Opinion Columns & Blogs

Davis Merritt: Americans not ready for the truth about ISIS


President Obama said he will tell us Wednesday what “our game plan is going forward” in dealing with the Islamic State, or ISIS.

Four wholly predictable results:

Some percentage of the commentators and politicians who have been urging him to articulate a strategy will say, “It’s about time,” and, if and when it seems to be working, take credit for it.

Some percentage of them will say the plan does not do enough to guarantee the unguarantee-able: that America will never be attacked by ISIS or its progeny. And when an attack happens, they will say, “I told you so.”

By the weekend, some commentators and politicians will be talking about “the failed Obama plan for ISIS.”

Obama will not, because he dare not, tell the American people the difficult truth about what we face far into our future.

No one could create a strategy that matches the expectations of a society lashed to a 24-hour news cycle that turns minor setbacks into instant disasters and politicians’ 10-second sound bites into the Gettysburg Address.

Thus, he is doomed to failure because our petulant impatience blinds us to the historic reality that the human failings most threatening to a free society are deep in our DNA and can never be eradicated. They can only be rendered “manageable,” a term that drew derision when Obama used it.

Movements based on religious or racial intolerance, indifference to the suffering of others, greed, envy or ignorance cannot be destroyed, only temporarily suppressed, discredited or marginalized. Ideally, this buys time for indirect, incremental and agonizingly slow but ultimately sure improvement of humankind. But the cost, in lives and resources, is constant and painful.

Our Civil War was actively fought from 1861 through 1865, but it actually began with the founding of the country, and vestiges of it remain 240 years later. The 1860s set-piece battles made slavery illegal, and the street skirmishes of the South in the 1950s and ’60s made discrimination illegal, but it takes only seconds of Web search to find corners where that war’s motivating emotions fester.

It took the Allies more than 20 years – including eight in a shooting war – to marginalize fascism, and the West spent more than 70 years dealing – short of shooting – with Soviet communism before it discredited itself. But organized and individualized vestiges of both linger.

The religious extremism that defines the Middle East has been going on for more than a thousand years. The West has been involved for more than 900 of those years. From Pope Urban’s first crusade in 1095 to President George W. Bush’s ignorantly declared “crusade” amid the rubble of the World Trade Center, extremists on both sides have periodically fanned the flames.

No American president can erase that history nor diminish its allure to radical Islamists who want to write the next chapter in our blood. Anyone who believes a few months of bombing can eradicate this latest iteration of religious intolerance is living a fantasy.

Our 21st-century mindset doesn’t tolerate lengthy wars; the half-life of our resolve is about 18 months. So the president best avoid the word “war,” which implies beginning and ending points.

Unfortunately, neither can he say the truth: This is going to be life in our world; learn to live with it.

Davis Merritt, a Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at dmerritt9@cox.net.