In remarks made before White House journalists on August 28, President Barack Obama, officially the commander-in-chief of the world's most powerful military, offered his nation the following status of his leadership in the emerging global struggle with the Islamic State. "We don't have a strategy yet," so stated President Obama, with a level of reckless candor that is frankly astonishing.
And what about the commander-in-chief of the growing jihadi movement coalescing under the framework of the caliphate that calls itself the Islamic State? The self-appointed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is much too savvy to reveal his grand strategic plan at a public press briefing. However, his public utterances display no ambiguity about his strategic goals and vision: to wage a merciless war of revenge against all the infidels on the planet, the United States being his number one target. Furthermore, the impressive and swift battlefield successes achieved by the Islamic State over a wide geographic space encompassing both Syria and Iraq display clear evidence of high-level strategic planning and near-flawless execution. It is unquestionably clear that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, unlike Barack Obama, is not waiting for a strategy to magically be formed; the grand strategy of the Islamic State not only exists; it is being aggressively implemented.
On paper, one could argue, it is inconceivable that the global jihad under the auspices of the Islamic State can defeat the world's sole remaining superpower. Such rationalization betrays both intellectual conceit and a profound ignorance of history. From the fall of Rome to the Teutonic barbarians to the defeat of the British Empire by American revolutionaries, the historical record is replete with examples of supposedly mightier nations succumbing to numerically and economically inferior opponents on the battlefield. The brutal lesson of history is that very often it is not the side that is more humane and enlightened that prevails. Too often, the inverse is the case, though for reasons only tangentially linked to the display of greater ruthlessness. Strong leadership with a fierce devotion to victory at whatever cost, combined with a high level of strategic and tactical skill, is far more relevant in the martial contest between competing nations and ideologies than the relative level of civilization. Undoubtedly, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is both informed and inspired by what occurred in the century following the death of the Prophet Mohammed; the conquest of the Middle East, Southwest Asia, North Africa and large parts of Southern Europe by Arabian horsemen inspired by an uncompromising religious ideology that offered but one prescription: conquer or die.
With admirable honesty, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel informed the media that, with respect to the Islamic State, "They're beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. Oh, this is beyond anything that we've seen. So we must prepare for everything."
Since Hagel's brutally frank characterization of the threat posed to the United States, administration officials and pundits have awkwardly attempted to walk back the perceived threat, arguing that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is too focused on operations in Iraq and Syria at present to be in a position to begin targeting the U.S. homeland -- as though these people actually have a pipeline into the innermost thoughts of the caliph of the Islamic State. In reality, the U.S. intelligence community, and by extension President Obama and his administration, have no clear idea of the threat America confronts, or the military and operational capacity of the Islamic State. While frantic arguing ensues over the supposed threat of jihadists with European and American passports returning home to commit random acts of violence, has anyone in the policymaking echelon considered that a declared enemy of the United States who has already displayed an impressive level of operational skill is more likely to attack the American homeland in a manner that achieves far greater strategic consequences than merely bombing a subway or bus?
Until and unless the U.S. has leadership that is as determined, disciplined and focused as is found in the newly established caliphate, we may find the 21st century being overwhelmed and subjugated by the 7th century.