ISIS continues to roil American public and political discourse.  It is a challenge, too, for those of us who work on relations between religion and media, because it is a fascinating modern expression of their interaction.  I’ll obviously have more to say, but for now I thought I’d pretend that I’m a presidential candidate in one of the debates answering one of those insipid “lightning round” of questions:

  1. Is ISIS an existential threat to the US?  No
  2. Is ISIS a threat to our “way of life?” Only if we let it be
  3. Is ISIS a threat to our foreign policy goals in the Middle East and Beyond? Yes
  4. Does ISIS undermine our carefully-crafted-decades-long balance-of-power approach in that region?  Yes
  5. Is ISIS a religious movement?  Yes and No
  6. Is ISIS a media phenomenon?  Yes, in a number of different ways
  7. Would ground combat in the region, directly or indirectly involving the US, complicate matters? Yes
  8. Can Israel help in any major way?  No
  9. Can Iran help in any major way? Maybe, but….
  10. Is getting the Kurds more involved a simple solution to the problem?  No
  11. Should Turkey be doing more about this? Yes
  12. Would portraying this as a global struggle between “Islam” and “the West” benefit US or ISIS?  ISIS
  13. Does stigmatizing Muslim refugees aid ISIS? Yes
  14. Do some of our own actions in the past and some of our supposed “friends” in the region share the blame for the rise of ISIS?  Yes
  15. Is there a hidden lever of power somewhere in the Oval Office that, if grasped, will solve foreign policy dilemmas like ISIS?  Only presidential candidates seem to know of its existence
  16. Has ISIS completed the undoing of the traditional bipartisan approach to foreign policy in the US, making it instead subject to the whims of election-year politics?  Yes
  17. Is there any vital interest of the US that ISIS has succeeded in destroying?  See # 16

Stay tuned.