The “Obama Doctrine”: what do you suppose that might be? The goal of fundamentally transforming the United States of America stands in the background, you can be sure of that. But now, six years into the program, we can see an arc of development, an evolution (or devolution). There are many metrics that can be employed to describe what Obama has done to this country. One might focus on the economy, on employment, on race relations, on the fate of individual liberty, on more nebulous matters like national mood, international prestige, and that potent if difficult-to-measure armory described in the phrase “soft power.” “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Ronald Reagan famously asked in 1980. Let’s generalize the question for the last six years: are we as a country better off than we were when Obama took office?
Let’s leave domestic matters — the controversies over Obamacare, the still-unfolding IRS scandals, illegal immigration, energy policy, and the like — to one side. Let’s focus instead on national security and the place of the United States on the world stage. How are we doing?
Over at Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds reproduced a mournful litany sent to him by a friend. Cast your mind back a single year, he suggested, all the way back to Labor Day weekend 2013. Then think about all that had not happened:
The Chinese ADIZ [that is, China’s unilateral extension of it defense perimeter in the South China Sea], the Russian annexation of Crimea, the rise of ISIS, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the fall of Mosul, the end of Hungarian liberal democracy, the Central American refugee crisis, the Egyptian-UAE attacks on Libya, the extermination of Iraqi Christians, the Yazidi genocide, the scramble to revise NATO’s eastern-frontier defenses, the Kristallnacht-style pogroms in European cities, the reemergence of mainstream anti-Semitism, the third (or fourth, perhaps) American war in Iraq, . . .
Et very much cetera. And all that, Reynolds’ anonymous correspondent observes, “was in the future just one year ago.”
“Nature,” Galileo observed four hundred years ago, “abhors a vacuum” That sucking sound you hear when reading the alarming list of what Secretary of State John Kerry might have dismissed as “19th-century” behavior, unbecoming of a modern, blow-dried state, that rushing wind is the sound of a profound leadership deficit. It’s what happens when a great power abdicates, when it stops acting like an adult and gives free rein to its inner community organizer, its inner selfie. It’s Lord of the Flies writ large.
Let’s step back and focus on just one element of this mosaic, the element conjured up by “the rise of ISIS, the fall of Mosul, the extermination of Iraqi Christians, and the Yazidi genocide.” How did all that happen?
First, a few signposts. In 2009, shortly after taking office, Obama went to Cairo to deliver his now (in)famous speech about America’s relations with Islam. “I have come here,” he said,
to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
I’ve italicized a few words and phrases that bear thinking about. Consider: “mutual interest” and “mutual respect.” The mutuality would seem to imply a certain reciprocity, don’t you think? But ask yourself this: how many Christian churches or Jewish synagogues are there in, say, Mecca or Riyadh or Medina? How many mosques are there in, say, New York, London, or Paris? Take your time.
While you are doing the math, ponder the words “justice,” “progress,” “tolerance,” and the idea of “the dignity of all human beings.” Is it true that Islam and the West (or, to use an antique formulation, Islam and Christendom) have anything like a shared understanding of the ideas these terms name? How much tolerance for religious diversity, for example, is there in any Muslim country, let alone in the territories controlled by the Islamic State (formerly ISIS)? What sort of dignity is accorded to Jews, Christians, women, homosexuals?
Are the answers to any of those questions encouraging?
Let’s move on to consider the president’s repeated claim that, in the wake of countless drone attacks and his celebrated taking out of Osama bin Laden (pause for applause and, click, another selfie), he had “decimated” al Qaeda, where by “decimated” the president meant not that he had executed one out of ten but that he had, if you will pardon the expression, decapitated the organization, leaving it a pale shadow of its former self.
Has he? Let’s move on to the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, etc.), an al Qaeda offshoot (it used to be called “al Qaeda in Iraq”) whose current configuration, according to a recent West Point report, has been four years in the making. (Its antecedents date back in the first instance to 2004 and ultimately to “the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood,” which began in Egypt in the 1920s.) There’s been bad blood between Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as head of al Qaeda, and the fellow known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who became head of ISIS in 2010. But such is the nature of tribal power struggles. Al-Zawahiri is doubtless a thug of the first water and I have no doubt there’s a drone with his name on it. But for sheer malignancy al-Baghdadi is right there in the first row alongside his predecessor Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who had himself videotaped while personally decapitating at least two Americans, Nick Berg and Eugene Armstrong. George W. Bush did for al-Zarqawi in June 2006, and Obama has extended the same courtesy to his next two successors, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi, both of whom were killed in 2010.
The tenuousness of one’s tenure in the job has not deterred Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared himself head of a new caliphate, the Islamic State, on June 29th of this year, inviting Muslims around the world to join him in the task of global conquest. For his part, Nidal Hasan, perpetrator of the Ft. Hood massacre (which the Obama administration insisted on calling an instance of “workplace violence,” not Islamic terrorism) said it would be “an honor” for him to join ISIS and become “a citizen of the caliphate.”
Again, I do not doubt that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has a close encounter with a Navy SEAL or a U.S. drone in his future. The sooner the better. But that West Point report I mentioned above includes the sober observation that the Islamic State (as we must now denominate ISIS) has been “far-sighted” in its “political-military campaigns” and “resilient enough to survive the deaths” of key commanders.
Which brings us near the present, to the Islamic State’s slaughter of the Yazidis, its taped decapitation of James Foley, its mass execution of some 160 Syrian soldiers, etc., etc. Earlier this year, in an extended interview in The New Yorker, Obama described ISIS as “jayvee,” merely “jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian,” i.e., nothing to worry about. Within a few months, however, Obama’s secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, described the threat from ISIS as “beyond anything we have seen.” Who do you suppose is correct?
As it happens, between those endless outings on the links, Obama finally seems to be waking up to the fact that all is not well. Unfortunately, in a rare moment of candor, he uttered the now infamous confession “We don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with the Islamic State. (Panicked by the response to that little glimpse of the truth, the White House press secretary clarified: when he said “we don’t have a strategy,” Obama really meant that “we have a comprehensive strategy.” Right.)
To his credit, sort of, Obama himself has not claimed that he has a “comprehensive strategy.” No, his current gambit is that the world has always been “a messy place,” i.e., get used to it.
We’ve come a long way, from Cairo and that “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” to ISIS, about which Obama has “no strategy yet,” to the “messy place” that he has made of the world. Given all that’s happened, I had to wonder whether irony, just a little bit, had finally come to the New York Times, at least on the subject of Obama. “Seeking to Ease Worries, Obama Says the World Has Always Been ‘Messy’.” What do you think about “seeking to ease worries”? Was that ironical? Was there also a little snark, just a soupçon, in the caption to the photograph that accompanied the story: “President Obama left the White House on Friday to attend fund-raisers in New York and Rhode Island. He said the United States was ‘much less vulnerable’ to attack than it was in the past.” Do you believe that? I think it was the very same day that Obama’s Department of Homeland Security issued what is in effect a red alert about terror attacks on our Southern border, on the Mexican side of which Islamic State operatives are said to be massing. At about the same time the Saudi king warned that IS will reach the West within “a month,” the United States within two months. The appeal of Islamic State radicalism, we read, is spreading to Jordan, to Africa. Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain is facing its “greatest and deepest” terrorist threat in history.
In that New Yorker interview I mentioned above, President Obama noted that “I have a solemn duty and responsibility to keep the American people safe. That’s my most important obligation as President and Commander-in-Chief.” How’s he doing? To revert to that Reagan question again, do you feel safer now than you did six years ago?