Although Obama has tried to move captured terrorists into the domestic criminal justice system, to his credit, he never fully bought into this argument. Still, he cast terrorism as a manageable problem for the experts, not a civilizational struggle. Zeus-like, he personally went over his kill lists, selecting which enemies should be dispatched with a drone strike or, in the case of Osama bin Laden, the furies of SEAL Team 6.
When new threats emerged, the White House dismissed them with the whitewash that "core Al Qaeda" was "on the run." All pretenders to Al Qaeda's mantle were little more than a "jayvee" squad, as Obama put it. It's OK to slumber again was the message.
One jayvee squad -- the self-styled Islamic State formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS -- now controls the territorial equivalent of Britain and is one of the best-equipped and ideologically committed military forces in the Middle East. Everyday jihadis -- many with Western passports -- enlist in the struggle to create a global caliphate while the "Muslim street" from Turkey to Saudi Arabia follows the Islamic State like a sports team.
The Islamic State's atrocities are too numerous and too horrible to list here. It includes rape and slavery, religious cleansing, mass murder, public crucifixions and beheadings. Over the weekend, an Iraq official said that the Islamic State had killed at least 500 Iraqi Yazidis, burying some alive, including women and children. The group is only too happy to tweet about all of it.
Watch Vice TV's reports from Islamic State-controlled parts of Syria and you will quickly see how the word "criminal" is morally, logically and strategically inadequate. They indoctrinate children to become jihadists and suicide bombers. They vow to fly their black flag over the White House.
Pentagon officials told NBC's Jim Miklaszewski that they see the Islamic State as a "10- to 20-year challenge." I hope that's pessimistic. But it's simply realistic that the ideological agenda driving these jihadis will present a challenge for far longer than that.
No one in the West wants a generational struggle with jihadism any more than Israel wants perpetual war with Hamas in Gaza. The problem is the enemy always gets a vote. It just may be that the Middle East will become the West's Gaza. And, so far, nobody has a good answer for what to do about it.