Mitt Romney suggested he would have been able to prevent the rise of the jihadist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) if he were elected rather than President Barack Obama in 2012 during a radio interview that aired Sunday. According to Romney, Obama’s “mistakes” enabled Islamic State to gain power in both Syria and Iraq.

“Mistakes were made and now we have ISIS,” Romney said in a pre-taped interview on billionaire John Catsimatidis’ show on New York City’s AM 970…

“Almost a year ago, American intelligence sources told the president that there was a group forming called ISIS … and that there was a significant chance that they would go into Iraq and invade a city there. The president failed to take action. He watched,” Romney said. “We saw ISIS roll into Iraq and, instead of attacking them immediately and knocking them in their convoy when they would have been easy to knock down, relatively easy to knock down, the president again watched. And now we’re in a position where ISIS has run throughout major portions of Iraq. There have been horrific human rights abuses, tragedies.”

***

[Gohmert] reacted to Obama’s announcement that the United States does not have a strategy on ISIS by saying, “He did say we don’t have a strategy, but he followed that up by saying the strategy is to nip it in the bud. Well, unfortunately it’s not in a bud, it’s full blossomed, and do you know who made that line famous? Barney Fife. We have Barney Fife running our foreign policy now.”

Gohmert added, “He touches on Russia, that Russia is more isolated than ever. Are you kidding? They have been filling the void that this president has created around the world. I don’t know where he’s getting his information. maybe it’s CIA Director Brennan who said earlier this year that, ‘no, these guys don’t want a caliphate.’ he must have his head buried in a hole somewhere on the first green.”

And, “This president seems to be very feckless. He seems to twitter and ditter, and if you look at what their strategy was with regard to Russia, they were going to step up their Twitter campaign because the Russians didn’t really understand how effective that could be. Neither do most of us. This is a pitiful foreign policy, and Barney Fife’s in charge.”

***

But as he tried to engage the world on his terms, Obama quickly found out that the world had thoughts and plans of its own. Far from the reset Obama sought with Russia, President Vladimir Putin sought a new balance of power through aggression in Ukraine. While Obama offered a fresh start for the United States in the Muslim world, the Arab Spring headed toward destabilization rather than democracy.

Six years later, events seem to have spun out of his control, and Obama must react to the actions of others…

Jim Lindsay, senior vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Obama’s inability to inspire confidence among critics has more to do with the complexity of the problems than the president’s leadership style. “He has a sort of perfect storm of messy problems, lousy options, ambivalent allies and a skeptical public,” he said…

Kennedy, the historian, said that Obama, in dealing with multiple crises, also is trying to change perceptions of what U.S. leadership and any president can realistically accomplish. “It’s difficult virtually to the point of impossibility to have a grand strategy in a world that is so fluid and in which we no longer yield the power we once had. In a sense that is Obama’s strategy, a recognition of that fact. So that rhetorically as well as in reality, he’s trying to diminish the expectation that we can control events.”

***

One can only imagine the whiplash that foreign leaders must be suffering. They heard U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power denounce Russia as “today . . . they open a new front . . . Russia’s force along the border is the largest it has been . . . the mask is coming off.” An hour later, Mr. Obama implicitly contradicted her: “I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now . . . it’s not really a shift.”…

Which is, in the end, the most disturbing aspect of Mr. Obama’s performance. Throughout his presidency, he has excelled at explaining what the United States cannot do and cannot afford, and his remarks Thursday were no exception. “Ukraine is not a member of NATO,” he said. “We don’t have those treaty obligations with Ukraine.” If Iraq doesn’t form an acceptable government, it’s “unrealistic” to think the United States can defeat the Islamic State.

Allies are vital; the United States overstretched in the Bush years; it can’t solve every problem. All true. But it’s also true that none of the basic challenges to world order can be met without U.S. leadership: not Russia’s aggression, not the Islamic State’s expansion, not Iran’s nuclear ambition nor China’s territorial bullying. Each demands a different policy response, with military action and deterrence only two tools in a basket that includes diplomatic and economic measures. It’s time Mr. Obama started emphasizing what the United States can do instead of what it cannot.

***

Obama and his advisers have at times taken refuge in a self-absolving logic: We can’t force people in other countries to unite around our agenda, so, if they don’t, whatever calamity unfolds is their responsibility. As a retreat from American hubris, this form of realism has appeal. As a contribution to a stable Middle East, it has failed utterly

The group’s lightning rise is a symptom, however, of deeper instability; a cause of that instability is failed international policy in Iraq and Syria. If the United States is returning to war in the region, one might wish for a more considered vision than Whack-a-Mole against jihadists…

Leading a coalition of this character is hard, uncertain work. George H. W. Bush, the President whose foreign policy Obama seems to admire most, did it successfully in the runup to the Gulf War of 1991, by intensive personal engagement. Obama has more than two years left in the White House. To defeat ISIS, but also to reduce its source of strength, will require the President to risk his credibility on more than just air strikes.

***

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko just met with President Obama in Washington, but Obama’s subsequent statement showed no sign he’s willing to acknowledge reality. Generic wishes about “mobilizing the international community” were bad enough six months ago. Hearing them repeated as Ukrainian towns fall to Russian troops is a parody. (If legitimacy is what Obama is after, Russia is clearly in violation of nearly every point of the 1974 UN Resolution 3314, “definition of aggression.”) Perhaps Poroshenko should have matched Obama’s casual wardrobe by wearing a t-shirt that read “It’s a War, Stupid.” As Russian tanks and artillery push back the overmatched Ukrainian forces, Obama’s repeated insistence that there is no military solution in Ukraine sounds increasingly delusional. There is no time to teach a drowning man to swim.

