- - Tuesday, December 8, 2015

President Obama thought he was being clever in the conclusion of his address to the nation Sunday night, which he delivered just before heading to the Kennedy Center Honors. After 13 minutes spent reiterating the same failed approach, the president called on Congress to pass an authorization to use military force against Islamic State. “For over a year,” he said, “I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets. I think it’s time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight.”

He was attempting to make the claim, however ridiculous, that he had been leading for more than a year and that it was Congress that needed to catch up.

His efforts have been so weak and so ineffective that Congress is unlikely simply to rubber-stamp more incompetence in the Middle East. So the President was trying to put Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on defense. But he may have unintentionally invited a very different outcome.

President Obama has opened the door to a wide ranging series of Congressional hearings about the threats to America.

Islamic State is not the only threat. It is one piece of a much larger challenge.

We are facing a worldwide movement of violent Islamic supremacists who use online and interpersonal networks to radicalize and recruit people from across the planet. Islamic State should be seen as part of that larger movement.

In the long war against Islamic supremacism, focusing on a Syrian campaign is the equivalent of focusing on the battle of Antietam in the American Civil War.

Congress should identify all of the countries in which Islamic supremacists now operate.

Congress should look at the neighborhood in Belgium that produces so many jihadists and ask what we can learn from the networks and patterns at work there.

Congress should examine every identifiable radicalized American and lay out the facts about how they became radicalized.

The threat to our safety is not a particular activity; it’s an ideology. It is the ideology of Islamic supremacy that is powerfully attractive to millions of people all over the world.

Focusing on Islamic State may or may not help win this larger war.

If our military power defeated Islamic State in Syria tomorrow, we might wake up the next day to discover that we were now threatened by thousands of fighters who had dispersed back home.

Furthermore, Islamic State is already expanding into Libya. There are Islamic State allies in Nigeria (where Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people), Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, Mali, and many other countries.

While the West plays bunch ball with Islamic State, the Taliban and al Qaeda are gaining ground once again in Afghanistan.

The individuals responsible for the San Bernardino attack were apparently radicalized in part by a mosque in Pakistan. Ominously, the Pakistani intelligence services are reportedly blocking efforts to understand what happened.

Congress first has to develop an understanding of the long war.

It then has to develop a plan for winning the war.

Then Congress should think through appropriate legislation.

Without intending to, President Obama may have opened the door for the first real opportunity for Congress to understand the struggle in which we are engaged.

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