President Barack Obama’s top special-forces general in the Middle East is quietly trying to look beyond the president’s insistence that Islamic terrorism isn’t Islamic.
The reexamination is camouflaged by the general’s use of a panel of outside experts to help develop a military and ideological strategy against the jihadi group, which blitzed through western Iraq in the summer of 2014.
“We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it,” Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, the special forces commander in the Middle East, told the group of outside experts, according to a friendly article in the New York Times.
The general’s instructions to the group ostentatiously ignored the role of Islam. “I want to engage in a long-term conversation to understand a commonly held view of the psychological, emotional and cultural power of I.S.,” he said, formally obeying Obama’s see-no-Islam policy.
“We have not defeated the [jihadis’] idea. We do not even understand the idea,” he said, according to the article, which does not mention Islam as a motivating force, nor the White House’s fatwa against any mention of Islam.
But Nagata’s statements repeatedly hint that the Islamic State’s power is based on its Islamic authenticity.
“What makes I.S. so magnetic, inspirational?…There is a magnetic attraction to I.S. that is bringing in resources, talent, weapons, etc., to thicken, harden, embolden I.S. in ways that are very alarming,” he wrote.
The general also used a religious term when he commented about the persuasive power of America’s Muslim allies in the region, who are regarded as traitors to Islam by the Islamic State’s jihadis. The Islamic State’s supporters “revel in being called murderers when the words are coming from an apostate,” said Nagata.
An apostate is a religious term used to describe a person who has quit a particular faith. In numerous Islamic countries, and in the Islamic State, apostates are deemed to be traitors who deserve the death penalty, and apostates’ criticism of a person can be seen as evidence of that person’s fidelity to Islam’s strictures.
Nagata’s use of the apostate term “indicates he knows very well what the Islamic state is all about, and that it is absolutely forbidden to say so in the Obama administration,” said Robert Spencer, the author of several best-selling books on Islam, and the operator of the jihadwatch.org website.
The groups’ leaders use Islamic arguments to explain the group’s attacks, brutality, enslavements and strategic goals. For example, the group’s founding document is titled “This is the Promise of Allah.” The group’s black flag says ‘There is No God but Allah,” and carries the symbol for Islam’s reputed prophet. The group calls itself The Islamic State, and its gunmen promise perpetual jihad.
“Our expansion will be perpetual,” one jihadi told a CNN correspondent. “And the Europeans need to know that when we come, it will not be in a nice way. It will be with our weapons. And those who do not convert to Islam or pay the Islamic tax will be killed.”
But Obama has repeatedly insisted that the Islamic State isn’t motivated by Islam. “Now let’s make two things clear,” Obama said Sept. 2014 about the Islamic State, sometimes dubbed ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents… it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way,” Obama said.
Nagata’s actions are needed because Obama’s see-no-Islam policy is crippling U.S. strategy, said Spencer.
By asking for help from outsiders, Nagata “was subtly suggesting that the administration’s refusal to examine the Ideology os the Islamic State is foolish and wrong-headed,” Spencer said. “He’s trying to suggest that the [see-no-Islam] dogma that the Obama administration has is hampering our ability to combat it,” he said.
Nagata’s statement suggest a policy change is needed. “We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it,” Nagata said, according to the New York Times.
Obama’s refusal to recognize the region’s unique cultural and religious diversity is also exacerbating the regional wars, said Jonathan Schanzer, the research vice-president at the Federation for the defense of Democracies.
For example, Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran downplays the Iranian regime’s military and diplomatic efforts to expand the Shia branch of Islam since 1979, he said.
That’s a big problem because Iran’s Shia Islam is anathema to many Sunni Muslims in the region, some of whom join the Islamic State or donate funds, he said. “The fact that the U.S. is embracing [Iran], even nominally, will undoubtedly bring about new Sunni extremists who believe there is no longer a counter to Iran,” Schanzer said. “It is amazing that after all this time, that [the backlash] is still a mystery” to some leaders.
Obama reiterated his support for Iran in a Dec. 18 interview with National Public Radio.
“They have a path to break through that [diplomatic and economic] isolation and they should seize it,” he said. “Because if they do… it would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody… good for the United States, that would be good for the region, and most of all, it would be good for the Iranian people,” he said.
Obama’s see-no-Islam policy was highlighted when he blamed the longstanding U.S.-Iran conflict on the personal insecurities of Iranian leaders, rather than on long-standing divides. “I think there’s some hardliners inside of Iran that are threatened by a [diplomatic] resolution of this because they are so invested politically and emotionally in being anti-American or anti-Western that it’s frightening for them to open themselves up to the world in this way,” he said.
But “Iran still remains an extremist state, it is run by extremists… it is an Islamic extremist government that is not willing to change its [pro-Shia, pro-Iranian] strategy,” Schanzer responded.
Numerous Iranian leaders have said their overall strategy won’t be changed by any deal with Obama.
“There are only two things that would end enmity between us and the U.S.,” a top Iranian general reportedly said Dec. 27. “Either the US president and EU leaders should convert to Islam and imitate the Supreme Leader, or Iran should abandon Islam and the Islamic revolution,” said General Qolamhossein Qeibparvar.
More broadly, the U.S.-vs.-Islam conflict formally began in 1798, when the U.S. Navy was formed to protect American sailors from Islamic pirates in the Mediterranean.