The American people have learned that once again, they were not told the truth. We were told that by the fall of 2012, Al Qaeda was purportedly on the run, finished off by a diplomacy that exchanged bullets for talking points, kinetic warfare for bridge-building conciliation. None of it was true. These talking points masked the reality that the vacuum created by America’s withdrawal was quickly being filled by resurgent Islamists.
Now, it seems, modernity is on the run, being terrorized by adherents to a violent ideology buried in the sands of centuries past. The Islamic State (ISIS) is thriving and growing in the newest episode of the perpetual clash of civilizations.
In retrospect and in contrast, our former Iraqi nemesis, Al Qaeda in Iraq, seems tame. It never inflicted this kind of senseless carnage or provoked such international outrage. No world leader ever cut short a vacation to address the violence in Iraq.
After Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was unceremoniously dispatched by a drone strike, Sunni leaders in the Anbar province, strengthened by the victories won by American troops, rose up against Al Qaeda. The Anbar province awoke, and Al-Qaeda in Iraq was largely eliminated as an existential threat to the country and American interests. After six years of civil war and sectarian strife, Iraq was stable, its borders intact.
This was the Iraq President Obama inherited. That Iraq no longer exists. In its place is a country halved and convulsed by the rapid conquest of ISIS. The border region between Syria and Iraq has been replaced by the Islamic caliphate, the Islamic State, where the beheadings of Christian children and American journalists are de rigueur.
In reaction to these developments, President Obama solemnly intones that such barbarism has no place in this century. The Islamic State terrorists agree, to a point. They aim to recreate a political entity not seen since the first millennium. Secretary of State Kerry offered the same modernist scolding as Vladimir Putin sent his special forces to annex Crimea and Eastern Ukraine without firing a shot. We saw what American weakness produced in Europe. What will it produce in regard to ISIS?
What is clear is that ISIS is not Al Qaeda. Where Al Qaeda sought hidden training camps, ISIS seeks a caliphate. Where Al Qaeda forsook phones and email for messengers with handwritten notes, ISIS utilizes YouTube. ISIS, by its public exploits, thus offers a better target than Al Qaeda did, if only the world would shoot. Yet the world holds its collective trigger finger.