Quotes of the day

While the world waits for the Leader of the Free World to articulate something remotely resembling a coherent strategy regarding the Islamic State, self-satisfied White House flacks cleverly remind that the administration’s overarching foreign policy is “don’t do stupid s***.” (Kissinger wishes he were as deep.)…

Intelligence experts, including some of the administration’s own national-security team, say foreign threats to the homeland have never been greater.

Nowhere in the world are American interests better off than they were at the outset of this administration. Nowhere are we more respected. Nowhere are we more feared.

Don’t do stupid s*** indeed. This administration’s foreign policy — to the extent one can be discerned — is better described by another blunt phrase: Stuck on stupid.


What we have been witnessing the past few weeks, in real time, is the intellectual collapse of Obama’s foreign policy, accompanied by its rapid political unraveling. When Al Franken is ripping you for lacking a strategy against ISIL in Syria, you have a problem.

Obama’s view was that Al Qaeda was holed up in the badlands of Pakistan and you could drone it into submission. Then, if you stopped stirring up hornets’ nests in the Middle East, and demonstrated your good intentions, and pulled entirely out of Iraq and stayed out of Syria, you could focus on “nation building at home” and not worry about places like Mosul and Aleppo…

Our good intentions, as Obama defines them, got us nothing. We elected a president with the middle name of Hussein who did all he could to liquidate George W. Bush’s foreign policy and made outreach to the Muslim world one of his top priorities — yet the terror threat has grown.

We pulled out of Iraq and assiduously stayed out of Syria, and now there is a caliphate stretching across the border that, in the words of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, represents “an imminent threat to every interest we have.”


We have, since the fall of Nazi Germany and the rise of its kissing cousin the communists, maintained Western values are superior and right and true. Barack Obama does not believe in the goodness and superiority of Western values. He sees former old colonialists trying to preserve their dubious claims on power. What so many for so long took for granted, Barack Obama sees as oppressive and regressive.

Barack Obama is the first American President who, through his upbringing, writings, and actions, conveys a deep sense of grievance toward the American experiment. The idea that we are the last best hope for mankind is anathema to him. Barack Obama thinks the world, if the American imperial aggressor would just sit on the sidelines, could work out its problems and would be better off.

In short, the world has descended into chaos these past 365 days because the American President thinks America is to blame for much of the world’s ills and has chosen not to check himself out, but to check the United States out of international affairs.


Barack Obama’s “malaise moment” occurred in the afternoon of Aug. 28, when, dressed for failure in tan, he announced he did not have a strategy for combating the threat posed to us by ISIS and crossed into Carterland, the Desert of Fail feared by all politicians, in which the once fresh new face becomes for all time an object of ridicule, and each attempt made at controlling the damage only makes matters much worse…

“He’s kind of giving up on his job,” said The Hill’s A.B. Stoddard. “He’s planning his post-presidency … having lots of dinner parties where he doesn’t talk about policies or politics but the NBA playoffs. Anything but his job.” On Aug. 20, he interrupted his vacation to extend his regrets to the parents of James Foley, the American journalist whose beheading had been shared with the world by his killers. Minutes later, Obama was filmed in his golf cart, laughing his head off with friends…

No, there is not. At this point the skills that enabled this president to win an election have eroded, grown rusty, or withered away. Most pretty good presidents have their pretty bad moments, but these are subsumed in the overall record and do not sink the whole. Malaise occurs when there is no real record, just a long string of increasingly cringe-inducing moments leading up to one final gesture that ties a big bow on it all. Malaise is where “hope and change” has found its undoing. Bonjour Malaise, and Goodbye, Columbus. He wasn’t that much after all.


Presidents must act at least as much as they react; they must seize the initiative and thrust their enemies on the defensive. Sometimes threatening war is the only way to keep the peace. Obama knows this abstractly, but it’s at odds with his interpretation of history and his assessment of the mission of his presidency, which is to end wars, not start them.

To put it in terms of compelling historical metaphor, Obama is a “Guns of August” guy. The book of that title, by Barbara Tuchman, chronicles how bluster and a series of miscalculations led European powers to blunder into World War I exactly a century ago.

The other historical analogy that generations of policymakers carry around in their heads is “Munich.” That is British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler at the 1938 Munich Conference, which led to World War II. In that analogy, Ukraine is Czechoslovakia, which contained enough restive Germans in the Sudetenland region to give Hitler the excuse he needed to carve the country up…

The core of the president’s problem is that Putin knows he’s not a Munich man, and that gives the Russian thug some leverage.


And here’s the important bit — at the same time the White House is the target of relentless complaints that it has not done enough to combat Islamic State, Obama is actually combating Islamic State, launching what appear to be, at this early stage, fairly effective strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq. The rhetoric is not inspiring, but the actions should count for something. “Obama is the only outside player taking real and serious action, however limited, against ISIS in Iraq,” said Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine…

The reason I am sympathetic to his predicament has to do with an 11-year-old memo I keep taped to the wall of my office. It is from Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense, to Douglas Feith, then undersecretary of defense for policy. It is dated April 7, 2003 — shortly before Rumsfeld’s mission in Iraq was so awesomely accomplished. The brief memo’s subject line reads, “Issues w/Various Countries.” It opens, “We need more coercive diplomacy with respect to Syria and Libya, and we need it fast. If they mess up Iraq, it will delay bringing our troops home.” Rumsfeld continues, “We also need to solve the Pakistan problem. And Korea doesn’t seem to be going well. Are you coming up with proposals for me to send around?”

