On Tuesday night, President Obama both deprecated the significance of ISIS and inflated the success the U.S. has had in fighting it.
Don’t worry, be happy. This isn’t “World War III,” and the terrorists don’t “threaten our national existence.” They’re just a few “twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages” who must be “rooted out, hunted down and destroyed” — and that’s exactly what his administration is doing: “For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology. With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons. We are training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.”
And then reality intrudes. In tribute to the late, great David Bowie we might say, “Ground control to Major Obama.”
On Tuesday, the very day of the State of the Union, a Syrian suicide bomber affiliated with ISIS blew himself up in a central square in Istanbul, killing ten German tourists.
This morning the world woke up to learn there had been an attack in Jakarta that killed at least two civilians. Early reports may not be accurate but they indicate there were at least nine attackers.
The Istanbul attack is dismaying but not surprising, given Turkey’s proximity to the Islamic State and the history of previous terror attacks in Turkey. Back in July, another ISIS suicide bomber had killed 32 people at a cultural center in southeastern Turkey.
The Jakarta attack is more novel and, hence, in some ways more disturbing, even if the death count is mercifully lower. Indonesia hasn’t had a major terrorist attack since 2009, but ISIS threatens that country, which, with 250 million people, is the largest Muslim nation in the world. Hundreds of Indonesians have traveled to Syria to fight with ISIS and more than 50 have been killed there. There is a real risk in Indonesia, as in many other states, that radicalized fighters will return to wreak havoc or that ISIS will simply inspire homegrown jihadists.
Either way, it is ludicrous to claim, as Obama does, that ISIS is being defeated or at least contained. It has lost some small amount of territory — roughly 14 percent of the caliphate’s land — but it is determined to make up for recent setbacks in places like Ramadi by staging more terrorist attacks abroad. And it is succeeding in doing so, in spite of the lackadaisical campaign that Obama has mounted against it.