Sunday night Obama spoke to the nation from the Oval Office about the fight with ISIS, or, as he prefers to call it, ISIL. Most pundits characterized his speech as rather flat and lacking passion, although the New York Times called it ‘tough and calming.’ It’s completely understandable that Obama didn’t enjoy giving that speech. Apart from the sad occasion, the killing of fourteen Americans by ISIS-inspired terrorists in San Bernardino, he didn’t have much to say that could sooth existing fears. In his opinion the US is doing as much as it can fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria without playing into ISIS’s hands by putting large numbers of troops on the ground, and the kind of homegrown terrorism that struck in San Bernardino cannot always be prevented, although possibly more can be done to detect early warning signs. Therefore Obama urged the American Muslim community to be vigilant and report any indication of radicalization in their midst, while simultaneously asking non-Muslims to treat their Muslim fellow countrymen with respect and compassion. He also called for stricter gun control to try and thwart future terrorist attacks.
Obama’s plight was aggravated by the fact that he knew that part of his audience would only hear two things, ‘Obama loves Muslims’ and ‘he wants to take away our guns,’ while the usual suspects on the GOP side would spew their usual vitriol: Members of the House, too unaware of their basic obligations to authorize the war on ISIS and too scared of the NRA to even disallow suspected terrorists to buy assault weapons in the US, and presidential candidates with each a brilliant plan of their own to defeat jihadism. Among the latter Ted Cruz initially took the cake, by declaring that he would carpet bomb Raqqa, the caliphate’s capital, until the sand was glowing, adding, after he had calmed down a bit, that he would ‘direct the Pentagon to destroy ISIS,’ an option Obama so far apparently had not considered. Adding depth to the debate both Rand Paul and Donald Trump pleaded for more guns on the streets in the US, but Trump did Cruz and Paul one better on Monday by declaring that the US should ban all Muslims from entering the country ‘until its representatives have figured out what the hell is going on.’
Trump could not have done Obama a bigger favor, because in retrospect the President’s speech, especially the part about respect for the US Muslim community, almost looks visionary. Unfortunately he could not have done ISIS a bigger favor either, because the impractical, unconstitutional, discriminatory and fundamentally un-American idea he developed at his Wannsee Conference of one only enforces ISIS’s vision of being at war with Christianity and ‘the West.’
There has been a lot of speculation about the motive behind Trump’s making his most bigoted statement so far. Some pundits think he did it to draw attention away from Cruz in Iowa and Christie in New Hampshire, and there are even whispers about Trump wanting out and consciously committing political suicide, but it is more likely that he simply believes what he says.
Democrats look at the GOP spectacle with mixed feelings. On the one hand there is the fear Trump sows in the hearts of US Muslims, and all kinds of violence his ‘proposal’ might incite, on the other hand he’s destroying the Republican Party’s chances faster than any Democrat can.