "[Obama] asserts that we must move to 'a new order that's based on a different set of principles, that's based on a sense of common humanity.' The old order, he is saying, where America's disproportionate strength holds tyrants in check and preserves the sovereignty of nations, is to be replaced. 'Things are much less dangerous now than they were 20 years ago, 25 years ago or 30 years ago,' Obama insists. ... The history of the 20th century teaches that power-hungry tyrants ultimately feast on the appeasers."
So what's Obama's strategy now?
"If we are joined by the international community," he meekly insists, "we can continue to shrink ISIL's sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem."
George Bush had a coalition of 37 nations when we went into Iraq. Few nations want to back Obama's U.S. anywhere around the world.
On September 10, 2012, a year ago today, Obama vigorously declined any Middle Eastern intervention: "The idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular. After all, I've spent four-and-a-half years working to end wars, not to start them." Indeed, Obama "leads from behind," shaping his foreign policy on pop opinion polls.
But great presidents lead public opinion rather than follow it. As Ronald Reagan said, "A leader, once convinced a particular course of action is the right one, must have the determination to stick with it and be undaunted when the going gets rough."
In the end, Newton's first law of physics applies to both action and inaction. But the law of physics that should give all Americans heartburn now is theoretical physicist Albert Einstein's mass-energy equivalence formula, E=MC2, and the conversion of nuclear potential energy.
Osama bin Laden's goal was "American Hiroshima," detonating one or more fissile weapons in a large East Coast urban center.
Osama is gone, but ISIL is thriving.
Mark Alexander is the executive editor of the Patriot Post.