It’s passed time to get serious about ISIS

Peggy Noonan has a sobering column in today’s Wall Street Journal about the threat that ISIS poses to a war-weary United States. I encourage you to read the whole thing. When you do, don’t miss this part:

One of my fears in the early years of the Iraq war was that if it proved to be the wrong war—if no weapons of mass destruction were found, if sustained unrest showed Saddam Hussein was the garbage-pail lid who kept the garbage of his nation from spilling out—it would mean that at some time in the future when America really needed to fight and had to fight, she would not. I feared the war’s supporters would be seen to have cried wolf, and someday there would be a wolf and no one would listen. Now there is a wolf.

We tell ourselves that we do not want to go back to Iraq, and we don’t—all the polls show this. But facing up to what ISIS is and what it plans to do is not returning to Iraq in that we are not talking about nation-building, quixotic exercises in democracy-bringing, or underwriting governments ruled by incompetents. We are talking about other things…

Be prepared, to the degree possible, for a hit or hits on American soil or that of our longstanding allies. ISIS says it’s coming. So far they’ve done pretty much everything they said they’d do.

There is such a thing in the world as war-mongering, but those raising the alarm about ISIS are not doing that. ISIS is more organized, better funded, and more connected than Al Qaeda ever was. Some of their fighters carry U.S. and British passports. It’s not war-mongering to say so. It’s just reality.

I’ve been making my way through William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill. It is astonishing to see how the moral clarity of British statesmen dissolved during the 1930’s. Churchill was virtually alone in seeing Hitler for what he was during that time. Everyone else was so war-weary that they couldn’t call a spade a spade. And the British public went right along with them. It was the weakening of their moral resolve that led to German rearmament and war.

I think that our country risks a similar scenario. Some of our statesmen are so weary of the “optional” Bush wars that they are losing their resolve to name evil when they see it. No matter how ill-conceived one thinks the Bush wars were, that’s an abdication of leadership. Past blunders will not exonerate present irresponsibility.

I’m not advocating for any particular strategic response to ISIS in saying all of this. I’m simply observing that the only statesmen who will be ready to face the present threat will be those who retain moral clarity and resolve. Those who flinch out of a desire to distance themselves from the “optional” Bush wars aren’t going to help in the long run.

Read the rest of Noonan’s column here.


  • johntjeffery

    Our nation was “war weary” at the end of WWII also, and much more understandably so than now. However, we have been paying the price for that “war weariness” ever since.

  • Andrew Alladin

    So at what point does Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, the UAE, and Quatar play a role in taking responsibility for their part of the globe? Must the USA always clean up after the mess created by nations that promote Sharia Islam; can’t the hundreds of billions of oil money earned in the last decade by Middle East OPEC nations buy a decent army and air force? Perhaps this is how the game is played: Let these nations promote their extreme Islamic ideology far and wide but when some of their fools take it too far then call in the USA to drop some bombs so that bad pr can be avoided.

    Anyway, a country that feels morally paralyzed by waterboarding three 9/11 accomplices and political leadership that’s sees Guantanamo as shameful won’t bring itself to really do what’s necessary to stop ISIS. This isn’t our fight.

    • James Stanton

      Andrew, you’re sorely mistaken if you think this country feels paralyzed by waterboarding terrorists or that Guantanomo is particularly significant other than as a club for Democrats and Republicans to use to bash each other.

      None of these things has anything to do with doing what’s necessary to stop ISIS. We are not capable, on our own, to stop ISIS.

  • jimwillingham

    Trace the funding for the wars, if you can. Ask: Who stands to benefit from this war? Back in ’83 our son had a two week scholarship to a school of math and science in a near by city. He was a about a month or two shy of his 12th birthday. His mentor on the computer was a young Black college man. One day as we picked up our son, he said to us, “Dad, Mom, there was a strange question on that computer today. It asked, ‘If you were an official in a world government and had an over-population problem with a country in Africa, how would you handle it?'” The answers were: “A. Have a war and kill them off. B. Use an infectious agent, germ, or disease, and kill them off. C. Let them starve.” To say we were upset is to put it mildly. Our son finished out his two weeks, but when the school contacted us again that fall with a scholarship to recruit him our response (and his) was negative. I have often wondered what that young African American College student thought about the question. Later, I would learn that the same question was on an exam for a job with our state department. A friend who took the exam said he was so offended that he got up and walked out, never finishing the exam. I know a whole lot more about this matter of the wars, and Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex was really an understatement of the situation. While I do not approve of ISIS or any of its aims, I do wonder at the groups that were responsible for its rise.

  • Mark Nenadov

    Every subsequent generation of “wolf crier” says “now there is a wolf”.So I think those who wish to say “now there is a wolf” ought to think long and hard about their method of argument and also their concrete plans.

    I think similar issues arise when Noonan says that we aren’t talking about “nation-building…democracy-bringing…underwriting governments ruled by incompetents”. Ok, sure. It would be very bad strategy to talk about those things in the current environment. But there’s a certain sense in which “that’s what they all say”. What war/conflict is initiated by a direct appeal to such things? Not ordinarily. People don’t get rallied (or riled?) up by that. There is a crisis that propels it all. And then from the crises things devolve and evolve and morph. Not through some some grand conspiracy, but rather through many decisions which are short sighted, under duress, etc.

