By Art Gallagher
Unlike many conservative and Republican pundits on television and social media, my reaction to President Obama’s Oval Office address last evening was positive. He surprised me. I though last night’s speech revealed a shift in the president. Albeit a low bar, I thought Obama’s address was his best since he’s taken office.
When I said so on social media, a friend and man that I respect asked if I was under the influence of drugs, alcohol or lack of sleep. Fortunately I am not suffering from any of those afflictions. But over the course of 2015 I have noticed that I suffer from a combination of empathetic and sympathetic listening. I first noticed this affliction last February at a town hall meeting that Governor Christie held in Burlington County. I walked into that town hall really down on the Governor I once supported enthusiastically. During the course of the meeting I noticed I was becoming enthused about him and the job he was doing for New Jersey again. I woke up on the drive home and started to practice fact checking my own initial reactions to political speeches.
Last night and again this morning I watched President’s address again. I have never before listened to an Obama address three times. Was I suffering from empathetic/sympathetic listening or were my conservative friends afflicted with biased listening? Both, I think.
While not in the same phrase, President Obama used the words “radical,” “Islamic” and “terrorism” in the same address. That’s progress.
The president finally acknowledged that we are at war with terrorists and that we have been since 2001. He acknowledged that Fort Hood, Chattanooga and Boston were terrorist attacks. He declared a commitment to destroy ISIL. That is real progress, if he means it. Just prior to the attack in Paris, he declared that his objective was to contain ISIL and that the mission had been accomplished.
Is our enemy ISIS or ISIL? I’ve wanted to call them ISIS because Obama was calling them ISIL and because he wasn’t calling them Radical Islamic Terrorists. It turns out that the term ISIL acknowledges the reality that the terrorists ambitions extend beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria. ISIS means Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. ISIL means Islamic State in Iraq and Levant. Levant is the historic name given to the entire region east of the Mediterranean from Egypt, east to Iran and to Turkey. Levant is also the name of a town of a town in Maine with a history of religious extremism in the 1800’s. Unfortunately, it is also the name of a restaurant in Edison, NJ.
By calling our enemy ISIL, Obama is acknowledging the extent of their ambition.
The most powerful and positive part of the President’s address was his call for Muslims to take a prominent role in defeating our enemy:
“…There is a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the ideology that groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda promote. To speak out against not just acts of violence but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect and human dignity.”
“…it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization…”
Obama’s call for Muslims to speak out against ISIL and to prevent local radicalization was part of his call for the rest of American’s not to discriminate against Muslims. If Muslim citizens speak out forcefully against ISIL, without excuse or equivocation, and “root out the misguided ideas that lead to radicalization,” the discrimination problems will take care of itself, for the most part. They will find the rest of the American community supporting an applauding them. But we need to witness them “root out the misguided ideas that lead to radicalization” just as moderate Christians put and end to tarring and feathering in Levant, Maine in the early 1900’s.
Now that the war is undeniably being fought in the homeland, the unfortunate reality is that American Muslims must continuously demonstrate that they are for us, and not against us, if they are to avoid discrimination. As the war has become one of radicalization, American Muslims must be the front line in fighting the war by “rooting out misguided ideas” within their families, mosques and communities.
If President Obama keeps up his call for the American Muslim community and our global Muslim allies to be the front line in this war, his rhetoric could make a difference where his military strategy has failed.
That Obama continues to link his war or terror with domestic radical gun politics is an unfortunate reflection of his true colors and one of the many reasons that conservatives will never trust him.
His own ideological decision to withdraw our troops from Iraq too soon undeniably lead to the rise of ISIL. That he now says he won’t put out troops back in Iraq because that’s what ISIL wants and that doing so will enable them to recruit new terrorist rings hallow. They are recruiting new terrorists anyway and will never stop until we destroy them.
During the 2008 presidential election Senator John McCain said that we should keep a military presence in Iraq for as long as it takes “Maybe 100 years,” McCain said at a town hall. We’ve had a military presence in Germany for 70 years since WWII. That has worked out pretty well.
We’ll never know how the world would have been different had McCain been elected in 2008. Nor do we know now how the world will change over the next thirteen months until Obama leaves office. We don’t yet have any reason to believe that our training and support of Iraqi and Syrian forces on the ground in Irag and Levant will be successful in destroying ISIL. But we need to hope and pray that those efforts and the airstrikes will be successful until Obama leaves office. Only catastrophic domestic carnage is likely to spur Obama to change his strategy.