UNITED NATIONS – President Obama proposed a war of words to combat Islamic State jihadists while Russia flourished fire and steel.
Obama told a United Nations summit on countering terrorism Tuesday that ideas, jobs and good governance are essential to “degrading and ultimately destroying” ISIS.
“It is not going to be enough to defeat ISIL in the battlefield,” Obama declared. Victory requires “defeating their ideology. Ideologies are not defeated with guns; they’re defeated by better ideas – a more attractive and compelling vision,” he said.
But the “more attractive and compelling vision” Obama outlined bears a striking resemblance what the U.N. has been preaching for decades, even as terrorism has steadily grown more militant and deadly.
“Sustainable development – creating opportunity and dignity, particularly for youth – is part of countering violent extremism,” Obama said, because terrorists exploit resentments among people who “are impoverished and hopeless and feel humiliated by injustice and corruption.”
Further detailing the “compelling vision” to counter ISIS’ recruitment efforts, Obama prescribed “more democracy in terms of free speech, and freedom of religion, rule of law, strong civil societies.”
The president did not explain why he believes a person drawn to jihad would find Western-style secular democracy an attractive alternative. Many ISIS recruits are coming from Western societies.
Continuing along the same line, Obama called on world leaders to build “diverse, tolerant, inclusive societies that reject anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry that creates the divisions, the fear and the resentments upon which extremists can prey.”
Obama said the effort to defeat ISIS has been making progress. He pointed to a Twitter site launched by the State Department and the United Arab Emirates to counter ISIS’ social media campaigns.
Obama summed up his compelling vision as “a commitment to the security, opportunity and dignity of every human being.”
He was confident of victory because, “Like terrorists and tyrants throughout history, ISIL will eventually lose because it has nothing to offer but suffering and death.”
In contrast to Obama’s battle of debating ideas, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to deliver suffering and death to the jihadis.
Putin told the General Assembly on Monday, “Today, we provide military and technical assistance both to Iraq and Syria and many other countries of the region who are fighting terrorist groups.”
Rebuking Obama’s campaign of limited airstrikes against ISIS, Putin said, “We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad’s armed forces and Kurdish militias is truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria.”
The Russian president dismissed the U.S. overthrow of secular strongmen in Libya, Iraq and Syria as “policies based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity.”
“How did it actually turn out? Rather than bringing about reforms, an aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster. I cannot help asking those who have caused the situation, do you realize now what you’ve done?”
He then attacked the strategy of backing “moderate” Syrian rebels.
“The ranks of radicals are being joined by the members of the so-called moderate Syrian opposition supported by the Western countries. First, they are armed and trained and then they defect to the so-called Islamic State,” Putin said.
His voice dripping with sarcasm, Putin called it “irresponsible to try to manipulate extremist groups and place them at one’s service in order to achieve one’s own political goals in the hope of later dealing with them or, in other words, liquidating them.”
Sens. John McCain, Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham have urged the Obama administration to pursue just such a strategy.
“To those who do so, I would like to say – dear sirs, no doubt you are dealing with rough and cruel people, but they’re in no way primitive or silly. They are just as clever as you are, and you never know who is manipulating whom. And the recent data on arms transferred to this most moderate opposition is the best proof of it. We believe that any attempts to play games with terrorists, let alone to arm them, are not just short-sighted, but hazardous,” Putin declared. “We cannot allow these criminals who already tasted blood to return back home and continue their evil doings.”
Russia called Tuesday’s U.S. counter-terrorism summit at the United Nations “disrespectful.”
“This initiative seriously undermines U.N. efforts in this direction,” Russia U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin said. “The U.N. has its own anti-terror strategy, and everything could easily be done within the U.N. framework.”
Russia is president of the U.N. Security Council for September and will chair its own meeting on ISIS Wednesday.
On Sunday, the Iraqi government announced it will share intelligence with Russia, Iran and Syria to combat ISIS. Russia recently began shipping arms and aircraft to reinforce the Syrian army.
With his latest ploy, Putin has inserted Russia into the center of Middle Eastern politics and culture, and re-established itself as a defender of Christians in the Holy Land.
Russia’s involvement in the Middle East dates to medieval times, when the people of Russia converted to Christianity and began performing pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Under the Treaty of Constantinople signed by czar Peter the Great in 1700, the Ottoman Empire guaranteed free passage for Russian pilgrims.
By the 19th century, the Russian Orthodox Church sent more pilgrims to Jerusalem than any other denomination. The czars embraced defense of the holy sites in Damascus and Jerusalem as a religious duty as well as a geopolitical expedient.
Remnants of the Emperor Constantine’s original 4th-century Holy Sepulcher church can be seen inside the Church of St Alexander Nevsky, a Russian Orthodox church next door to the present Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
Russian Orthodox believers describe Holy Russia as a ‘New Jerusalem,” with Moscow being the “Third Rome” after Constantinople (today’s Istanbul).