Obama's wasted opportunity to counter "violent extremism."

namaste obama

When Barack Obama gave closing remarks at the “summit on countering violent extremism” yesterday a several things were obvious. The most salient of which is that the conference was more focused on trying to troll domestic political opposition than countering terrorism… which apparently is what “violent extremism” is.

The man has no ability to be reflective.

While Obama spends a great deal of time in front of the mirror and taking selfies, he has zero ability to be self-reflective. For instance:

In Syria, Assad’s war against his own people and deliberate stoking of sectarian tensions helped to fuel the rise of ISIL. And in Iraq, with the failure of the previous government to govern in an inclusive manner, it helped to pave the way for ISIL’s gains there.

Well, yeah, but then lets look at how those events came to pass. ISIS started out in Iraq because Obama rushed a withdrawal of US forces under the silly guise of being unable to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement. Those forces provided stability in the Sunni areas, they gave the people there a measure of security, and they were providing breathing room for the Iraqi armed forces and police to gain experience and competence. But, in order to prove he was not George Bush, Obama decided in favor of a precipitous withdrawal. And no one will ever accuse Syria’s Assad of being a humanitarian but let’s keep in mind that it was Barack Obama’s lame attempt to overthrow Assad that gave ISIS its foothold in Syria and the men we’ve trained and equipped continue to migrate to ISIS in large numbers. A more reflective man might have mentioned this; a more reticent man would have had the good sense to shut up and move on.

There is a boatload of WTF moments in this speech.

The Syrian civil war will only end when there is an inclusive political transition and a government that serves Syrians of all ethnicities and religions. And across the region, the terror campaigns between Sunnis and Shia will only end when major powers address their differences through dialogue, and not through proxy wars. So countering violent extremism begins with political, civic and religious leaders rejecting sectarian strife.

By this logic there has always been a civil war in Syria because Syria has never had this Age of Aquarius style government. In fact, history documents — and this has been studied by political scientists for years — that when an oppressive regime begins to liberalize the nearly inevitable outcome is revolution. When that government has operated by setting ethnicities, religions, and social classes against each other (like Assad, like Saddam Hussein) you can take violent revolution to the bank. The unanswered question in this statement is who are these “major powers” who are engaging in “proxy wars?” The only power actively involved in using ISIS to further its own agenda is Iran. It isn’t major by any stretch of the imagination. Is he saying the US and Russia and China, or any two of those, are involved?

This is my favorite:

At the same time, former extremists have the opportunity to speak out, speak the truth about terrorist groups, and oftentimes they can be powerful messengers in debunking these terrorist ideologies. One said, “This wasn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.” Those voices have to be amplified.

This guy didn’t go wherever he went to kill Muslims? Then why did he go there? I think we all know the answer to that, he went to kill non-Muslims… which in ISIS ideology is apparently just about anyone. This guy’s problem is that he objects to the semantics not to the killing. Rather than quoting him we should be considering giving him a very long prison sentence.

Nonsense recommendations.

As my colleague Leon Wolf noted yesterday, Obama has succeeded in turning liberal Democrats into neocons. If you need proof of that, this speech is chock full.

Third, we must address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances…

But when people — especially young people — feel entirely trapped in impoverished communities, where there is no order and no path for advancement, where there are no educational opportunities, where there are no ways to support families, and no escape from injustice and the humiliations of corruption — that feeds instability and disorder, and makes those communities ripe for extremist recruitment.  And we have seen that across the Middle East and we’ve seen it across North Africa.  So if we’re serious about countering violent extremism, we have to get serious about confronting these economic grievances.

Here, at this summit, the United States will make new commitments to help young people, including in Muslim communities, to forge new collaborations in entrepreneurship and science and technology.  All our nations can reaffirm our commitment to broad-based development that creates growth and jobs, not just for the few at the top, but for the many.  We can step up our efforts against corruption, so a person can go about their day and an entrepreneur can start a business without having to pay a bribe.

And as we go forward, let’s commit to expanding education, including for girls.  Expanding opportunity, including for women.  Nations will not truly succeed without the contributions of their women.  This requires, by the way, wealthier countries to do more.  But it also requires countries that are emerging and developing to create structures of governance and transparency so that any assistance provided actually works and reaches people.  It’s a two-way street.

