DENVER – While the fight between the Islamic State and the forces arrayed against it rages in the Middle East, another brutal battle is brewing in the United States over who is winning the war. In the US these days, all issues – whatever and wherever – soon fall into the maw of the country's polarized domestic politics.
Thus, the effort to contain and destroy the Islamic State has become yet another referendum on President Barack Obama's stewardship of US foreign policy. Is he “tough" enough? Or, as some of his opponents have preferred to frame the issue, does he really love his country?
The puerile level of the domestic debate should mislead no one about the seriousness of the crisis. For now, the Islamic State's main focus is the creation of its would-be caliphate and the frenetic and bloody effort to force all under its rule to live accordingly. But its ideology suggests far more ambitious projects, starting with war against nearby Shia populations, who, as apostates, must be slaughtered. There is no quarter in the Islamic State's worldview; its interpretation of the Koran does not allow it.
The Islamic State may never achieve the global reach its leaders seek; indeed, it may ultimately control only the Syrian and Iraqi badlands. But its effect across the Arab world has been profound, especially among a younger generation that has lost hope and respect for the region's secular authorities. Many young Muslims, including some in the West, have been highly susceptible to the Islamic State's slick and effective propaganda.