In fight against ISIS, Obama should look to Churchill

March 4, 2015 | Special For, By Former Rep. George R. Nethercutt Jr. (R-Wash.), contributor

This article first appeared here on

About two miles from London’s Buckingham Palace stands a majestic building that houses five floors of exhibits that provide a comprehensive and compelling chronicle of World Wars I and II. Evident within the walls of the Imperial War Museum is a national, overarching principle that carried Great Britain successfully through two world wars in spite of the loss of thousands of lives. That principle, freedom — vitally affirmed by other Allied nations in those two important wars — is as relevant today as it was then.

Churchill | George Nethercutt Foundation

Beneath the stone floor of Westminster Abbey lies the tomb of the Unknown Warrior, a British World War I soldier. Inside the abbey’s entrance and above the tomb, surrounded by the names of such prominent British leaders as former Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Clement Atlee buried or commemorated there, appear words that speak to the necessity of resilience in the face of mortal danger to mankind.

World War II’s seriousness is dramatically illustrated by viewing the Churchill War Rooms in an underground Westminster bunker covered by a 30-foot slab of concrete. Through the sights and sounds of war there, one can feel the danger that lurked above London during World War II as German planes bombed the city. Below, Great Britain’s Churchill and his military experts plotted the British response to Axis aggression. Churchill’s encouragement to his countrymen gave them hope, but the deadly nature of the evil German threat remained — the life and liberty of mankind was at stake. Largely self-sufficient underground, with Allied forces dependent on the plotting that occurred there, Churchill recognized the Nazi menace and spoke of it, both before and after it became evident to the world. He was unafraid of offending Germans and others of German heritage, calling Hitler what he was — evil and dangerous to a free world.

Today, the evil of Islamic terror infects the orderly world. And today’s question begs an answer from free people everywhere: What does freedom require of current leaders in the face of growing evil?

World War II had an international leader who believed deeply in freedom and was willing to persuade other co-equal, international leaders of the imminent German threat. Had not Churchill courageously sounded freedom’s alarm and persuaded other leaders, including President Franklin Roosevelt, to fight such evil, today’s free world would have suffered from oppression that comes from brutality and prejudice. The free world requires an advocate like Churchill who will stand as a bulwark against oppression.

By its very names — the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the alternative Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) — Islam is at the heart of ISIS efforts. Islamic terror subverts traditional Islamic principles. Reluctant to identify the growing threat by militant terrorists, who behead and blow up innocents with impunity and without a hint of conscience, President Obama has been properly criticized for failing to call Islamic terrorists what they are: Islamic terrorists. Unlike Churchill in World War II, who opposed the appeasement of Hitler by those who downplayed the threat he posed, Obama is excessively deferential to today’s enemies of freedom, the growing group of Islamic terrorists who spread their brutality under the dignified Islamic banner. He can easily articulate the difference between terrorists and millions of faithful Islamic followers who don’t subscribe to the terrorists’ barbaric acts, but his silence is evident of his fear of offending Muslims in general. His silence also underplays the threat he is charged with repelling. If Obama dares to utter the words “Islamic terrorists,” no Muslim will be confused by his intentions. Failing to do so only feeds the president’s reputation for unfounded intransigence. Not recognizing evil when it confronts the world ignores World War II’s history.

American presidents have a loud microphone — when one speaks, people listen. Obama’s failure to define the terrorists for what they are may not matter to most idealists, but his failures feed existing suspicions that he isn’t waging an effective fight against either terrorists or terrorism. When Churchill called out Adolf Hitler as evil and threatening, some doubted, but most then heeded his warnings and mobilized to counter the worldwide Axis threat. As a result, the terror of Nazism was stopped.

Winston Churchill once said: “It’s not enough that we do our best: sometimes we have to do what’s required.” President Obama should do what is required: speak in overarching terms founded on freedom. Only then will he inspire the world to mobilize the force necessary to defeat the evils of ISIS.

Nethercutt is a former U.S. representative from Washington state, serving from 1995 to 2005.

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