OpinionOp-Ed
Column

Prepare for a long war against the Islamic State

ColumnOpinionCommentaryIraqTerrorismWars and InterventionsAl-Qaeda
The Islamic State now controls the territorial equivalent of Britain
The Islamic State's atrocities include rape, slavery, religious cleansing, mass murder and public crucifixions

The hawks (including me) were wrong about a lot, but some got one thing right. It's going to be a long war.

In the early days after 9/11, there was a lot of talk about a "clash of civilizations" and a long "existential struggle" facing the West. I once asked the late Christopher Hitchens what he felt on that terrible day and he said he felt no small amount of joy. Not for the suffering and death, but for the fact that the West finally had been awakened to the terrible but necessary struggle before us.

And for a time, many liberals bought into the idea that America was heading into a generational struggle with jihadism. There were a slew of books on the subject. Peter Beinart, for instance, wrote "The Good Fight: Why Liberals — and Only Liberals — Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again." As the subtitle suggests, there was a lot of partisan mischief in his argument, but it rested on the premise that liberals must accept that "Islamic totalitarianism" — his phrase — has replaced communism as our enemy. On this, at least, Beinart and company briefly agreed with George W. Bush that the war against "Islamic fascists" — Bush's term — was the "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century."

That consensus evaporated in the hot rage ignited by the Iraq war. By the time President Obama was elected, even the war in Afghanistan — once the good war according to most Iraq war critics — had become an emotional albatross. Tellingly, Obama's first executive order was to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as quickly as possible.

This was a triumph for the new enlightened consensus that the war on terror wasn't really a war at all. In 2007, retired Gen. Wesley Clark co-wrote an op-ed for the New York Times ridiculing the idea that Al Qaeda was a military enemy. "Labeling its members as combatants elevates its cause and gives Al Qaeda an undeserved status," he argued. The "more appropriate designation for terrorists is not 'unlawful combatant' but the one long used by the United States: criminal."

Although Obama has tried to move captured terrorists into the domestic criminal justice system, to his credit, he never fully bought into this argument. Still, he cast terrorism as a manageable problem for the experts, not a civilizational struggle. Zeus-like, he personally went over his kill lists, selecting which enemies should be dispatched with a drone strike or, in the case of Osama bin Laden, the furies of SEAL Team Six.

When new threats emerged, the White House dismissed them with the whitewash that "core Al Qaeda" was "on the run." All pretenders to Al Qaeda's mantle were little more than a "jayvee" squad, as Obama put it. It's OK to slumber again was the message.

One jayvee squad — the self-styled Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — now controls the territorial equivalent of Britain and is one of the best-equipped and motivated military forces in the Middle East. Everyday jihadists — many with Western passports — enlist in the struggle to create a global caliphate while the "Muslim street" from Turkey to Saudi Arabia follows the Islamic State like a sports team.

The Islamic State's atrocities are too numerous and too horrible to list here. It includes rape and slavery, religious cleansing, mass murder, public crucifixions and beheadings. Over the weekend, an Iraqi official said that the Islamic State had killed at least 500 Iraqi Yazidis, burying some alive, including women and children. The group is only too happy to tweet about all of it.

Watch Vice TV's reports from Islamic State-controlled parts of Syria and you will quickly see how the word "criminal" is morally, logically and strategically inadequate. They indoctrinate children to become jihadists and suicide bombers. They vow to fly their black flag over the White House.

No one in the West wants a generational struggle with jihadism anymore than Israel wants perpetual war with Hamas in Gaza. The problem is the enemy always gets a vote. And it just may be that the Middle East will become the West's Gaza. And so far, nobody has a good answer for what to do about it.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
ColumnOpinionCommentaryIraqTerrorismWars and InterventionsAl-Qaeda
  • What the U.S. should do in Iraq: Stop what is counterproductive
    What the U.S. should do in Iraq: Stop what is counterproductive

    From a moral perspective, President Obama's response to the plight of Iraqi minorities targeted for extinction by vicious Islamists is justifiable and even commendable. Yet the resumption of American military action in Iraq — bombs for the wicked, bundles for the innocent —...

  • Going solo! Most adults in Los Angeles are single
    Going solo! Most adults in Los Angeles are single

    A recent spate of reports that single people make up 55.8% of the adult population of the Los Angeles metropolitan area may come as a shock to single adult women in L.A., who will most likely respond: “Are you kidding? Then why am I having such a hard time finding a boyfriend?”...

  • L.A. heatwave: Don't be piggish about electricity use, and everyone can stay pretty cool
    L.A. heatwave: Don't be piggish about electricity use, and everyone can stay pretty cool

    What are your air conditioning usage ethics? Are you in the “one for all” or the “all for me” camp?

  • Dave Jones for state insurance commissioner
    Dave Jones for state insurance commissioner

    The two candidates running for state insurance commissioner present a stark contrast. The incumbent, Democrat Dave Jones, has used his regulatory authority to push insurers to slow the growth of premiums for auto, home and other property and casualty insurance. His challenger, Republican...

  • The bad-old days at LAUSD
    The bad-old days at LAUSD

    At L.A. Unified, tensions are high and crisis is in the air. The relationship between Supt. John Deasy and the school board that oversees him is at what is perhaps an all-time low. Deasy is again muttering about quitting; others are grumbling that he should be fired.

  • Is Urban Outfitters waving the bloody shirt?
    Is Urban Outfitters waving the bloody shirt?

    It was the hand-me-down from hell: a Kent State University sweatshirt, faded, hole-filled and splattered with red dye — or was that blood? — offered online by Urban Outfitters last weekend for $129.

  • A persuasive case for saving the Salton Sea, California's biggest lake
    A persuasive case for saving the Salton Sea, California's biggest lake

    Even in its reduced and unlovely circumstances, the Salton Sea is the biggest lake in California. It may also pose the biggest quandary for the Southern California ecosystem. Its champions declare that California needs to spend several billion dollars now to save the saltwater sea, or pay...

  • CalPERS can't kill hedge funds

    The news this week that the California Public Employees' Retirement System was liquidating its hedge fund portfolio brought accusations from critics of these private, unregulated funds that their time in the sun was finally over. For the anti-hedge fund crowd, these vehicles are more...

Comments
Loading