If a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.
That line sums up President Obama’s tendency to downplay foreign-policy crises with derisory humor. And today his arrogance bears its toll. This weekend, Abubakar Shekau — the half-Salafi/half-psychotic leader of Boko Haram — pledged fealty to the Islamic State (IS).
Defined by extreme violence — burning students alive, slitting throats, destroying villages, etc. — Boko Haram is well matched to IS. As I recently explained, it threatens both regional and U.S. interests. Yet Shekau’s pledge to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi catalyzes the threat. Joining IS’s existential war on global civil society, Shekau will want to prove his worth. As evidenced by ongoing IS plots against European capitals, Shekau may attempt attacks on Western targets.
Regardless, this isn’t a problem for the West alone. Far from it. Just as the Islamic State destroys ancient treasures as well as ancient civilizations, its Boko Haram wing will focus on annihilating northern Nigeria. This is not hard to predict. On an ordained mission to purify earth of curiosity, philosophy, and freedom, IS has no conception of morality. Only purification.
Consider the recent IS beheading of Egyptian Copts in Libya. That massacre and others like it are part of a global sectarian war to enslave or obliterate all “others.” Unlike the patient absolutists in Iran, Islamic State is on an urgent clock. To flourish, it must continue to expand.
Herein lies the second problem posed by Shekau’s pledge: psychological inspiration. Look at a map. IS now controls territory from Iraq and Syria to Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan and elsewhere. Its reach is undeniably global. Moreover, seeing as the organization is surviving the might of the U.S. military, IS’s claims to holiness have never had more credibility. For disaffected minds and thousands of Salafi-Jihadists around the world, IS offers a cause to believe in.
This is President Obama’s great failing. He has allowed the Islamic State to physically live up to its own propaganda. And in this space, competing Salafi-Jihadists such as al-Qaeda are escalating in aggression. Or, like Boko Haram, simply joining IS. Rather than treating the Islamic State like the strategic cancer it is, President Obama treats it like an allergy: an annoyance, but not a crisis.
The political environment isn’t any better. Obsessed with his nuclear deal, President Obama has given Iraq to Iran. Its Sunni communities have been abandoned to the no-man’s-land between Shiite militia power drills and IS slavery. Cross-sectarian moderation is being vanquished, and on every continent the hopes of humanity are rotting in terrorist rubble.
President Obama might retain his sense of humor, but he’s living Shakespeare’s warning: “His jest will savor but of shallow wit, when thousands weep more than did laugh at it.”