President Obama's decision to commit American forces to contain and defeat the Ebola virus before it breaks out to devastate an entire continent and perhaps others is a good and necessary decision and conservatives and Republicans ought to support it. Clearly experts have weighed in and warned him of the risks, and he has no preconceived notions about what he should and shouldn't do about this new and rapidly expanding threat. If anything, George W. Bush's enduring legacy of aid to Africa might be an additional motivation to President Obama, a source of envy and a spur to action. Whatever the reason, it is a good decision, and Congress should provide the funds used in effort from the Department of Defense via a supplemental appropriation that also addresses the additional costs being incurred in the slow ramp up to contain IS. If the Speaker and Majority Leader McCarthy were on their game, they'd have a supplemental appropriation bill heading to the Senate today, one that focuses on correcting the terrible cuts to the Petnagon brought about by the last few years of political stalemate.
Now I am obliged to again push The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright on you and to ask you to push it to your still-in-the-dark-about-Islamist-ideology friends. Recall that Wright is a man of the left, the New Yorker's national correspondent, and that The Looming Tower won the Pulitzer. This book details the return of the takfiris to modern Islamist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, in the second half of the 20th century right through the attack on America on 9/11. It is a genealogy of al Qaeda --and thus partially of IS-- and though it does not chart the further spread of this strain of Islamist virus to Somalia, Nigeria, Libya, Egypt and now western Iraq and Syria in the past 13 years, the nature of the ideology now raging through Iraq and Syria is fully explicated and made impossible-to-misunderstand, which is exactly why President Obama and his inner circle need so desperately to read it.
When President Obama declared last week that "ISIL is not Islamic," the reactions were fast and furious by people with even passing knowledge of the Islamist ideology. Imagine President Obama saying "Genus Ebolavirus is different from other strains in the the Filoviridae family of viruses, and is in fact not an acute viral illness." The world would be stunned and then would set to wondering who exactly was handing the president his copy and whether he had any serious advisors around him at all.
The same sort of reaction is due the president's declaration that "ISIL is not Islamic," and the same sort of wonder and worry rightly followed the president's clueless announcement just as it would a risible statement on the nature of Ebola. Many have remarked that George W. Bush went to great lengths to declare that "We are not at war with Islam" over and over, and W was right to do so because we are not, and President Obama would be right to do so as well. But that declaration is a very different thing from denying the reality of the takfiri strain of Islam, its numbers and its potential for viral growth --a growth we see all too clearly in Iraq and Syria and indeed around the globe.
If the present doesn't understand what IS is, how in the world can he hope to contain much less destroy it?
In yesterday's interview with me --audio and transcript here-- Charles Krauthammer bluntly declared that the president " is clearly a narcissist" who "sees himself in very world historical terms, which means A) because he’s an amateur, he doesn’t know very much, and B) because he’s a narcissist, he doesn’t listen."
Krauthammer added "he talks like the emperor, Napoleon," and that "[t]here’s not anyone of independent stature around him," that he is "is impervious to outside advice."
"The man lives in a cocoon surrounded by sycophants," concluded Krauthammer, whose book "Things That Matter" just passed the million books sold mark, and who is clearly among the most influential voices in America right now, and not just on the right though the president no doubt would like to dismiss him as such.
Someone broke through the cocoon on the issue of Ebola. Somehow the president figured out that America's response had to be instantaneous and adequate to the task of containing the virus. He didn't count the cost and he didn't worry about how his actions would be judged by history. He acted.
Now he needs to do the same thing vis-a-vis IS, and people across the political spectrum are pushing him to do so. Last week, retired Army General and CIA Director David Petraeus and retired CentCom Commander and Marine General James Mattis --perhaps the two greatest war fighters of the past decade-- both urged the president to do more faster. Even President Bush who has strictly observed a "no criticism of my successor" policy hinted in a Q-and-A at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland that a vacuum had developed that we needed to remedy quickly, as close as he could come to pushing the president to focus and focus immediately on the viral threat of takfiri radicalism within Islam.
Instead of coherence and action we get another spectacle of incompetence, with State Department "spokesperson" Marie Harf declaring Monday that 'We are not going to cooperate' with Iran on IS, even as Secretary of State Kerry declared exactly the opposite on another continent.
This is just chaos, a breakdown in the response of the American government to the deadliest threat in the world right now, and that threat isn't Ebola, it is IS.
The only message the president is likely to hear on IS is the sound of a political earthquake on November 4, the crashing in on him of political reality via a massive turn-out of Senate and House Democrats. The election arrives at exactly the moment needs it to deliver a huge rebuke to the isolated, "self-involved," cocooning president. A message that says: You wanted the job, so do it.