No Way to Run a War

MIDDLE EAST

On Thursday, CENTOM proudly announced its secret war plan to help 20,000-25,000 Iraqi troops retake Mosul from ISIL. By Friday, the Pentagon proudly leaked that maybe April was a tad optimistic:

I really doubt it is going to happen that soon,” said one military officer who, like several others, served in Iraq between 2003-2011 and spoke on condition of anonymity. “And if it does, it will take months.”

The largely Shiite troops of the Iraqi army are unlikely to risk their lives to win back a Sunni dominated city, several U.S. military officers told The Daily Beast on Friday. Indeed, when ISIS stormed the city last June, Iraqi forces walked away, leading the U.S. and 60 other nations to form a coalition against the terror group.

The Wiggleroom Administration hasn't put ISIL on notice, but more like on double-secret probation.

No, the old Animal House reference doesn't quite fit, does it?

I'm sitting here trying to think of a better metaphor or pop culture reference, but nothing quite seems to fit. Graham Chapman's overstuffed Army colonel from Monty Python? No -- you get the idea that despite all the bombast, he could still whip his men into fighting shape. The absurdities of the War Room in Dr. Strangelove? That doesn't work either, because those madmen, fools, and incompetents were bringing about the end of the world out of the public eye.

What we have is a president counseling "strategic patience" against a foe which has gone from "the jayvee" to a regional power (and an international purveyor of religiously themed snuff films) in less than 18 months. Rather than go in whole hog and killing off ISIL immediately (which would not be terribly difficult), Obama is squandering away the last of our stature and standing.

Months of airstrikes against ISIL has led to... its further expansion. "Strategic patience" has cost the north of Iraq. "Working with our allies" means castigating the Egyptians for trying to halt ISIL from expanding further in Libya, and it means withholding targeting data from Jordan as it attempts to avenge the murder-by-immolation of one of its Air Force pilots. But don't you worry, folks -- Obama is going to retake Mosul in April. Or perhaps in August. Whenever.

But don't be too hard on the president, he's just spitballing here.

Yes, that's it -- he's spitballing. There's no concerted effort to actually accomplish anything, because other than ridiculous, idle chatter about "jobs," Obama still doesn't have a concept for how to wage this war. He's tried decimation-by-drone, but that has hardly kept al Qaeda "on the run." He's tried an air campaign, but never really committed to it. He's sent troops into Iraq to train what's left of the Iraqi Army, but not to fight alongside it. He's forged a coalition of some 60 countries, but won't lead them and sometimes actively works (as with Egypt and Jordan) against them.

In this atmosphere, a tiny Somalia-based al Qaeda offshoot feels strong enough to make threats against the Mall of America, which our own people are treating seriously enough to advise Americans to be "particularly careful" when shopping there:

“If anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they’ve got to be particularly careful,” the official, Jeh C. Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, said on CNN.

“There will be enhanced security there,” Mr. Johnson said, “but public vigilance, public awareness and public caution in situations like this is particularly important, and it’s the environment we’re in, frankly.”

The environment we're in? When al Qaeda struck on 9/11/2001, they did so secretly, taking advantage of holes in our immigration system and of bad practices in our domestic and foreign intelligence gathering. Today's jihadis go on TV to scare the pants off us, just to see what happens -- and, hell, who knows, maybe even actually blow up a mall. We've reached a point now where a jihadi operating out of war-torn Mosul may have more reason to feel safe and secure than a winter sale shopper in suburban Minneapolis. Well, at least until April. Or perhaps August. Whenever.

What foreign policy question does grab the president's attention? Afghanistan:

The United States is considering slowing a planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to ensure that "progress sticks" after more than a decade of war, new Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during an unannounced visit to Kabul on Saturday.

After six years of fruitless effort to rebuild a country that never was, Obama sticks to his dogma that Afghanistan is "the right war." A war for... what, exactly? ISIL knows what it is fighting for: Control of the Middle East and its oil riches, and the establishment of a caliphate for waging global jihad. Those goals might seem a bit ...lofty... for a few tens of thousands of thugs armed with little more than trucks and AK-47s, but at least they have goals, a mission, direction. Say what you will about al-Baghdadi personally, but you have to admit he makes the trains blow up on time.

We spend a lot of time questioning Obama's lackadaisical methods, but the real question is: What does he hope to achieve? Why stick around in Afghanistan? Why dither in Iraq? Why stand down in Syria? Why turn his back on Egypt and Jordan? Why place so much trust in talks with Iran? Why all the public fuss over Bibi Netanyahu? In the Middle East, what's Obama's goal, his mission, direction?

Obama's goal is...

His mission is...

Does anyone dare to say?

Nah. Let's just blame Republicans for calling him unpatriotic or for questioning his Christian faith.