The focal battlefield for President Obama's war on terrorists is, of all places, Iraq. In 2011, as he oversaw the withdrawal of U.S. forces, Obama touted Iraq's stability.
Obama's Iraq war may extend into Syria, the sad land of Bashar Assad's dictatorship. Once upon a time, Obama drew a "red line" and promised to punish Assad if his regime used chemical weapons against civilians. Assad used nerve gas, but he suffered no punishment. Hitting terrorist targets in Syria means Obama's war is a regional war on terror, a RWOT. In 2009 Obama dumped the term Global War on Terror in favor of "overseas contingency." Call it what you will, but an RWOT/Re-WOT has returned.
Note: The president says this war against the Islamic State and its caliphate will last three years ... maybe.
I will guarantee that Obama is, once again, wrong. Fighting and defeating the Islamic State will take more than three years, if the president means defeating its source so that war can actually recede. The Islamic State is an al-Qaida branch, a sophisticated incarnation led by violent men schooled on Osama bin Laden's mistakes.
In the wake of 9/11 I wrote that America's struggle with violent Islamist extremists could last two to three decades. Defeating al-Qaida entailed forwarding stable political and economic change throughout the Arab Muslim Middle East. That is a long-term task involving sustained military and law enforcement efforts as well as economic and diplomatic efforts. A terrible yin-yang afflicted the region. Disenfranchised populations faced the choice between dictators and terrorists, and that is no choice.
Three decades was actually an optimistic assessment, but the yin-yang was essential to al-Qaida's strategy. Al-Qaida's dark genius was connecting the Muslim world's angry, humiliated and isolated young men with a utopian fantasy superficially explaining 800 years of Muslim decline. Al-Qaida promised to redress that decline via mass homicide. At some point, al-Qaida would re-establish a global caliphate, a political and religious utopia. By declaring a caliphate, the Islamic State one-upped bin Laden and re-emphasized their movement's global goals.
Obama's situation is brutally ironic for a member of the professoriate who hawked his geo-strategic vision and leadership as the epitome of "smart diplomacy."
This week, U.S. media are suddenly rife with irony-rich samplings of President Obama's self-flattering claim that after a decade "the tide of war is receding." Obama deserves every lick. He and his bodyguard of media devotees opportunistically demonized George W. Bush, who, after 9/11, accepted the complex challenge of defeating al-Qaida.
Riffs on Obama's "receding" claim received marquee billing in at least two State of the Union speeches. His Jan. 5, 2012 national security briefing is perhaps the most unfortunate example of substituting rhetoric for geo-strategy. "Optics" -- a hip word for what uptight Victorians called "appearances" -- drive Obama's White House, and the briefing included perfect human props: uniformed senior military officers. Obama thanked American servicemen and women for their "extraordinary service." Because of their effort, "we've ended our war in Iraq." He also claimed "we've decimated al-Qaida's leadership. ... Now, we're turning the page on a decade of war. ... Even as our troops continue to fight in Afghanistan, the tide of war is receding."
Heady stuff, declaring victory and peace. George W. Bush was and still is excoriated for showing up on an aircraft carrier with a "Mission Accomplished" banner and claiming that major combat operations had ended. The Bush administration argued that the banner referred to the carrier's operational mission. Whatever the case, Bush made a political mistake.
The Democratic Party platform of 2012 included the phrase: "Under the leadership of President Obama and the Democratic Party, the tide of war is now receding, and America is looking ahead to a new future."
That confirms the obvious: "receding war" was a central Obama re-election campaign theme. Unfortunately, the terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate challenged that theme, as well as the claim that al-Qaida had been decimated. If you still wonder why the Obama administration blamed the attack on a video made by a California crank, you need wonder no more.