US President Barack Obama offers no clear strategy for destroying ISIS other than predicting a long, hard road for his too-little, too-late military interventions overseas. That was evident from his latest speech Tuesday, June 14. Realizing this, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi still does not feel threatened by military defeat, and whenever his forces are pushed back on one front, he promptly opens a new one.
And so, when earlier this year, US and Russian-backed local forces aided by air strikes began forcing ISIS out of territory it had occupied since 2014 in Syria and Iraq. ISIS shifted a large part of its forces to Libya and opened a third front there.
The 5,000 Islamist fighters were quietly moved from Iraq to southern Jordan, from there to the Sinai Peninsula and from Egypt to Libya. How come that neither the Americans nor anyone else in the West acted to thwart this large-scale military movement?
In Libya, the Islamists partly made up for the shortfall in revenue caused by the financial and military measures which President Obama described at length Tuesday when he outlined his war in ISIS. After the US bombed the Syrian oil wells and refineries captured by ISIS, Al-Baghdadi found new sources of income by seizing Libyan oil facilities, smuggling migrants out of Africa and flogging arms on Middle East black markets.
Only after ISIS had got itself well organized in Libya, some 200km from Europe, did the Americans and Europeans step in to launch a limited military strike.
ISIS also boosted another important front by launching and sponsoring terrorist assaults in American and European cities.
President Obama described the war on the terror organization from a one-sided perspective, as though only his side was making progress on the battlefield. However, debkafile military and counter terrorism sources say this account is skewed. Like any other tough war still in progress, both contestants have good days of achievements and bad days of failures.
The Orlando terror attack on June 12, when 49 Americans were murdered by a young Muslim man who swore allegiance to al-Baghdadi was one of the bad days, on which America suffered an agonizing blow.
In his speech, Obama bent all his rhetoric skill and intelligence to drawing a thick line between 29-year-old Omar Mateen and “one of the world’s great religions” by dismissing him as a “disturbed individual” notwithstanding the mass-murderer’s oath of allegiance to the ISIS leader.
Obviously, any young Muslim ready to die in the service of ISIS for a terrorist attack on harmless civilians is “disturbed.”
This label is not a strategy and it will endure in the very short term only up to the next attack by an Islamic terrorist. Neither can such language be simplistically applied for thwarting terrorism, such as the jihadist killing sprees at San Bernardino, Paris and Brussels, the blowing-up of Russian and Egyptians airliners, the murderous assaults in Amman, Jordan and the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv – and now, Orlando, which capping a run of disasters that spread like a malignant plague in under a year.
Obama’s words will not reassure worried and suffering Americans that the plague is over. His tactic, used also by the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, to urge restricting the purchase of guns as the main root of the evil, is no more than a distraction from the main cause. Denying Muslim terrorists free access to assault rifles will not stop them from getting hold of these guns and other weapons of death from illicit sources.
The same goes for Obama’s lengthy defense against critics who accuse him of deliberately avoiding using the term “radical Islam” in relation to terror.
“What exactly would using this label accomplish?” he asked rhetorically. “What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to try and kill Americans?”
The truth is that a clear and precise definition of the enemy is vital to any nation and army fighting a war. When this definition is fuzzy or imprecise, the war is liable to continue to limp along as it does today against an enemy whose main advantage is relentless, undivided resolve.
Even if Obama is correct in calling ISIS a perversion of Islam that is not shared by a billion Muslims worldwide, it will continue to spread, in the absence of a practical strategy for stemming Islamic terror, and American and European cities will continue to live under its dark cloud.