On his message to the nation on Sunday, President Barack Obama made an accurate assessment of the complex challenge posed by Islamic State and a detailed description of what his administration is doing to combat it. It was necessary for the leader to speak to an uneasy country after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, which left a generalized sense of vulnerability throughout the country.
The absence of a new announcement of retaliation to the massacre disappointed those who expected to hear something significant. There was no emotional connection either, something very important when presidents address the nation at moments such as this one. The fact that Islamic terrorism has hit a place as extraneous as a municipal office has generated the feeling that no one is safe from global terrorism.
The four steps delineated by Obama to fight ISIS ‒ direct military operations and bombings, training anti-ISIS rebels, working with allies and seeking political solutions to the Syrian crisis ‒ reflect the complexity of the situation. Although today ISIS is being represented by a territory, it is much more than that.
Someone does not need to be in the Middle East to share the organization’s apocalyptic vision, as the global nature of today’s communication moves both good and bad ideas. The landscape is complicated because of the differences existing throughout the region and the long reach of ISIS’ tentacles, capable of penetrating something as private and personal as religion.
That is why the cool-head strategy is a good one. Polls show that most people in the country favor sending troops to combat ISIS. We must not fall into this temptation, as this would also fulfill the dreams of these terrorists of killing U.S. soldiers. The experiences with Iraq and Afghanistan must not be forgotten. Moreover, NATO countries have said that they will not send troops.
The U.S. does not have the power to eliminate ISIS. The base of this conflict is religious. The Muslim world and the region’s nations are the ones who need to deal with this problem. What’s more, it cannot be said that, without a Caliphate, no other lone-wolf or spontaneous terrorists will attack Western countries. This is an asymmetrical conflict with too many interests at stake, and they need to be taken into account to avoid repeating past mistakes.