The United States, Canada, and even Europe have responded to Putin’s aggression, it is true, but always a few moves behind, always after the deterrent potential of each action had passed. Strong sanctions and a clear demonstration of support for Ukrainian territorial integrity (as I recommended at the time) would have had real impact when Putin moved on Crimea in February and March. A sign that there would be real consequences would have split his elites as they pondered the loss of their coveted assets in New York and London…

The Russian military commanders, the ones in the field, are not fools. They are aware that NATO is watching and could blow them to bits in a moment. They rely on Putin’s aura of invincibility, which grows every day the West refuses to provide Ukraine with military support. Those commanders must be made to understand that they are facing an overwhelming force, that their lives are in grave danger, that they can and will be captured and prosecuted. To make this a credible threat requires immediate military aid, if not yet the “boots on the ground” everyone but Putin is so keen to avoid. If NATO nations refuse to send lethal aid to Ukraine now it will be yet another green light to Putin.

***

Worst of all, the constant calls for a quick and usually muscular response to perceived national security threats gives Americans a false sense of insecurity. The fact is, while people may be relentlessly, breathlessly trying to make us believe that we’re on the cusp of World War III, the world is actually pretty safe…

Geographically isolated with a host of global security alliances and close allies, America is particularly safe. Perhaps most important, there are so many more tools, from global institutions and international legal structures (and broadly accepted global norms) to non-governmental and regional organizations as well as conflict resolution mechanisms, all oriented toward preventing and containing wars.

This is much more than just a feel-good story. These facts are a reminder that the global stakes are much lower than they were in the past, which makes it essential for policymakers to choose their battles wisely and raise the bar extremely high for America to get involved, militarily, in foreign conflicts…

But the recognition that any U.S. strategy will be dependent on the contributions of others, will develop and evolve over time and, above all, cannot be constructed on the fly, should be welcomed. While U.S. engagement may help defeat ISIS, it almost certainly will not be decisive. Inevitably it is Iraqis who will shape the destiny of Iraq.

***

The Obama administration’s lack of any clearly defined international strategy is in some ways the strongest argument against its supposed realism. Obama may often look for pragmatic approaches to individual foreign-policy issues, but in the absence of an overarching strategy, his pragmatism in isolated cases doesn’t build toward any larger objectives. At the same time, Obama’s pragmatism is politically driven at its core, often placing domestic struggles and standing ahead of foreign-policy outcomes. This distorts the decision-making process and produces policies that may sound pragmatic but are actually unlikely to succeed and thus largely unprincipled. His mutually contradictory policies on opposite sides of the Iraq-Syria border are one example; his approaches to China and Russia, which risk simultaneous and thus doubly dangerous confrontations with each, are another. The latter could have profound consequences for America.

To be clear, most realists agree that “nation building at home” is important to the prosperity that creates the foundation for America’s global power. But “nation building at home” is a goal, not a strategy, and it requires a foreign-policy strategy founded on engagement and leadership to succeed. Moreover, for all his criticism of “self-described realists” who don’t want to get too involved in other people’s problems, Obama himself is the one who is doing as little as is (politically) possible in international affairs. Obama’s response to security challenges usually appears intended to do enough to avoid severe domestic criticism while simultaneously avoiding doing so much that it becomes a distraction. Hence the surge in Afghanistan before the withdrawal, the “leading from behind” in Libya, modest support for Syria’s opposition, ineffective sanctions against Russia as a substitute for a real policy and a bare-minimum response in Iraq. The administration has tried to clothe all of these policies in realistic-sounding rhetoric, but in fact there was little realism involved because there is no serious strategy.

***

How to deal with the Islamic State right now is a very tough question, particularly if you’re Barack Obama. What bothers me is his decision to announce to the world he has pretty much no idea what he’s doing. Taking your time to formulate a strategy, even — especially! — a strategy necessitated by your own mistakes and inattention is entirely defensible.

But when the world already thinks you’re weak, vacillating, and overwhelmed, saying in the pithiest way possible that you’re weak, vacillating, and overwhelmed strikes me as a mistake…

The reality, alas, is that Obama is — and has always been — out of his depth on the international stage. Given the prestige of the presidency and the incredible institutional forces behind the office, particularly when a liberal is elected, it takes time to burn through all of the political capital that comes with the job. But Obama has been throwing that political capital on an Oval Office bonfire like so much kindling on a clean and safe Anchorage night. In yet another metaphor that threatens to burn out the dilithium crystals, the credibility inferno is reaching China Syndrome proportions (“You should have said ‘literally’ a lot! Literally means ‘pay attention to how smart my metaphors are.’ Wheeeeee!” — Joe Biden)…

Remember the famous SNL clip where Phil Hartman plays Ronald Reagan? He’s an amiable dunce in public, but get him behind closed doors and he’s a master strategist? Well, maybe that stuff about Obama being the liberal opposite of Reagan is true. Out in public, he seems like he’s the Chess Master (though I never saw it). But get him behind closed doors and he’s in the chair next to Biden shouting “I can spin faster than you!”

***

Via Mediaite.

***

Engel also reported that military commanders are “apoplectic” over the president’s inaction in Syria: “I speak to military commanders, I speak to former officials, and they are apoplectic. They think that this is a clear and present danger. They think something needs to be done.”

“One official said that this was a Freudian slip,” Engel continued, referring to Obama’s admission last week that he does not have a strategy yet for Syria. “That it shows how the United States does not have a policy to deal with Syria, even when you have ISIS, which has effectively become a terrorist army, roughly 20,000 strong.”