NBC phrases the question in the title a little differently:
ISIS Speech Offers Obama One Chance to Turn Bad Polls Around
I’m not so sure that they’re right. The Islamic State threat is not primarily a poll-driven problem. It’s a real-world security threat. Words and speeches will not solve it. Leadership and action are needed.
The situation that President Obama finds himself in is an uneviable one, but one that he could have avoided.
He called ISIS “jayvee,” and ignored their threat until it metastasized.
He ran for the presidency promising to end — but not win — the war in Iraq. He ended that war, so he thought, by withdrawing American troops prematurely. President Bush had warned him and others, explicitly, what would happen if U.S. troops were removed from Iraq too soon. In 2007, Bush warned the following would happen if American troops were removed from Iraq too soon.
- Leaving too soon would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region, and for the United States.
- It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda.
- We would risk mass killings on a horrific scale.
- It would allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq, to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan.
- Leaving too soon would make it more likely that American troops would have to return to Iraq, to face an even more dangerous enemy.
And here we are. ISIS has carved out a territory the size of the United Kingdom. It is a threat worse than the one our troops faced the first time around in Iraq. ISIS has perpetrated mass killings. Its existence does put Iraq’s immediate future in the hands of a group that’s arguably worse than Iraq.
According to NBC, Obama’s new plan for dealing with ISIS will involve U.S. air power, the Iraqi military, and “moderate” Syrian rebels, but no more American boots on the ground than the 1000+ who are already there.
Of those three, U.S. air power is obviously far and away the most effective. U.S. air power alone can achieve a great deal, but probably cannot eliminate ISIS.
The Iraqi military melted in the face of ISIS months ago, which allowed them to gather up territory and scoop up the American weapons we had provided the Iraqi military. The “moderate” Syrian rebels may have sold the American hostages to ISIS that the terrorists beheaded recently. The extent to which they were ever moderate is debatable, but they are infiltrated with Islamists now.
This moment is a moment for an American president to lead — lead the American people in battling a threat, and lead the world in building a coalition to eliminate the threat. So far, Obama has shown no ability to do either. Tellingly, he has already told Congress that he doesn’t need them. That is a recognition that Congress does not trust him, and he has no ability to change that. It also puts the success or failure of the effort to remove ISIS entirely on his shoulders, even though most in Congress have been ahead of him in recognizing the ISIS threat.
The American people are ahead of him on ISIS. We didn’t offer a meager statement on the beheading of captured Americans and then run off to the golf course; Obama did that. We didn’t blame the aftermath on “optics” and “theatrics”; Obama did that. We, and Congress, did not belittle ISIS as “jayvee” and then transparently lie that we never said that; Obama did that. We didn’t cut the military to the bone while ramping up welfare spending to unprecedented levels; Barack Obama did that.
Obama has spent no time building coalitions with Congress, with international leaders, or anyone. He has not effectively brought any problem to the American people to build consensus on anything. In six years he has frittered away American leadership, and ceded relevance in the Middle East to Vladimir Putin. Barack Obama is a serviceable insult comic for attacking Republicans. In six years he has yet to show the ability to lead a united nation. It doesn’t appear to be in his nature to unify.
Now he’s going to reverse all that and lead? That would be a tall order for a capable and experienced leader. What in Barack Obama’s history suggests that he is either of those things?