Unfortunately President Obama’s words can no longer serve as a credible deterrent. There must be action. And unfortunately for all of us, that action, at least its beginning, must take place now even before the strategy President Obama wants is finalized, before every “i” has been dotted and “t” has been crossed – and before the US president plays another round of golf or gives another fundraising speech.
Above: President Obama
America's Dithering President
By now, you all know that a second American journalist was beheaded by ISIS, the malignant radical Islamic terror group-cum-mini-state that now controls large hunks of Iraq and Syria.
There are three basic schools of thought on what the US should be doing.
The first, spouted predominately by what we could call right-wing war mongers, want to bomb ISIS into smithereens immediately. That it is impossible to destroy ISIS completely from the air and therefore ground troops will also have to fight these madmen? That we have to plan for what will come after the destruction of ISIS? Those questions are often left unanswered.
The second is a more complex version of the first. ISIS needs to be dealt with immediately. Its Syrian locations need to be bombed. We need to immediately arm the Kurds, no matter how much Turkey and Iraq’s central government may oppose that. And while we need our European allies and Arab states like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to join us (both with boots on the ground and with financial and political support for the war effort) in fighting ISIS, we should not wait for them to come on board before acting. As for the war’s aftermath, we have to plan for it, we have to use the Kurds and our other allies to assure that it is peaceful and isn’t a threat to the region or to us, but we can’t spend weeks or months planning this out before we act. (Thomas Friedman reflects this view very well in his most recent New York Times column.)
The third point of view is a mirror opposite of the first. Instead of doing everything, we should do nothing. We’re war weary. We want peace. War is bad. War is horrible. And we should be seeking peace rather than fighting. The proper response to ISIS is to seek peace. The fact that ISIS is made up of radical ideologue fundamentalists who want to destroy everything that is different from them, including the US, and that they have committed atrocious war crimes against tens of thousands of civilians may be horrible, but it isn’t really our problem because they do not yet pose a direct and major threat to the US. Peace is the best solution to terror. Proponents of this view can be far left peaceniks. But they can also be right wing isolationists who trade on the language of peace when what they really want is disengagement from the rest of the world.
The administration would like us to believe that President Obama is firmly in the second camp. Action will be taken – but only when it is appropriate and all the necessary planning for the war’s aftermath and the coalition building necessary for that and for the proper conduct of the war is complete.
The problem is that every day we wait, ISIS gets stronger and more entrenched. It builds more bunkers, gets more money and resources, and captures more weaponry and land. Every day we wait gives ISIS one more day to prepare, one more day to plan and train for attacks against the west, and makes the fight to obliterate them that much harder and those attacks that much more likely to take place and succeed.
The reality is, we really should not have needed to have this discussion. If President Obama had listened to every major foreign policy and defense advisor he had and armed the moderate parts of the Syrian resistance a year or so ago, there likely would be no ISIS as we know it today. But the president did not do that.
Likewise, if the president had armed the Kurds a year ago. Likewise if he had devoted real hard work and time to dealing with Iraq’s corrupt and ineffective (and now thankfully former) president. Likewise if the president had bombed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad when Assad used chemical weapons against his own civilian population after President Obama said using those weapons would be crossing a red line.
Unfortunately, President Obama’s red lines mean little. His policy speeches, like the one he gave in Estonia today, mean little, because when Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad or ISIS cross his red lines, nothing much happens, and what does happen happens slowly, is usually far less than what should happen, and is most often ineffective.
The president also insists on treating terrorism as if it is a simple criminal offence, like a gang murder in Chicago or a Mob hit in New Jersey. You kill our people or behead one of our journalists and someday, somehow we will track you down and bring you to justice. But terrorism is not a simple criminal offence – it is an act of war. And while courts of law and arrests have a place in this war, they do not replace destroying the enemy. And that is something the president does not appear to fully understand.
As things now stand, no vulnerable American ally, be it Estonia or Ukraine or Israel or Kuwait, can rely on America’s dithering president to act decisively or quickly enough to save them if need be.
All these allies and many others see America as weakened, not because of losses on the ground, but because of truly horrible leadership at home. Republicans – especially those in Congress – are not blameless here and their behavior toward President Obama beginning the day he was first elected president is truly awful and served to hurt the presidency and the country.
Like it or not, President Obama is the face of this country and, at least on paper, the leader of the free world. But his near-constant dithering and his penchant for treating the presidency like one of his law classes at Harvard, in which he lectures to students (who must listen to him) and then goes home for dinner, is atrocious.
If President Obama had listened to his advisors who are more knowledgable and more experienced than him in matters of foreign policy and war, we would not be stuck in a situation where we essentially have to delay striking ISIS while we rush around doing the political groundwork we should have done a year or more ago. Instead, the Free Syrian Army would have already been armed as would the Kurds. ISIS would likely be a shell of what it is now. And if it was not and we found ourselves in a position where we had to strike ISIS anyway, we would have already been as prepared for it as possible.
But we aren’t. And so we watch as America’s ditherer-in-chief plods toward resolving the crises we are in largely because of his previous dithering.
Sometimes America needs to send a strong message, and sometimes that message needs to be sent before every duck is in a row and every “i” has been dotted and “t” crossed.
Unfortunately President Obama’s words can no longer do that. They no longer serve as a credible deterrent, both because of what Republicans did to him and the presidency and President Obama’s own failings. There must be action.
And unfortunately for all of us, that action, at least its beginning, must take place now even before the strategy President Obama wants is finalized, before every “i” has been dotted and “t” has been crossed – and before the US president plays another round of golf or gives another fundraising speech.