Look, I have to be honest here. I had about as much interest in watching a Barack Obama foreign policy speech as I’d have in watching a 48-hour Young and the Restless marathon hosted by Rosanne Bahr and Carrot Top.
It’s not that Barack Obama has lost me on foreign policy. He never had me. He has always come off as the worst combination of rank opportunist and clownish amateur on foreign affairs. This is a man who went to Berlin and declared himself a citizen of the world, and he is the same man who sincerely believed that his mere election would sate the jihadists’ thirst for American blood.
When it comes to dealing with the Islamic State, I believe that we have to be swift, overwhelming and ruthless. But in Barack Obama we have a man who fills his gassy speeches with “Let me be clear, it’s all Bush’s fault,” and who believes that American power is more a force of bad than good. Any action he orders is unlikely to get the job done.
And so we arrive at the eve of the 13th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. 9-11 is a twin mile marker now. There’s the original al Qaeda attack of 9-11-2001, and the follow-on attack in Benghazi on 9-11-12. About the second, we still do not know where Barack Obama was that night and what he was doing. We do know that he blamed a movie and refused, for weeks, to blame the terrorists. Most of the animals who attacked and killed four Americans that night are still at large.
On this eve of 9-11 memorials and remembrances, Barack Obama asked for network time to explain his strategy to defeat the Islamic State.
President Obama laid out a strategy that does the bare minimum. He wants to combine American air power with Iraqi boots and Free Syrian Army sandals on the ground, along with the courageous Kurds. IS probably laughed at two of those. It has defeated the Iraqi military already and has infiltrated the so-called “moderate” FSA. The Kurds are fighting IS bravely and have acquitted themselves well.
That leaves us with American air power, perhaps combined with the air forces of the British and the French.
Given enough time, air power might knock IS loose and might even defeat them. That’s not the way to bet, but air power did work in Bosnia during the Clinton years. IS is a different enemy, though, the best funded terrorist force in history, we’re told, and the most savvy social media terrorists around. They can fight air power with digital propaganda, with kidnappings, with beheadings, and with those attacks across the Texas-Mexico border that they’re threatening.
Syrian dictator Assad has already said that he views American airstrikes in his country as an act of war. That might complicate the picture.
President Obama had nothing to say about the US-Mexico border tonight, despite opening his speech with a claim that our national security is his “highest priority.” Skepticism of that claim, with an unsecured border and a president who downplayed the IS threat for months, is well justified.
“ISIL is not Islamic,” Obama claimed, despite the long history of Islamic terrorism and the fact that the first I in the name stands for “Islamic.”
Strange claim, that. ISIL ultimately derives its ideology from the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps they’re not Islamic too.
Stranger still, Obama touted Somalia and Yemen as models for the action to destroy IS. Somalia is a chaotic failed state, where the occasional droning of a terrorist leader seldom makes much strategic difference. Yemen is a longstanding haven of al Qaeda’s, where also, the occasional droning makes some, but not a great deal, of strategic difference.
The president was more energetic in tonight’s delivery than in his previous several speeches on terrorism. But his tone still contrasts with the passion, even power, he shows when speaking at party fundraisers and attacking Republicans. This is a president for whom foreign policy is a foreign language.
The president called for a “comprehensive and sustained” strategy to “degrade and destroy ISIL.” That strategy, as described above, is a combination of air power including striking them in Syria, along with supporting the Iraqi military and the FSA. He allowed that American advisers are on the ground advising Iraq’s military and the Kurds, but are not combat forces.
How urgent is the IS threat, to this president? He touted an international meeting on the subject, which will take place in two weeks.
Obama unveiled a new guiding principle of his foreign policy: “If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
His previous guiding principle: “Don’t do stupid sh*t.” Perhaps Barack Obama is growing up, a little.
Obama touted a coalition of allies to fight IS, as “American leadership at its best.” When he was a senator, Obama blasted President George W. Bush for “going it alone” in Iraq. Bush’s coalition included some 40 countries. How many are in the anti-IS coalition? Obama did not say.
The president declared again that there will be no American troops on the ground in combat against IS. As far as IS is concerned, that’s the best news they could have heard. The Kurds are capable fighters, but the FSA and the Iraqis, IS has no reason to fear. The Marines and the SEALS, though, would be another matter.
Obama closed with a disjointed “isn’t America great” speech, in which he cast us as hard-working, discovering types who have stood against Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Putin still holds Crimea and has all but created a land-bridge across eastern Ukraine. The American people are not the problem there. It’s American leadership that is feckless and more interested in fundraising than keeping the world safe for democracy.
This was a disjointed speech that offered the barest skeleton of a strategy to make a show of desiring to take down the most serious terrorist threat the world has seen in a decade, delivered by a president who is as disconnected as he can be. President Obama probably hopes that this speech moved the Islamic State out of the headlines. In that, he is sadly mistaken. The Islamic State is not a problem of “optics” or “theatrics.” It is a security problem, for which Barack Obama evidently has not given serious thought toward solving.
Polls say that the American people feel less safe now than at any time after 9-11. This speech did nothing to change that.