In a statement delivered from his vacation site in Martha’s Vineyard, President Barack Obama reacted on Wednesday to the execution of American journalist James Foley by the terrorists of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). While he proposed no specific American action in response to Foley’s murder, Obama said: “One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.”
It was a complaint that echoed Secretary of State John Kerry’s criticism of Russian president Vladimir Putin in March, when he said that Putin had “behave[d] in 19th century fashion by invading another country [Crimea, Ukraine] on completely trumped up pre-text.” Obama and Kerry seem incredulous that rivals might resort to brute force rather than intellectual argumentation to pursue their geopolitical and ideological ambitions.
In a similar vein, Obama said that the Islamic State would “ultimately fail…because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.” Those words echoed his speech to the United Nations in 2012 after the terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, when Obama said: “The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt,” and “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”
Obama seems to think that history is the work of other people, that it moves forward by some natural process, that progress and enlightenment require courage–physical courage–in their defense. He fails to recognize that history may just as well move backward as forward, that wars are won on the battlefield and not the op-ed page, that the enemies of the United States are less concerned about the future and more interested in the past.