ISIS vs US: Why doesn't Obama understand we are already at war?

U.S. officials working to confirm authenticity


Tuesday, news broke that the Islamic State had released a “Second Message to America” in the form of an Internet video in which it claimed it had brutally murdered another American journalist, Steven Sotloff.

It’s almost impossible to put into words the horror of it. One can only hope that the people who sympathize with the Islamic State aren’t the only ones now motivated to do something. But recent events don’t offer much encouragement.

Most tellingly, Fox News' James Rosen asked State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki the question Tuesday that many of us have had on our minds:

“A lot of Americans are sitting at home and they see Americans who are not even combatants, but who are journalists, being beheaded by this group overseas. From a common sense point of view, the average American will say to himself, ‘This group is at war with us. Why does our president or our secretary of state not recognize that and say, 'Indeed, we are at war with this group and we will destroy them?’”

Psaki dismissed the question and said the U.S. has"done more than any other country in the world... to take on the threat in Iraq."If only the goal was an A, and we were being graded on a curve.

But while our government may not recognize ISIS is at war with us, others see it all too well and approve.

Last week news outlets were buzzing about the letter the Fort Hood terrorist, Nidal Hasan,wrote to the head of ISIS, asking to become a citizen of the Islamic State. Hasan has been forthright about his religious and political beliefs. But this doesn’t mean the most senior administration officials ever believed him.

In a May 2010 Judiciary Committee hearing, Congressman Lamar Smith asked Attorney General Eric Holder if Hasan’s religion motivated his attack.

Remarkably, with a facial expression that seemed as if he was actually pained by the question, Mr. Holder refused to admit that Hasan was motivated by his religion. It can be seen here.

He still may not fully understand what motivates ISIS, but he’s at least demonstrating he understands just how dangerous they are, including to Americans.

This is one of the fundamental reasons the president doesn’t have a strategy for dealing with ISIS, as he publicly confessed in his now infamous tan suit, no strategy press conference.

He has yet to come to terms with the reality that some ideologies, including religious ones, are evil.

In the president’s words, “So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.”

Meanwhile, ISIS goes about implementing its strategy to, in the words of former acting CIA director Mike Morell, “set up that caliphate and, it’s not just in Iraq and in Syria,” and then “…to use that as a safe haven to attack the United States.”

Some commentators have been gracious towards the president, choosing to criticize his admission that he has no strategy rather than criticizing that he has none. But given how high the stakes are, he deserves harsh criticism for both.

Of course developing a strategy is hard. But it is only made impossible when one simply refuses to grasp what motivates the enemy. Not everyone believes like President Obama does, values what he values, and not everyone is shocked by the same things he’s shocked by.

But the president said, for example, that “the entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of James Foley” and that his brutal death “shocks the conscience of the entire world.”

That’s not true. Nadal Hasan certainly wasn’t appalled, and there are more out there just like him. Reports show that more than 7,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS, including dozens of Americans.

Some of us believe it is morally reprehensible to take a man’s life because of his inherent God-given worth regardless of his political or religious beliefs, ethnicity, or citizenship. Our consciences are shocked by James Foley’s—and now Steven Sotloff’s-- horrendous deaths.We are outraged. We are grieving for their families. And we want justice for Foley and Sotloff and to be protected from the Islamic State and those who share its agenda.

But the president seems all too aware of America’s “war-weariness” and rather than explaining what he intends to do, he emphasizes the limited nature of the current U.S. military campaign in Iraq. His foreign policy is driven by the maxim, in his words “don’t do stupid sh*t.”

The American people are better than this. They know there are countless courses, involving activity and inactivity, that the U.S. could choose to do -- choose being the operative word, as opposed to being paralyzed by indecision. Americans know there are more choices than feckless crusades and open-ended nation-building on one hand, and waffling and hand-wringing on the other.

The president said the Islamic State will “ultimately fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy, and the world is shaped by people like James Foley.”

No. The future is won by those whose wills are matched by their capacities to realize them.

The president better dig down and find the will to respond, get a sound strategy, and spell out those decisions with the courage of his convictions to the American people-- who stand ready to listen.

Rebeccah Heinrichs is a fellow at the Hudson Institute where she provides research and commentary on a range of security issues and specializes in missile defense and nuclear deterrence. She is also contributing editor at Providence Magazine. Follow her on Twitter, @RLHeinrichs.