Fourth, we have to address the political grievances that terrorists exploit.  Again, there is not a single perfect causal link, but the link is undeniable.  When people are oppressed, and human rights are denied — particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines — when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism.  It creates an environment that is ripe for terrorists to exploit.  When peaceful, democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorist propaganda that violence is the only answer available.

And so we must recognize that lasting stability and real security require democracy.  That means free elections where people can choose their own future, and independent judiciaries that uphold the rule of law, and police and security forces that respect human rights, and free speech and freedom for civil society groups.  And it means freedom of religion — because when people are free to practice their faith as they choose, it helps hold diverse societies together.

Unless Obama plans to go full metal Ann Coulter and uproot what currently passes for governance in the Islamic world, replace it with American military occupation for three or four generations, and eliminate the Islamic ghettoes in Western Europe that are providing hundreds, if not thousands, of recruits and millions of dollars to ISIS this is total bull****.

Trollololololo

In his last term in office, Obama seems to be preparing for a post-presidential career as an internet troll.

And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative.

Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL peddle the lie that some of our countries are hostile to Muslims.  Meanwhile, we’ve also seen, most recently in Europe, a rise in inexcusable acts of anti-Semitism, or in some cases, anti-Muslim sentiment or anti-immigrant sentiment.  When people spew hatred towards others — because of their faith or because they’re immigrants — it feeds into terrorist narratives.  If entire communities feel they can never become a full part of the society in which they reside, it feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey.  And we can’t allow cycles of suspicions to tear at the fabric of our countries.

As TIME magazine reports in the most laudatory tones in an article titled Obama Claims Republican Rhetoric Could Help ISIS: Rather than ignore his critics, the President takes them on:

President Obama, with two speeches in as many days, has decided to take the battle to his conservative critics.

Those who identify the black-clad extremists with their religious roots, the commander-in-chief argued repeatedly, are peddling a “lie” that will drive recruitment by the nation’s enemies and ultimately hurt U.S. interests. “These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy. And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorists’ narrative,” he said, using the U.S. government’s preferred acronym for ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State.

But he did not stop there. A day after talking about the “debate in the press and among pundits” over terminology, he accused others in the public sphere Thursday of aiding the terrorist cause by highlighting the connection between Islamic teachings and Islamic State’s tactics, which include rape, beheadings, crucifixions and slavery. “That narrative sometimes extends far beyond terrorist organizations,” he continued. “That narrative becomes the foundation upon which terrorists build their ideology and by which they try to justify their violence, and that hurts all of us, including Islam and especially Muslims who are the ones most likely to be killed.”

This is simply not a serious man. The fact that you don’t see ISIS like movements in other areas with poor economies and poor governance indicates that the unifying feature of “violent extremism” is something else. This is acknowledged in the opening paragraphs in his speech:

As we speak, ISIL is terrorizing the people of Syria and Iraq and engaging in unspeakable cruelty.  The wanton murder of children, the enslavement and rape of women, threatening religious minorities with genocide, beheading hostages.  ISIL-linked terrorists murdered Egyptians in the Sinai Peninsula, and their slaughter of Egyptian Christians in Libya has shocked the world.   Beyond the region, we’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, Paris, and now Copenhagen.

Elsewhere, Israelis have endured the tragedy of terrorism for decades.  Pakistan’s Taliban has mounted a long campaign of violence against the Pakistani people that now tragically includes the massacre of more than 100 schoolchildren and their teachers.  From Somalia, al-Shabaab terrorists have launched attacks across East Africa.  In Nigeria and neighboring countries, Boko Haram kills and kidnaps men, women and children.

There is a common element in all of these events if you look for it.

Is is very obvious that ISIS and the violence we see in the Islamic world in general is not a “perversion” of Islam but rather a very literal interpretation of Islam.What drives this movement is not economics, though that is a factor. It can best be seen as a response to modernity — in the Islamic world — and the casual nihilistic narcissism that is the secular religion in the West. Until we start calling it what it is and taking the root causes seriously we are wasting our time and a lot of lives.