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'How Obama Thinks About Terrorism'

Obama promises another 13 months of rational policy for dealing with ISIS. But what comes next?

I'm tied up on a fairly busy fill-in editing schedule this week, so blogging will be light and most of it will be outsourced...sorry about that. Today, it's another look at the real dividing line in American politics: Emotion versus reason. I've said here many times, on many different issues, that emotion rules. Think about everything from long-distance romances to the guy who throws that last punch even though the ref (or a cop) is standing right there. Too often in life, we're wired to do what we think "feels good" -- not what makes sense.

Especially when it comes to terrorism. When barbarians show up at our doorstep and start wantonly killing our innocent neighbors and loved ones, as much as we say the goal going forward is to make sure this never happens again, the human instinct is always instead drawn toward more basic revenge. If you're a politician, the easiest thing to do is declare "we're at war" -- without explaining what that actually means -- or promise indiscriminate carpet bombing or, in the case of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, invade some easy-to-invade country that has nothing to do with the initial terrorism.

President Obama is determined to respond rationally -- most notably, not give ISIS EXACTLY WHAT IT WANTS which is a ground invasion of Syria -- and he's paying a political price for that. The Atlantic had an excellent analysis after his Sunday night speech:

 For George W. Bush, the fight against jihadist terrorism was World War III. In his speech to Congress nine days after 9/11, Bush called al-Qaeda "the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century ... they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism." Many Republicans still see the "war on terror" in these epic terms. After the Paris attacks, Marco Rubio didn't merely warn that the Islamic State might take over Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East. He warned that it might take over the United States. America, he argued, is at war with people who "literally want to overthrow our society and replace it with their radical Sunni Islamic view of the future." In his telling, the United States and "radical Islam" are virtual equals, pitted in a "civilizational conflict" that "either they win or we win."

Obama thinks that's absurd. Unlike Rubio, he considers violent jihadism a small, toxic strain within Islamic civilization, not a civilization itself. And unlike Bush, he doesn't consider it a serious ideological competitor. In the 1930s, when fascism and communism were at their ideological height, many believed they could produce higher living standards for ordinary people than democratic capitalist societies that were prone to devastating cycles of boom and bust. No one believes that about "radical Islam" today. In Obama's view, I suspect, democratic capitalism's real ideological adversary is not the "radical Islam" of ISIS. It's the authoritarian, state-managed capitalism of China.

While Republicans think ISIS is strong and growing stronger, Obama thinks it's weak and growing weaker. "Terrorists," he declared on Sunday, now "turn to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society." In other words, the Islamic State probably can't do anything to America that we Americans aren't doing to ourselves all the time, and now largely take for granted.

Obama also argued that the Islamic State is losing in the Middle East, where the "strategy that we are using now—air strikes, special forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country" will produce a "sustainable victory."

The president's view seems pretty unyielding -- which (although you can read a lot of comments to the contrary, just scroll down) is good news for America and the world for the next 13 months. After that? For better or worse, that's up to the American voter.