What’s In a Name For IS?

We’ve heard it so many times now that it will presumably become a regular feature of the 2016 presidential campaign, repeated ad nauseum to the cheers of “base” voters and debate audiences: Barack Obama (and it appears, Hillary Clinton) are “afraid” to refer to the people we are fighting in Iraq and Syria (and sometimes elsewhere) as “Islamic terrorists” or anything else with “Islam” underlined.

As Bloomberg Politics‘ Melinda Hennenberger explains to anybody who doesn’t get it, “fear” has nothing to do with the circumspect language used by Obama administration figures (including former figures like HRC). It’s part of the strategy for defeating these people:

[T]he rhetoric about ISIS is itself an important part of the tactical response to it. And the consensus among scholars of ISIS is that while Obama and Hillary Clinton are wrong to suggest that there’s nothing truly Islamic about the group, they’re right to be careful to deprive terrorists of any statements that could be construed as pitting the U.S. against Islam-statements that would be used as a recruiting tool.

Some of the Republican pols who bitch about this language endlessly as though they really think Obama just cannot bring himself to criticize America’s Enemies–maybe because he’s actually a Muslim?–are seeking Obama’s job, and I do wonder if any of them becomes president he (no, I’m not going to pretend Carly Fiorina is a serious candidate for president) will suddenly sound more or less like his predecessor, or his predecessor’s predecessor, George W. Bush, who was pretty careful on this subject as well. You know, candidates say all sorts of funny things in the foreign policy arena, like promising to recognize the Armenian genocide or move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

The other possibility, of course, is that a Republican president would double down on the candidate talk (Islamic State! Islamic State! Islamic State!) for the precise reason of rebranding the U.S. as Islamophobic, which would sure simplify Middle Eastern policy, wouldn’t it? Maybe that won’t happen. But you certainly have to wish these birds weren’t so quickly multiplying the number of words they will have to eat if they come to their senses.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.