Obama had some very serious talk to those reacting badly to the Paris attacks by ISIS. Steve Benen (MaddowBlog) elaborates: the GOP candidates are doing exactly what ISIS wants.
"We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks," Obama said. "I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate. They’ve been playing on fear to score political points or to advance their campaigns and it’s irresponsible. It needs to stop because the world is watching."
This wasn’t just empty rhetoric. The point about ISIS "recruitment tools" is of particular importance because it offers American political leaders a timely reminder: if you’re making things easier for ISIS, you’re doing it wrong.
The enemy is not some inscrutable foe with a mysterious worldview. As they’ve made clear many, many times, ISIS leaders want to be described in explicitly religious terms. They want to be characterized as a "state" and an existential threat to the West. They want to turn the West against refugees. ISIS leaders have a narrative – that Western leaders hate their faith – and they’re desperate to have their enemies reinforce that narrative as often, and as enthusiastically, as possible.
And in response, Republicans want to describe ISIS in explicitly religious terms. American conservatives keep describing ISIS as a "caliphate" and an existential threat to the West. The right has turned against refugees. Some Republicans have gone so far as to suggest Christians should explicitly be given preferential treatment over Muslims, effectively providing fodder for the very ISIS narrative the terrorists are eager to push.
... the point is that Republicans are inadvertently making things easier for ISIS when they should be doing the opposite. The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, went so far yesterday as to argue that American conservatives are "materially undermining the war against terrorism" and making a challenging situation worse.
So Benen offers the GOP this test and advice.
- Are you doing exactly what ISIS wants you to do?
- If the answer is "yes," stop.
"ISIS can't win. But we can lose."
We can lose by overreacting. Here's the case made by Vox's Ezra Klein.
Amidst a week of fear over what the Islamic State can do, it's worth stopping to be clear about what it can't do. It can't invade Paris. It can't launch an air war against the United States. It can't even hold its ground — ISIS expert Will McCants estimates the group has lost between 20 and 25 percent of its territory in recent months.
The attack ISIS launched against Paris is a horror. But it should take nothing away from its tragedy to say more Americans have died from gun violence in seven days than died in the Paris attacks. That's not to downplay the threat of terrorism, but rather to highlight what makes it different: its capacity to terrorize.
"Terrorism is a crime against the mind," the security expert Bruce Schneier told me after the Boston Marathon bombing. "The message of terrorist attacks is you’re not safe and the government can’t protect you — that the existing power structure can’t protect you."
Fear makes people do stupid things, and it makes countries do stupid things, too. And it is fear that is ISIS's real weapon here.
ISIS can't hope to defeat America or France on the battlefield. It can't turn back our jets or harm our aircraft carriers. It can only hope to make us so afraid that we do something stupid that either helps it or hurts us. ISIS can only succeed if, blinded by rage and terror, we achieve its goals for it. There are at least two ways that might happen — and one of them is already happening.
Those behaviors that play into ISIS's plans are (1) creating a backlash against refugees and (2) escalating into a war on the ground.
(1) "If they can spur a backlash against refugees, then they can recruit from that population when the backlash occurs," says Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "This was their playbook in 2005 and 2005 when they were known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. They would attack Shias, spark a backlash against Sunnis, and then recruit by posing as the defender of the Sunnis."
(2) ISIS wants to sell its followers on a holy war to defend Islam, kill the infidels, and build the glorious caliphate. What it's getting, instead, is a merciless, impersonal pounding from air-dropped ordnance.
Ideally, ISIS would like to be left alone to build its state. But if that's not going to happen, pulling the West into an endless ground war in a heartland of the Muslim world is a much better recruiting opportunity than inviting young men to sit and around and wait to be bombed. A chance to fight the infidels in defense of your land is more appealing than a chance to die at the hands of their superior technology. For that reason, says Gartenstein-Ross, "inserting ground troops into Syria could play into their hands."
The thing you need to remember about ISIS, says Gartenstein-Ross, is it is not just weak in the West, it's also loathed across the Middle East: "America is unpopular in the Middle East, but if we had ISIS's approval rating, we would see that as a very, very serious strategic problem. They have a terrible brand. So part of what we need to do is simply avoid making mistakes that will let them present themselves as a defender of Muslims. We need to make sure Muslims continue to overwhelmingly reject ISIS."
So far so good. A recent Pew survey found overwhelming dislike for ISIS among countries with substantial Muslim populations. Janet Allon at alternet.org reports.
According to a recent poll by Pew Research Center, disdain for ISIS is high among citizens of 11 countries with large Muslim populations, including Jordan, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey. In Lebanon, hatred of ISIS is at 100 percent. It's hard to beat that for universal condemnation.
From the Pew report:
Israelis (97%) and Jordanians (94%) were also strongly opposed to ISIS as of spring 2015, including 91% of Israeli Arabs. And 84% in the Palestinian territories had a negative view of ISIS, both in the Gaza Strip (92%) and the West Bank (79%).
As another example, Jordan has reacted in horror and anger at ISIS's savagery. Here is a first-hand account of protests against ISIS in the capitol city of Amman with photos posted at TucsonWeekly/TheRange.
That's what we can lose by overreacting.
Message to Republican governors and GOP candidates: do not F%#k this up.