• Politics

The Democratic Debate: Incoherent on ISIS

4 minute read

The three Democrats who debated in Iowa last night were very, very concerned about the Paris terror attacks and the growing evidence that ISIS—or Da’esh, as it is called in the region—has metastasized into a true global threat. Very concerned. Bernie Sanders even thought that this barbaric challenge to civilization should be “eliminated”…although it was not as great a threat as global warming, he allowed, which—hold on, here—causes terrorism. You know, droughts and floods set people in motion and…well, never mind.

Sanders’ utter lack of proportion on this issue—and yes, climate change is a serious problem, but not the immediate threat to our security that Islamic terror is—is a classic example of how the American left lives in a hermetically sealed bubble, just as the American right does. And the left, and its solipsistic insistence on political correctness, is having an undue influence on the Democrats’ presidential candidates in 2016.

Indeed, political correctness makes it impossible for Democrats to face, head on, by name, the essential problem: the rise of Islamic radicalism—or jihadi-ism, as Hillary Clinton tried to call it (and almost succeeded). This is not just a word game. If we are to come to terms with Da’esh and Al Qaeda and other jihadis, we have to acknowledge that they represent a basic conflict within Islam: the rise of Wahhabi-style fundamentalism over the past century. If we recognize the nature of this battle, it becomes easier for us to identify our friends and enemies, especially the latter. Our enemies are those who have funded and promulgated Wahhabi-style Islam through radical Madrasas throughout the Middle East. That would be Saudi Arabia, whose tottering monarchy made a devil’s bargain with the Wahhabis decades ago. In recent weeks, the Saudis and their gulf allies, have turned their attention away from ISIS and focused on the Shi’a rebels in Yemen, who represent a far less potent threat to global stability (even though they are supported by Iran). And yet, Saudi Arabia—and Wahabi-style Islam–was not mentioned by any of the candidates last night.

But then, nothing much was—other than a general belief that America should lead the fight against ISIS in consultation with our allies within and outside the region. Which is what we have been doing, to some effect, but not enough.

The question now—unasked and unanswered—is whether the recent evidence of global reach by ISIS requires a change in US/NATO strategy. France will probably invoke Article V of the NATO treaty, which calls on the members to join together in a military response to the act of war. What does that mean? Does it mean—as most Republicans have suggested—that we are at turning point: that an allied invasion force is necessary to retake the territory held by ISIS/Da’esh?

Not even Hillary Clinton, who has a far better grasp of these problems than her two challengers, was willing to take on that one. But that will be the central question in the weeks to come: Can we build a military coalition—like the supple one built by George H.W. Bush in the first Gulf War—to take on the limited mission of destroying Da’esh’s safe haven. One wonders how Sanders and the rest of the left feel now about the use of drone strikes—one of which killed the alleged leader of ISIS in Libya on the same day as the Paris attacks–and the aggressive collection of terror-related data.

Aside from the incoherence on ISIS, the other notable moment of the debate was Hillary Clinton’s phenomenal conflation of “Wall Street”—the term of art for big finance—with Wall Street, the geographic region in lower Manhattan. She was challenged by Sanders on her financial support from “Wall Street” and came up with this:“Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan, where Wall Street is,” she said. “I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York.”

Well, I suppose it depends on what your definition of the word “is” is.

Based on what I saw last night, I’d say that 2016 is not looking like a good year for the Democrats—if it weren’t for the fact that more than half the Republican polity seems intent on giving us an amateur as their nominee at a time when a sober, sophisticated professional is needed.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com