    There’s also something about intervening as a world superpower that drags in these other considerations. We can say “We are talking about *other* things [than nation buildings, etc.]” all we want. But when the rubber meets the road, such talk seems to have little credibility when it is joined with nary a shift in philosophy.

    It is true that past blunders will not exonerate present irresponsibility. On the other hand, though, it is also irresponsible to repeat past blunders or to expect different results with the same strategy. And so, I don’t think you can fault people for erring on the side of caution and skepticism. Especially when the talking head and strategists are basically using phrases and tactics that have been historically invalidated–repeatedly. (Yes, let’s find and support some “moderate elements”–how could that ever go wrong?)

  • Mark Nenadov

    (In other words, I think the current wolf crier ought to have shown some signs in their rhetoric, plans, analysis, and reasoning–apart from pointing to external things or circumstancal evidence–which prove that this is different)

  • Christiane Smith

    we have a ‘do-nothing’ Congress . . . what is it that you want from them?

    we have a President who is committed to keeping our troops OUT of Iraq, and rightly so under the circumstances outlined by the previous leader

    we have war weapons that are superior . . . air power and drone strength . . . that is being used in a limited way to respond to the most vicious persecution of innocent Iraqui civilians

    what do conservative (and I have long since wondered about the meaning of this term as it is now occupied) folks WANT ?

    are they willing to support what they want with increased taxes?

    are they willing to sign up for the military?

    do they think that the do-nothing Congress will fund an attack on Isis that is more intense? do they believe in financially guaranteeing the care of our injured warriors when they return from duty?

    is it all just talk ? no one knows what to make of the conservative view point these days, if it is just ‘talk’ . . . is there commitment in back of the ‘talk’ ?

  • Jim Peet

    Thanks Pastor Burk for your blog article. From a personal point of view: My son served in Iraq in the Marines during his early 20’s. Now has just returned from Afghanistan at the age of 32. He now has a wife and a baby. He would go back to Iraq if called (he is now in the Minnesota National Guard). I just wish that more Christian young adults would enlist so that the burden falls more broadly and not just on the few

  • James Stanton

    Denny, I would be very cautious about presenting articles from people who supported our catastrophic blunders in the Middle East. War in Afghanistan was not “optional”. That war was declared on us. We declared war on Iraq and destabilized that country and made it a magnet for jihadist militants.

    I think, at the very least, we should show some humility about the dearth and difficulty of solutions for the problem of ISIS and Islamic militancy in the Middle East. While it is true that our past should not stop us from taking action where we can to stop this threat, we should be wary of advice from those who share in lacking credibility with regards to foreign policy decision-making.

    It’s not simply about resolve or moral clarity. It’s about doing what is achievable and prudent without miring ourselves in another decade long war of attrition. Like it or not, domestic politics will play a very large role here in our foreign policy response.

    Lastly, it’s not just the op-ed writers at the Washington Post, the WSJ, and Commentary who are “raising the alarm” about the threat posed by ISIS. This defense against claims of”war-mongering” and “optional war” are straw-men as the primary debate is not over whether or not to take ISIS on but rather the extent of the US role in this mission.

    • jazzypaul

      “War in Afghanistan was not “optional”. That war was declared on us.”

      Nope. The Taliban never declared war on us. Frankly, neither did Al Qaeda. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have gone after bin Laden. But instead of temporarily displacing the Taliban and spending billions of dollars to do so, we should have gone the path of “you won’t know when and you won’t know where, but you will most certainly know WHY.” And then monitored OBL until we could have caused as much damage, shock and awe as possible.

  • James Bradshaw

    I, for one, see these acts as the atrocities they are. It’s gutter evil. Yet, conservative columnist Rod Dreher reminds us:

    “Convert, leave, or die. That’s the trio of awful options ISS is giving to Christians in Iraq.

    Sadly, there’s an all-too-familiar ring to this ultimatum. These were the exact options given to all Catholic clergy in Ireland when England instituted the penal laws against Catholics several hundred years ago.

    When William of Orange defeated his father-in-law, the deposed King James II, along with his Irish Catholic allies at the Boyne in 1690, Parliament was determined that an Irish Catholic uprising never threaten their rule again, and so they passed penal laws, or “papist codes.” As author Thomas Keneally put it, these codes were “aimed at keeping the native Irish powerless, poor, and stupid.”

    The details of these laws should still shock us.”


    • Ken Abbott

      Hmm. And how were the Scottish Covenanters treated by crypto-Catholic Charles II and openly Catholic James II? I’ve been to Greyfriar’s churchyard and to the Grassmarket and heard the testimonies about the killing times. I’ve seen the open-air prison in which the Covenanter families (with women and children) were incarcerated during Edinburgh winters, allowed to die of exposure, disease, and starvation if not hanged by the neck first. Ask Dreher how Cardinal Beaton treated the early Scottish Protestants as well–burned at the stake, or put on French slave galleys.

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