President Barack Obama showed spine Wednesday in his remarks about the beheading of American journalist James Foley.
Despite the imminent threat of another American beheading, Obama made clear U.S. airstrikes in Iraq will continue, and likely escalate, in response to the barbarism.
But here is where the president fell short: In virtually the same breath with which he called the Iraqi militants a "cancer," he referred to them by their preferred name, "The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," also knows at the Islamic State group.
The president knows better. In politics, you never allow the opposition to frame the debate. You never let the opposition frame anything. So why on earth are we calling this ragtag army of a few thousand zealots a "state." Their goal is to be viewed as one. We shouldn't be helping them achieve it.
Obama has always shown respect for foreign leaders and customs. Some would suggest an inordinate amount. But, regardless, being viewed as an internationalist figure has been important to this president. He takes pain to properly pronounce the names of foreign states -- EE-rahn (Iran), Pockeestahn (Pakistan) -- and has controversially shown deference to Asian leaders with a slight bow of the head, which frankly never bothered me.
One wonders whether the president's noble instinct for demonstrating respect is unintentionally misfiring here. The fact of the matter is that he can label this band of butchers whatever he wants, and the term will stick worldwide. He speaks from the most powerful pulpit on earth. Likewise, if he keeps calling this group by its name, you and I will start calling it that as well. I've already started doing it.
Obama has an extraordinarily talented political team. They are expert at rhetorical wars. I was told by a leading national pollster that the No. 1 reason voters cited in 2102 exit polls for voting for Obama and against former Gov. Mitt Romney was a dislike of Romney. I don't know if that's true, but I believe it. The Obama wordsmiths pummeled Romney for more than a year and painted him in severely unflattering ways. It was their job to do it, and they did it well. That's politics, and politics is needed internationally, too.
The president should bring in his campaign team, if necessary, to find a proper name for this transnational group of maniacs, the one raping, butchering and burying alive innocent civilians across Syria and Iraq in the name of God. I don't suggest this as an exercise in name calling; it is strategically important. These radical groups are waging a worldwide propaganda war for the minds of Muslims, and they are succeeding, even in Western countries. It isn't enough to fight back militarily. We have to also win the war of words.
Why do these guys get to be the ones calling people "apostates"? If they're the ones perverting Islam, shouldn't we be tagging them thusly with every means at our disposal? Shouldn't we be running background checks on key figures in the movement, like political campaigns do, to publicly embarrass them for hypocrisy wherever it exists?
Take the 9/11 hijackers. They spent time in Florida before the attacks drinking booze and ogling strippers in direct contradiction to Islamic virtues. How was that not turned into a worldwide propaganda campaign by the Bush administration? Team Obama could have done wonders with it.
History has shown that movements flourish until their ideas and leaders are fully discredited. That is proving out again. We smashed al-Qaida in Afghanistan militarily, we smashed it in Iraq, yet the movement grows under other names. We have to destroy the people and ideas behind it before it grows further still.