I think it is sufficient to say that policy should not be made by memos written in a Holly Golightly, “Hey, what’s up with Korea, anyway?” style while a war is already underway. I’d rather see a sober, serious and, yes, deliberative, approach to the Islamic State challenge, than to one day read memos like this from inside the Obama administration. Islamic State poses a threat of currently indeterminate seriousness to the U.S. It poses a more urgent threat to moderate Arab states, and also to Europe. The U.S. must build a coalition to combat and neutralize the Islamic State threat — and I believe that Obama knows that this is what must be done — but there is still time to plan, and to think through the consequences of our actions.


What’s causing this Jacksonian eruption is the sight of two terrified Americans, on their knees, about to be beheaded by masked fanatics. Few images could more powerfully stoke Jacksonian rage. The politicians denouncing Obama for lacking a “strategy” against ISIS may not have one either, but they have a gut-level revulsion that they can leverage for political gain. “Bomb the hell out of them!” exclaimed Illinois Senator Mark Kirk on Tuesday. “We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age,” added Texas Senator Ted Cruz. These aren’t policy prescriptions. They are cries for revenge…

Obama has always had trouble with Jacksonians, who tend to live outside cities and be older, white, and less educated than Obama’s political base. By killing Osama bin Laden, he temporarily neutralized the political threat they posed, and left Mitt Romney unable to rouse them in 2012. But the memory of that Jacksonian triumph has now faded. And Obama’s cool, measured rhetoric—his talk of “shrink[ing]” ISIS and making it “manageable”—can grate on Jacksonian ears. Jacksonians, Mead argues, do not like half-measures. They never forgave Harry Truman for firing Douglas MacArthur and settling for a stalemate in Korea. They complained bitterly that civilians in Washington weren’t letting American troops win in Vietnam. For Jacksonians, you don’t “degrade” a group that beheads Americans. You annihilate it.

For Obama, there’s an irony to all this. After 9/11, he wisely resisted the Jacksonian fervor of the moment and opposed the war in Iraq. He surely knows that it is precisely at moments like this, when politicians and pundits are demanding vengeance, that presidents are most prone to do “stupid stuff.” He’s staked his foreign-policy legacy on being the president who doesn’t do that. But it is precisely because of this caution and calm that he’s losing political control, even in his own party. And God knows how many beheadings are still to come.


Barack Obama deserves the scorn history will shovel on his shoddy, pathetic foreign policy. But it isn’t Obama I’m worried about. It’s the next president. He’ll face a world where American credibility is so deeply shattered that it may be irrevocably broken. And sadly, almost every Republican candidate on the list will fail at reforming the State Department’s culture of appeasement, solicitude to foreign evil, and preemptive abandonment of American interests, principles, and values.

As you start to pay attention to 2016, you should be looking for a singular Republican candidate who can break this Administration’s foreign policy paradigm and articulate a path out of the epic disaster Barack Obama has crafted for us. Obama will leave us a world less safe, less free, and less prosperous than when he became president. The next administration will be left a monumental and near-impossible task, one more difficult and consequential than the Blame Bush crowd inherited in 2009.

Republicans won’t need to fall back on “Blame Obama” rhetoric. The world around them, and history’s judgment on Obama, will do that for them.


What is extraordinary in this moment of high, many-fronted peril is that the president’s true views and plans are not only unclear to the world but a mystery to his countrymen.

You want to think he is playing a cool, long game, that there’s a plan and he’s acting on it. He’s holding off stark action to force nations in the region to step up to the plate. The comments of the Saudis and the Emiratis are newly burly. Good, they have military power and wealth, let them move for once. He is teaching our Mideast friends the U.S. is not a volunteer fire department that suits up every time you fall asleep on the couch smoking. In the meantime he is coolly watching new alliances form—wasn’t that the Kurds the other day fighting alongside the Iranians?

Mr. Obama’s supporters frankly hope that there’s a method to the madness, that he is quietly, behind the scenes and with great subtlety pulling together a coalition that will move. But this is more hope than knowledge, and a coalition would need a leader. You have to wonder if potential coalition members won’t think twice about following such an uncertain trumpet. They have reason to doubt Mr. Obama’s leadership, and it is not all due to his current, contradictory statements. Once again, the Syria “red line” episode shows itself an epochal moment. The president’s decision not to act after Syria used poison gas on its citizens showed other leaders of the world that this president will make a vow—a public yet personally tinged one, of great consequence—and feel free, when the moment reaches crisis levels, not to come through. It wasn’t that he looked dishonest, it was that he looked unserious. With the hard human beings who run the world, that is deadly…

Is the president starting to fear, deep down, that maybe he is the junior varsity?

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