Editor's note: Newt Gingrich is a co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET weekdays, and author of a new book, "Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America's Fate." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) -- When President Barack Obama said recently that "we don't have a strategy yet" to defeat the Islamic State -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- many people were scandalized. Columnists attacked him for what they said was his admission of a deep failure. His own staff had to run around defending and explaining what he said. It was seen as a terrible blunder.
Maybe it was. Or maybe it wasn't.
The truth is that 13 years after the September 11 attacks, the United States does not have an effective strategy for dealing with radical Islamists and their deep commitment to waging war against us and against our civilization.
Much like the man who has a hammer and therefore assumes every problem is a nail, our bureaucracies have tried for 13 years to redefine the problem into something they are comfortable dealing with.
Two long, bitter wars -- Afghanistan is now the longest war in American history, four years longer than the American Revolution and almost three times the length of American participation in World War II -- have not made America and its allies safer.
The emergence of the Islamic State, as the terror group calls itself, is a further reminder that the analysis and predictions of the intelligence community, the military and the State Department have often been just plain wrong.
Islamic State controls vast regions in two countries and has substantial military equipment. It is not just a new problem in nation-state relations. Whether to engage it inside Iraq or Syria is not the key question.
Instead, the most important aspect about Islamic State is that it is a vector for attracting, training and preparing foreign terrorists from all over the world.
Islamic State comprises 10,000 potential terrorists from more than 50 countries. Estimates vary widely on how many Americans have gone Syria to join ISIS and other extremist groups. Some officials say dozens have gone; House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers says "hundreds." At least one of them, from Minneapolis, was recently killed.
More than 500 potential terrorists are believed to have traveled from Great Britain to join ISIS. It's believed that the two American journalists were beheaded by the same man, and experts believe he is from England.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has begun to recognize the depth and power of the terrorism crisis. He is proposing a series of major legal changes in Britain to eliminate would-be terrorists from British life. There will be even more draconian laws proposed in the near future if this conflict escalates.
We are facing a new kind of crisis in the rise of radical Islamists who spread their ideology worldwide through the Internet and through human networking. It is a global phenomenon and the analytical models and strategic patterns that have worked with nation-states will simply fail when applied to the Islamic State and its fellow terrorists in Hamas, Boko Haram, Libyan militants, Yemeni jihadis or any other group.
We need a new analysis with new language and new strategies that relate to defeating a viral system that spreads across national boundaries.
We're better off with a president who doesn't have a good strategy and knows he doesn't than with a president who has a bad strategy but thinks he has a good one. For most of his administration, the president was firmly in the latter category, so his recent epiphany marks an improvement.
If there is a silver lining in President Obama's disastrous foreign policy, it has been in awakening Americans and perhaps even the President himself to the need for a profound rethinking of our approach to radical Islamism.