WASHINGTON – President Obama may have had a difficult time formulating a strategy to deal with the ISIS crisis, yet he alone has been almost obsessively resolute in referring to the group as “ISIL.”
In some of Obama’s briefings on ISIS, he has gone so far as to spell out ISIL.
Puzzling to reporters and pundits, the use of ISIL by Obama has prompted a bevy of theories.
ISIS was the original name of the al-Qaida offshoot. It’s an acronym that stands for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. But, months ago, ISIS changed its name to ISIL – the Islamic State in the Levant. More recently, ISIS chose to be known simply as Islamic State.
Most news organizations, pundits and policymakers chose to stick with ISIS, perhaps to discourage the ISIS shell game of frequent name changes. Obama, though, has stuck with ISIL.
His determination took on almost comical tones in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd that aired Sunday.
Obama: “I’m preparing the country to make sure that we deal with a threat from ISIL.”
Todd: “Obviously, if you’re going to defeat ISIS, you have used very much stronger language.”
So confusing was the discussion, it forced Todd to clarify for viewers: “Obviously we refer to it at NBC News as ISIS. The Obama administration, president, says the word ISIL. The last S stands for Syria, the last L they don’t want to have stand for Syria.”
Todd apparently was suggesting the Obama administration would like Americans not to associate ISIS with Syria.
Capitol Hill Democrats decided earlier this week to go with ISIL – but for multicultural reasons. Isis was the name of a deity popular among feminists, many of whom named their daughters after her. It seems Isis Martinez, a woman in Miami, has been gathering signatures on a petition to the media to use ISIL.
Fox News’ Harris Faulkner suggests Obama is “tipping his hat” to ISIS by calling it ISIL.
“Levant is a bigger territory,” she said. “That’s why they want to embrace that name, and it includes many, many more countries than just Syria.”
Indeed it does. And one of those countries is Israel, as former Rep. Allen West points out.
“First, if you choose to refer to this group as ISIL, you have basically rewritten the map of the Middle East and fallen into the trap of not recognizing the existence of Israel and also Lebanon,” West wrote on his blog. “If you use ISIL, you are then validating the Islamic totalitarian and jihadist claim that the modern-day Jewish state of Israel is an occupation state and does not exist in the eyes of Muslims.”
The idea that Obama is disrespecting Israel by adopting the name ISIL has been popular. Indeed, the use of the term Levant by Islamic militants in the past has been motivated precisely by their ambitions for taking over the Jewish state.
Donald Trump added to the mystery recently when he said there is “a reason” Obama uses ISIL, but he declined to elaborate.
RoseAnn Salantiri, a contributing writer to the conservative commentary site TPATH, had an even more mysterious theory.
“The territory known as the Assyrian Empire seemed to disappear off the pages of history,” she wrote. “It did not. It divided into the nations we now know as Syria, southern Turkey, Iran and Iraq – the nations we now call ISIS – not ISIL. The distinction is an important one.”
The southern Levant also included today’s nations of Israel and Jordan along with the Gaza Strip and the southern part of Lebanon.
That’s significant, she says, when interpreted through the lens of bestselling author Jonathan Cahn, whose book, “The Harbinger,” and a documentary movie treatment called “The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment,” found striking parallels between ancient Israel’s judgment at the hands of Assyria and what the U.S. has been facing since Sept. 11.
“As stunning as these comparisons may be, when Cahn wrote the book, ISIS had not made its way into the public’s eye,” she writes. “If it had, chances are his book would have been a great deal longer.”
While Cahn’s book drew parallels between the Assyrians and the Sept. 11 hijackers, it seems America in 2014 finds itself essentially at war with the old Assyrian Empire – at least in the eyes of Obama, who refers to the enemy as ISIL.