Ron Radosh

The Meaningless White House Conference on Extremism: Refusing to Name Who is Guilty

Has there ever been an American president as inept and clueless as Barack Obama? It was not so long ago that he said ISIL — as he calls ISIS — was nothing but a JV team, and that al-Qaeda was defeated and in retreat.

He responded to ISIS’s recent barbarities by arguing that the Crusades proved Christianity was once just as evil. No worries — they got over it. Strangely, he has continued in W’s footsteps by insisting there is only a war on terror, and not one against radical Islam. Obama, like Bush, refuses to state who is guilty.

His views have been reinforced by Eric Holder, who said:

We spend more time, more time, talking about what you call it, as opposed to what do you do about it. You know? I mean really. If Fox didn’t talk about this they’d have nothing else to talk about. You know, radical Islam, Islamic extremism, you know … I’m not sure an awful lot is gained by saying it. It doesn’t have an impact on our military posture …

Those damn talking heads on Fox News. If not for them, no one would be talking about radical Islamic extremism. As for tactics and military strategy, the same president who said last year that the Syrian rebels should not be armed because they were disorganized, ineffectual, and we would not know in whose hands the arms would end up, is now floating the idea of arming them. This might have helped three years ago, but it may be too little, too late. And at the same time, the promise to arm the Kurds has been slow and bogged down in red tape.

All of the above, and Obama’s apparent desire to ally with Iran to fight ISIS, is made clear by Eric Edelman, former under secretary of defense and ambassador to Turkey. He writes the following in his summary of a forthcoming book by Colin Dueck:

[Obama’s] strategy is twofold: retrenchment, and accommodation. Retrenchment means liquidating some of what Obama construes to be overinvestments the U.S. has made around the world, particularly in the Middle East, while also reducing the strength of the U.S. military — since, in his view, our temptation to resort to military force has itself been responsible for many of the world’s ills. Accommodation, in turn, means reaching out and “engaging” America’s adversaries, thereby turning them, in the common phrase, from part of the problem into part of the solution.

Recent statements made by State Department spokesperson Marie Harf are in sync with the White House. She argues that the root cause of terrorism has to be addressed. She implies that finding jobs for alienated and poor Muslim youth in the European cities in which they live would be a meaningful solution. As she said to Chris Matthews: “We cannot kill our way out of this war.”

In the longterm, finding a way to reach disaffected Muslim youth should be addressed, especially in Europe. In the short term, ISIS is brutally murdering whomever they can get their hands on and must be stopped. Terror, fear, and intimidation have gotten them far. The next target, they say, is Italy.

Why are they doing it? Eli Lake in Bloomberg News explains:

No amount of small-business loans, education scholarships or political reform can compete with the toxic temptation of being part of a movement that claims to be changing history.

That temptation is the dream of restoring a caliphate. Moreover, contrary to what Harf says, we know that many radical Islamists who go to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, like those who joined al-Qaeda before, are not poor, uneducated, and without jobs. They seek to be part of history, to achieve something grand and pure and to leave their mundane lives behind. The groups they join give their lives meaning, and the more brutal they are proves their seriousness. Lake interviews Shiraz Maher, a former Islamist who had joined a group named Hizb ut Tahrir  after 9/11. The group was something like a political wing of the global jihad movement, akin to what Sinn Fein in Ireland was to the IRA.  He wanted to become part of history. ISIS, he told Lake, is “actually achieving a caliphate that we were only philosophizing about.”

The first day of the White House conference concentrated on themes like the one that Lake cites, such as “Vectors of radicalization.” They discussed the concept in general, and avoided the religious component because — as Obama keeps stressing — the jihadists are not real Muslims. As the president said to Matthew Yglesias in his Vox interview, “we don’t have military solutions to every problem in the 21st Century.” Instead, he seeks to win the “hearts and minds” of young people who join the jihad out of both “demographic problems and economic problems.”

How do you win “hearts and minds” if you refuse to address the ideas which are attracting so many to join ISIS?

Many U.S. and foreign diplomats are skeptical about what the Preventing Violent Extremism conference will accomplish.  As John Hudson writes in Foreign Policy:

The more substantive internal issue at play … is the summit’s emphasis on a broad approach to countering extremism that risks yielding few actionable goals. From poverty, corruption, and girls’ education to unemployment and building “resilient communities,” the State Department leadership is bent on mashing together a variety of potential drivers of extremism into its part of the conference.

In America, the issue will most likely be treated as crime prevention. Hence the new “Preventing Violent Extremism” policy advocated by Sarah Sewall, Undersecretary of State, who said in a speech that instead of seeking how to counter radical Islamist ideology, the State Department will concentrate on addressing “alienation and anger that drives communities to align or tolerate the violent extremists.”

Quoting President Obama in May 2013, when he stated that the U.S. should “be addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed terrorism,” Sewall made it quite clear that anything but addressing the religious ideology of the Salafists and the jihadists will be taken up — the very concepts that should be addressed in the place of social work gobbledygook.

To do that, of course, would quickly lead to charges of “Islamophobia.” Don’t be surprised if after the three days of meeting, the 60 nations represented will agree on one thing: Islamophobia must be prevented, because it is alienating the Muslim community.