The Islamic State, you have to acknowledge, is on quite a roll. Over the July 4 weekend, the FBI arrested a northern Virginia neighbor of mine, Mohamed Bailor Jalloh. He was apparently plotting a Fort Hood style attack and told an FBI informant: "I just want to live a good Muslim life and die as a Shaheed (martyr)."
Jalloh was thwarted, but around the globe, fellow admirers or members of ISIS have been inflicting chaos and death at an accelerating rate. Just in the past 24 months, ISIS-inspired killers have struck the Brussels airport, a Tunisian beach resort, the Istanbul airport, a Paris satirical magazine and a kosher market, a Christmas party in a San Bernardino office, a Russian plane flying over the Sinai, a restaurant catering to westerners in Bangladesh, Paris cafes and a concert venue, a nursing home in Yemen founded by Mother Teresa, and a gay nightclub in Orlando — to name but a small fraction of the hundreds of attacks. The list doesn't count the horrific beheadings, sex slavery, forced labor, crucifixions and other murders ISIS has committed in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.
That such an orgy of viciousness attracts as well as repels is one of the mysteries of the human condition. There is little question, though, that despite President Obama's claims that "ISIL is contained," the perception worldwide is that ISIS is successfully holding territory and expanding — thus earning the right to call itself a caliphate. For Muslims of a radical turn of mind, that is intoxicating.
You might suppose that in the mighty nations of the West, debate would be ongoing about how to destroy ISIS and rescue the desperate people — one thinks particularly of the religious minorities like the Yazidis — who've come under its control. You'd even suppose that people who style themselves human rights crusaders on the left would be condemning our inaction as a form of racism or xenophobia, since the overwhelming majority of ISIS' victims are Muslim and/or dark skinned.
But no. In our counsels, the great issue we're relitigating is whether Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes at the International Criminal Court and just how responsible George W. Bush was for all of the mayhem in the world. In the wake of a just-released prolix exercise in second-guessing by Sir John Chilcot, a sneering BBC host interviewed Blair and demanded to know whether "even now" he had the nerve to pray about his actions. (Blair, unlike most BBC types, is religious.)
Progressives, like those who run the BBC and the Democratic Party here, have concocted an imagined history of the past quarter century in which everything was fine until George W. Bush lied us into war in Iraq and opened the prison in Guantanamo. Those crimes, Democrats contend (and Donald Trump agrees), cost the lives of 4,497 Americans, killed at least 160,000 Iraqis, offended the Muslim world, destabilized the region, and led to the rise of ISIS.
The problem with this account is that jihadism predated Bush by decades. In the 1980s, they struck us in Lebanon, in Berlin (at a disco frequented by American servicemen), on the Achille Lauro and in the air over Lockerbie. In the 1990s and early 2000s, they hit the Khobar Towers, the U.S.S. Cole and the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and they perpetrated the Mogadishu attacks and the first World Trade Center bombing. The 9/11 attacks obviously predated the Iraq War.
It requires small-minded malice to blame George W. Bush for attempting to protect the United States and its allies. Yes, he made mistakes in the Iraq War. Name an American war, or any war, that was flawless. Have you heard of Anzio or Market Garden? By 2009, when Obama took office, the Iraq War was won and the country mostly pacified. Just ask Joe Biden.
But beyond the political point scoring, there is something off about the Blame Bush First syndrome — namely, that we have now had 7 1/2 years worth of experience with the opposite policies. Barack Obama has withdrawn from Iraq, declined to intervene in the Syrian civil war, kept inadequate forces in Afghanistan, denied defensive arms to Ukraine, sought rapprochement with Cuba and Iran and stiff-armed Israel.
Where is the accounting for these policies? In Syria, 400,000 is a low estimate of the dead. Some 4.5 million Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, and thousands are streaming into Europe creating a crisis for the EU. Half of Syria's population (about 11 million people) is internally displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance, which is difficult to deliver in a war zone. As for ISIS, it has sprouted in the ungoverned regions of Iraq and Syria. The Iraq territory would have been denied them if the U.S. had maintained a small force in the country.
Around the globe, jihadis see American diffidence as weakness. Some of the results are catalogued in the first paragraphs of this column. Other consequences are all too foreseeable. I await the BBC host who will ask Obama if he dares to pray.