- - Sunday, February 8, 2015


Echoing her boss, National Security Adviser Susan Rice argued at the Brookings Institution last week that Islamic jihadists and more specifically the Islamic State rising in the Middle East are more a nuisance and a bother than a real or “existential threat.” They do not, Ms. Rice insisted, pose a threat “of the existential nature we confronted during World War II.”

President Obama said much the same thing during a CNN interview earlier in the week. Asked by the network’s Fareed Zakaria whether we should consider the rise of ISIS and its allies an “existential threat,” Mr. Obama demurred, urging that we put these sorts of things “in proper perspective,” and denying, like Ms. Rice, that terrorist groups represent anything approaching an “existential threat to “the United States or the existing world order.’

Depending on how one defines one’s terms, the president and his National Security Adviser may be technically correct for the moment, but both ignore the fact that just as mighty oaks from acorns grow, today’s nuisances can morph into far more serious threats tomorrow. Few western leaders took Adolph Hitler and his book-burning followers seriously until they seized a country and graduated from intimidating their fellow Germans into a political-military force clearly capable launching history’s most destructive war.

Denial is a wonderful way to avoid confronting reality. Mr. Obama doesn’t want to spend time worrying about or confronting a movement that may have begun as what he regarded until recently as a “junior varsity” bunch of terrorist wannabes, but has evolved into something quite different and far more dangerous. Experts on terrorism make the point that terrorism is a tool and a tactic used by revolutionary groups, but rarely and end in itself. The young Stalin didn’t rob banks because he aspired to be a Russian Jesse James, but to finance a revolution. The Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese masters weren’t butchering village officials in the Seventies just because they were butchers, but to weaken their anti-Communist enemies pending the building of a quasi-conventional army that could defeat them. The same can be said for today’s terrorists. They resort to bombs and beheadings not just because they are uncivilized thugs, but because they aren’t yet in a position to take on the “Great Satan” in Washington. That day, they hope, will come soon.

Their real threat lies in their goals and the likelihood that they can put themselves into a position to achieve them. No one can argue today that they are anything but an “existential” threat to Israel and the Christians and Jews of the region they control, but their goals are far more ambitious. It is easy enough to deny that they mean what they say when they talk of establishing a “Global Caliphate” just as many ignored the Nazis’ oft stated desire to rid Europe and eventually the world of the Jews or the Soviet belief that taking over the world was a necessary precondition for the development of a true Communist order.

If the crazies of the Middle East were confined to sharpening their knives and building their bombs in the caves of the region from whence they come, Mr. Obama’s sanguine dismissal of their goals might make some sense.

But this is the twenty-first century, and if they and their allies procure the weapons of mass destruction they seem Hell bent to get, even Mr. Obama and Ms. Rice might be forced to revise their thinking. They will perhaps come to understand then that what they think is far less important than what our enemies think and our enemies certainly see themselves as an “existential threat” to us and to the world order.

David Keene is the Opinion Editor for The Washington Times.

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