One of the most jarring disconnects on display in President Obama's final State of the Union is address is the president's adamant refusal to acknowledge the nature of the threat from terrorism and militant Islam. “As we focus on destroying ISIL,” he said, “over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.”
Strangely, despite the avowals of militants in the Middle East, the president rejects the idea that militant Islamic terrorism poses an existential threat for us. He did not mention the massacre in San Bernardino or the one in Paris. You would not have guessed from the speech that the Iranian Navy had just seized two U.S. ships or that or that fifty-one people had been in suicide attacks in Bagdad and Iraq.
Nor did he acknowledge that the day before the speech ISIS suicide bombers killed ten in Istanbul. Two days after the address two people were killed and twenty-three injured in yet another ISIS attack near a Starbucks in Jakarta. What does it take to be an existential threat? The Wall Street Journal comments:
It isn’t clear what Mr. Obama means by “World War III,” but mass-casualty attacks against Western targets on four continents in the space of a few months probably sounds global to the victims. The terrorist threat hasn’t seemed so wide and so grave since the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. Counter-terrorist experts are warning that even November’s massacre was only a “dress-rehearsal” for the main event.
“We are moving towards a European 9/11,” one French official recently told AFP. “Simultaneous attacks on the same day in several countries, several places. A very coordinated thing. We know they are working on this.”
It would be foolish to rule out a similar attack in the U.S., which makes Mr. Obama’s terror sangfroid wrong-headed and politically misjudged. This is the same President whose every pronouncement on terrorism in recent years has been embarrassed by subsequent events, from ISIS as the “jayvee team” to Yemen as a model for counterterrorism to the war in Iraq is over.
The President sometimes qualifies his assurances by insisting that ISIS poses no “existential” threat to the U.S. If he defines this as a global nuclear war, he’s right. But ISIS would settle for WMD of any kind—from the chemical weapons Bashar Assad hasn’t given up to something from Kim Jong Un’s nuclear arsenal. The threat was certainly existential to the Canadian citizen who perished Thursday in Jakarta, simply for being near a Starbucks, or Nohemi Gonzalez, the 23-year-old CalState student gunned down in Paris during her semester abroad.
Getting your morning caffeine fix at Starbucks, or taking a beach holiday, or sitting in a Paris cafe, or visiting historic tourist attractions in Istanbul are hallmarks of normal life in Western societies. If “existential” also means our way of life and expectations for it, then by any measure the ISIS threat is existential.
I am officially nominating President Obama for a Jim Kenney Award.