The US involvement in fighting ISIL is largely confined to airstrikes, and the talk of a “coalition” of upwards of 40 countries is fatuous. Most of those confronting ISIL on the ground remain driven by their own strategic agendas. There’s very little strategic interest binding together the governments of Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria, for example, all of whom are involved in fighting ISIL.
But there’s a conceptual continuity between the era of Mr Bush’s “war on terror” and Mr Obama’s countering violent extremism (CVE) campaign. The continuity lies in the idea that small groups of people can become a national security priority by the dissemination of video imagery depicting grotesque acts of violence.
It was the dramatic live feed and endless looping of September 11 videos that created the narrative in which Bin Laden, leader of a small band of desperadoes numbering fewer than 1,000 men, could be seen by Americans as a threat on a par with Hitler.