On his way to a Wales-hosted NATO summit, President Obama stopped into Estonia — he took the scenic route — and gave a press conference chock full of leadershipy ideas. One of them is that we — meaning the world — will apparently whittle down ISIS until it is a “manageable problem” (see: “New Normal”, here) and another is that we — the whole world, again — will need to “[organize] the Arab world”, the Middle East, the Muslim world along with the international community to isolate this cancer.”
Because the last time the West decided to organize the Middle East, that worked out well, yes? Everyone happy, hmm?
Every president’s perspective changes a bit, once a candidate moves from the campaign trail into the Oval Office, but this seems to me a shift worth pausing to reflect upon. Considering how ambivalent Obama seemed, in the early days of his presidency, about nations bossing other nations around, (except Israel, of course, which he has been telling what to do since day one, but I digress) this seems very noteworthy. It is, in fact, one of the most interesting things he has said in years. It’s a big, bold ambition from a man who, a few weeks ago, couldn’t be prodded into directing his attention toward Mosul.
What would an organization of the Arab world look like? What would Israel look like, when it was accomplished. Those are the questions we’ll have to ask, as Obama makes his push toward organization. And I also can’t help but wonder (forgive me, I hate my own cynicism) if Obama has done little-to-nothing about ISIS** up to now — dismissing them earlier this year as a “JV” team, and remaining seemingly detached and disinterest through a year’s worth of briefings — because he was waiting for it to become enough of a problem to (once again) require both the whole world’s involvement, and an overhaul and reorganization of the Arab World.
Obama’s words have inspired me to re-read his so-called “Cairo speech”, entitled, “A New Beginning”. Compared to his droning malaise of the last few years, it seems remarkably substantial:
That’s why we’re partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America’s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.
So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.
It’s worth re-reading that whole speech — the urgency of that last bit is jarring, when considering his disinterest in ISIS, and their victims, until now — both to reacquaint ourselves with Obama’s stated goals of 2009, and to ask in wonder, why has he waited so long to respond, and also, “did he let that speechwriter go? He needs rehire that person!”
**I know the president insists on calling it ISIL, and many seem unsure of why that is or what form to use to use. I say use ISIS’ own form. They’re calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or simply the Islamic State. Why not do them the courtesy of calling them what they like while working to ‘degrade and destroy’ them? All calling them “ISIL” does is feed conspiracy theories.