President Barack Obama has consistently misjudged U.S. soft power capabilities in the Middle East as well as overestimated his own personal influence and stature there. And he has consistently underestimated the power of force — a language frequently used and well-understood in the region. He began his administration with a Middle East trip that essentially apologized for America's past mistakes in the hopes that his sincerity would engender a positive response. Alas, it did not, and it probably backfired as a variety of extremists were able to smile at their constituents and say "I told you so — America was against us in the past and will interfere again in the future when it suits the country's needs. America cannot be trusted." Mr. Obama's Western logic and approach simply does not comport with Middle East logic or culture.

Even as ISIS began its conquests and heartless decapitations of fellow Muslims as well as non-Muslims, Mr. Obama referred to them as the "JV team." ISIS continued to gain land and huge oil revenues, with global adherents flocking to the alleged B team as if it were an all-star varsity squad. While everyone in the Middle East and elsewhere waited to hear a serious American response, only weeks ago the president amazingly stated that we did not yet have a strategy to deal with ISIS. However, on July 6 he articulated one. Our battle against ISIS has focused on airstrikes and training of opposition forces, which will be increased, he said, stressing , however, that this "is not simply a military effort. … Ideologies are not defeated by guns. They're defeated with better ideas." Accordingly, he said, we are increasing soft power efforts to counteract ISIS' online recruitment.


"This larger battle for hearts and minds," the president said, "is going to be a generational struggle."

Alas, the strategy has significant flaws, meaning that many will needlessly die in the Middle East as well as elsewhere. A campaign to counter the group's "twisted thinking" is not just a generational struggle, it is multi-generational. Evil in the form of fascism, communism, racism and tribalism will continually pop up on the global scene until the nature of mankind changes. So the president is partially correct here. There is a generational struggle, but the menace is now, and the long-term will be much better if we appropriately deal with the threat immediately. This requires the effective use of military force.

In our own Civil War, the South was not defeated by better ideas; it was defeated militarily. World War I's Central Powers were smashed into submission, and Word War II's Axis powers were crushed on land, sea and in the air. There was no struggle for hearts and minds — there was defeat by overwhelming force and submission to the will of the conquerors. Ideology changed later.

ISIS and other terrorist groups look like "winners" to many of the world's frustrated or psychopathic discontents, hence their global attraction and voluntary recruitment. Lofty philosophic prose sponsored by the U.S. will do little to stem the volunteer tide as long as terrorists are viewed as winners. Accordingly, they must be militarily squashed and shown to be the losers they really are.

This will not happen without active, serious U.S. military actions on the ground as well as in the air. We have much stronger capabilities, and ISIS, Al Nusra and others can be quickly dislodged from important territories, if only we have the will. Military force drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in less than two months, and he presumably had a large, well-trained fighting force. Presently, we are sending boys to do a man's job — we attempt to train those in the region who we hope will be good guys so they can do the job for us. Alas, they have sectarian rivalries and little mutual trust. Already we have seen our "trained" allies run from the battle, usually leaving the weapons we supply behind. This will not defeat ISIS; indeed, it will make it stronger, more feared and more attractive.

The longer we wait, the more Middle East massacres will occur and the more threatened the rest of the world will be. We do not need another Sept. 11 here.

Donald L. Losman is a lecturer in international affairs at the Elliott School, George Washington University. His email is losmand@gmail.com.