Sadly for the president and the country he leads, his own over-eagerness to disengage from global responsibilities and to back away from military commitments has stimulated just the sort of forces he describes as retrograde.
In his Martha's Vineyard remarks, the president said, "Let's be clear about ISIL" and itemized some of its depredations including torture, rape and slavery. He might have added crucifixions and beheadings. He might also have admitted that despite his boasts that "core al-Qaida" has been decimated, ISIL is al-Qaida reborn.
Yet, aside from an air campaign (which is good as far it goes), the president again seems ready to permit a benevolent history to manage events. "Governments and peoples across the Middle East" will unite to "extract this cancer," he predicted.
That has never been true. When have the nations of the Middle East ever joined forces against an evil government or movement? Even the Europeans proved utterly feckless at intervening in the Bosnian genocide. Only with American leadership did the killing come to an end.
The peace of the post-World War II world was kept, to the degree it was, by American arms and American world leadership. Obama's abandonment of an American role in Iraq left the space into which ISIL has moved. Only American leadership and engagement can defeat ISIL. But that will require vigorous presidential leadership, not wan invocations of history's trajectory.
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