State Department spokesman: We need to go after ISIS's root causes, like lack of job opportunities

Via Newsbusters and Powerline. “We cannot kill our way out of this war,” says Marie Harf, reciting a bit of wisdom so conventional among America’s ruling class since Vietnam that it might as well be etched in granite above the entrance to the State Department. What’s less conventional is that it falls to Chris Matthews(!) to perform the reality check: We’re not going to job-create our way out of this war either. Any honest list of “root causes” of the Islamic State begins with the “Islamic” part, a point stressed repeatedly in Graeme Wood’s superb new essay on ISIS for the Atlantic:

Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”…

According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”…

In Haykel’s estimation, the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition,” Haykel said. Islamic State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”

I wonder if Harf believes her root-causes nonsense or if it’s just a means-ends bit of diplo-spin. She might believe it. Lefties, including her boss, tend to fall back on economic explanations for cultural phenomena they consider uncomfortably regressive, whether it’s rural Americans clinging to guns and religion (the job market dried up!) or ISIS degenerates killing Christians (there just aren’t enough refineries in Iraq to keep them gainfully employed, I guess). This is crude historical materialism, something any progressive worth her salt would reach for when trying to interpret a strange new movement. On the other hand, the “jobs” theory is politically useful for Harf and State: Once you identify a root cause in an enemy with whom you’re at war, you’re expected to do something about it to erode their support. If the root cause is Middle Eastern unemployment and economic stagnation, well, that’s something the U.S. government can address, at least at the margins. If the root cause is Islamic doctrine and identity, from which Salafists take their inspiration and for which they hope to establish a durable caliphate, there ain’t much the United States can do. That’s why Obama increasingly (and surreally) refuses to connect the Islamic State to Islam. He’s not going to convince the world’s Salafists to rethink their position, but he might be able to get Starbucks to open a few extra franchises in Baghdad. Pretending to address a pretend root cause is better than not addressing the real root cause, right?

I feel like we’ve reached a turning point when both Matthews and Ed Schultz are demanding less talk and more bombs for the barbarians, but I’m sure that’ll clear up once a Republican president is in charge of calling in the bomb strikes again.