ISIS: What Would Churchill Do?

Power Line has come into possession of a transcript of a recent telephone conversation between President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who, as everyone knows, has been way out in front of Obama in judging the seriousness of the problem posed by the rise of ISIS.

Obama: Hey Dave, it’s Barry. How you likin’ those groovy tunes on that iPod I gave you at the G-8?

Cameron: Barry! Love ‘em. Especially Kool and the Gang: “There’s a Party Goin’ on Right Here!” So how’s your handicap coming?

Obama: Grrr. Still having trouble with my backswing on the tee. . .

Cameron: Oh, sorry, by handicap I meant Joe Biden and Harry Reid. I’ll be more specific next time. Anyway, what can I do for you?

Obama: So, Dave, about that Churchill bust I sent back a while ago. . .

At this point the tape became garbled. . .

I’m sure Obama is wondering why public opinion has turned so sharply against his handling of foreign policy, and why the fickle public now supports, by a comfortable margin, exerting American military power to deliver some serious smack on ISIS in the desert. It would seem rather simple: Americans don’t react well to seeing American citizens having their heads chopped off by America-taunting barbarians.

The whole situation is starting to remind me of the runup to the British Sudan campaign of 1898, which Churchill brilliantly narrated in his much overlooked classic, The River War. The story is not identical, but offers some parallels. As with the U.S. in Iraq, a Liberal government had decided to retreat from the Sudan following a series of humiliating defeats on the battlefield (as I said, the two stories are not identical), but in the course of the final retreat the fanatical jihadist army of the Mahdi captured General Charles Gordon, cut off his head, and paraded it around Khartoum.

The British did nothing to avenge the death of Gordon or retrieve their position in the Sudan for several years. But throughout the early years of the 1890s, public opinion in favor of a war against the Madhdist forces in the Sudan steadily grew until, following the replacement of a Liberal Party government with a Conservative Party government in 1895 (does this sound vaguely familiar?), it was decided to embark upon the reconquest of the Sudan.

There was no single reason why this decision was made. As Churchill explained it: “The diplomatist said: ‘It is to please the Triple Alliance.’ The politician said: ‘It is to triumph over the radicals.’ The polite person said: ‘It is to restore the Khedive’s rule [the Khedive was the native ruler of Egypt] in the Sudan.’ But the man in the street—and there are many men in many streets—said: ‘It is to avenge General Gordon.’” (Emphasis added.) Likewise, a lot of American right now wish to avenge the deaths of Steve Sotloff and James Foley.

And what the heck, since we’re on the subject, might as well rerun Churchill infamous description of fanatical Islam in the rare unabridged edition of The River War, just because:

“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property—either as a child, a wife, or a concubine—must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proseltyzing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science—the science against which it had vainly struggled—the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.”

Prediction: Obama won’t quote this passage in his speech tonight. Actually, not likely he quote Churchill about anything. Ever.

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