Wednesday, November 18, 2015


I was listening yesterday to the television pundits' response to President Obama's news conference about ISIS and Syria--I think it was in Turkey--and I heard the word "defensive" used over and over again, to describe his tone.  I happened to have heard a part of the news conference, and that's not what I heard. I heard a calm and well-reasoned defense of the president's strategy to combat the scourge of fanatical terrorism. To describe this defense as "defensive" took it out of the realm of reason and into the realm of personal inadequacy.

Too many Americans equate reason and thoughtfulness with weakness.  Too many of Obama's critics speak of "crushing" the terrorist organization--or some word to the same effect--as though we had not learned well enough by now that an ideology is not susceptible to military "crushing." Kill enough of its adherents, and others rush in to fill their place.  Impossible to bomb it out of existence, as some would have us do. Impossible, even, to invade it out of existence with those "boots on the ground." We have spent too many years, at the cost of too many lives and limbs, to be seduced by this notion.

The simple fact is that ISIS is a hydra.  Cut off one head, another hundred grow. It's a poison, whose infection only spreads with aggressive attacks on its toxins. Easy to bloviate about how it should be eradicated; much harder to make that happen.  Obama's approach, it seems to me, is the right one: step in with scalpel-like precision where it makes sense to do so.  Where, as he says, it will "work" in some productive, demonstrable way, to make a difference.

Reason, though, is too often overridden by the emotions from which political opportunists derive their strength. "Crushing" is a method that appeals to the vengeful spirit that surely exists in every one of us. "Bomb the shit out of them," trumpets Trump. "Save the Christians," bleats Jeb.  This, however, is precisely the spirit of those we wish to defeat.  I'm grateful, myself, that we have a president who comports himself with dignity and responds to all this with a cool head and clear mind.

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