- - Friday, October 3, 2014


The president, the prime minister and the pope walk into the Bar of Unconventional Wisdom. They’d been looking for Cliches Tap Room, but reporters distracted them.

President Obama drinks a beer and warns that countering the fanatical Islamic State could be an extended challenge drifting into next year. “Maybe longer,” he adds, thinking of his CBS “60 Minutes” interview.

British Prime Minister David Cameron sips a pint of stout and declares that “this will be a mission that will not just take months but years, and I think we have to be prepared for that commitment.” But, he adds, terrorists like those of the Islamic State “speak for no religion.”

Yes, agrees Pope Francis, “to kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege.” Drinking a passable Argentine malbec, he tells the president and prime minister that “even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction.” They gape at him.

“Not so fast, gentlemen,” says the bartender, who looks like Ayaan Hirsi Ali but sounds like Henry Kissinger.

“What do you mean?” asks Mr. Cameron.

“Tell us more, my daughter — or son, as the case may be,” says the pope.

Mr. Obama eyes a tray of burgers and onion rings.

“His Holiness is correct in that the West’s fight against Islamic triumphalism resembles in some respects a world war, but it’s World War IV, as Norman Podhoretz, an old regular here, used to say. The Cold War against Soviet communism, which included hot wars like Korea and Vietnam, was World War III.”

Mr. Cameron takes a pull on his pint. The pope tosses back the last of his malbec. Mr. Obama stares at the women shooting pool.

Refilling their glasses, the bartender continues. “Look, the current fight against societies built on Judeo-Christian ethics, even if they don’t always behave like it, has been underway since 1979.

“That’s when Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran in 1979 and his Shiite revolutionaries seized the U.S. Embassy. That’s when Sunni Islamic radicals held the Grand Mosque in Mecca for a week and shook Saudi rule before being wiped out with scores of deaths.

“What’s happened since includes the 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies and American Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon, the 1986 attack on the Khobar Towers U.S. military housing in Saudi Arabia, the 1993 New York World Trade Center bombing, the 1998 destruction of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the near-sinking of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the 2004 train bombings in Spain, the 2005 subway bombings in England, the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, the 2009 suppression of the Iranian democracy movement and the Fort Hood massacre in Texas.

“Since the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ — which, due partly to your failure to recognize the enemy and his ideology — turned into the terrorist summer, we’ve witnessed the murders of literally hundreds of thousands of people. There’s been the displacement of millions more as refugees and the growth of dozens of terrorist movements in scores of countries. And now you are about to concede to Iran — which has contributed to many of these disasters — the nuclear bomb.”

The prime minister appears thoughtful, absently sipping his second pint. The pontiff swirls his refilled glass, smells the wine, then puts it down without drinking. The president, shielded by Secret Service agents, lights a cigarette.

The bartender is still talking. ” So given the demographic youth bulge in Arab-Islamic societies and those same societies’ failures to provide sufficient education, jobs and an accommodation with modernity and individual freedom, the extremist attraction will find a large pool of recruits for decades. They call you crusaders and infidels. You’re only in the middle of a very long war, and because China and Russia also are growing threats, your defense budgets are too small to begin with.”

“Don’t you think,” asked Mr. Obama, as if from a reverie, “that the muezzin’s call to prayer at dusk is one of the most beautiful sounds on earth?”

“Depends on who’s hearing it,” the bartender says. “But that reminds me: Daniel Pipes, Bernard Lewis and Fouad Adjami were in, playing darts, last Wednesday.

“Lewis said, ‘It is surely presumptuous for those who are not Muslims to say what is orthodox and what is heretical in Islam.’ Pipes called the assertion by non-Muslim politicians that the Islamic State was not Islamic ‘preposterous.’ Adjami agreed, adding that when Muslim scholars denounce the terrorists as blasphemers, in Arabic, on al Jazeera, then we’ll be making progress. But that hasn’t happened yet.”

“I thought Adjami was dead,” says Mr. Obama.

“He is,” the bartender agrees, then gestures toward the bar’s logo on the wall. “Are you ready for unconventional wisdom or not?”

Eric Rozenman is a Washington, D.C.-based news media analyst. Any opinions expressed above are solely his own.

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