The problem that Barack Obama’s summit to counter violence and extremism is meant to address isn’t one that community activism can resolve. The president’s message about the need for tolerance, understanding, and  inclusiveness to prevent and preempt radicalization of American youth is well suited to our historic notion of the “big tent.” But the world confronts a radicalized version and vision of Islam that requires a military and political approach. This isn’t something that Washington can fix quickly or comprehensively. First and foremost, the Arab states and the Muslim world must own up to the radical extremists in their midst.

We aren’t at war with Islam, and the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims aren’t jihadis. President Obama has acknowledged this. But he won’t clearly define the enemy we face. Determination to avoid playing into jihadi hands or alienating our Arab friends has led the president to a world of obfuscation and denial. The current threat isn’t from Basque separatists, Chechen radicals, or the Kurdish PKK; it’s from radicalized Muslims who are spreading their poison from Pakistan to Syria to Nigeria to the alienated and aggrieved Muslim communities of Europe.

This is a long war, specifically against those individuals and groups that have chosen to resurrect an austere, violent and fundamentalist version of their religion. To describe the fight by claiming, as President Obama did in his Los Angeles Times op-ed, as a battle against terrorism gets at only the visible hunk of the iceberg. The mass below the water line is where the danger lurks. And that threat is not some generic global challenge but resides primarily in the lands of the Arabs and among disparate Muslim groups such as Boko Haram that thrive in empty spaces and highly fractured societies.

The rise of Islamic State–and that’s why this summit is taking place–is a direct result of years of no governance, bad governance, and Sunni-Shiite sectarian rivalry fostered willingly (see: Iran) and unwillingly (see: U.S. invasion of Iraq) in the Middle East and South Asia. Force is required to preempt, contain, and to keep these radical jihadis at bay. The problem of ISIS will not be resolved until the broken spaces in which it thrives are filled with good governance, security, and prosperity. And that is not only beyond U.S. capacity but also may not necessarily be desired by the Iranian and Arab governments that play this dangerous game. Iran, the United States’ new putative partner, isn’t interested in turning Iraq into a cohesive state where the majority Sunnis rule; nor is Tehran–or the Russians and the U.S., for that matter–interested in getting rid of Bashar al-Assad, who feeds ISIS recruitment by killing Syrian Sunnis. Islamic State can’t be “ultimately defeated,” as President Obama is fond of saying, without a fundamental transformation in the Middle East.

The notion that Washington can somehow take the lead in this effort is preposterous. In conjunction with our regional partners, particularly the Gulf states, we must play a relentless and key role on the military aspect of the fight. But the U.S. should be under no illusions that we can fix what ails the Middle East. Some of our regional allies–the Saudis, Qataris, and Kuwaitis in particular–have funded and supported Islamist fundamentalist groups, including those on the Syrian battlefield. By propagating their own fundamentalist version of Islam, the Saudis contributed for years to the problem we all face now. And because we have so few friends in the region, we have no choice but to continue to depend on states (think Egypt and Saudi Arabia) whose values are fundamentally different from ours and whose repressive policies toward legitimate dissent help feed radical jihad.

We may not be able to come up with a neat prescription for how to defeat Islamic State and jihadi radicals. But as we fight this long war we can at least be honest about the challenge and the enemies we face. That clarity might bring more focus and urgency to the fight.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author.

This article was originally published on The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire.