Quotes of the day

President Obama will tell the nation on Wednesday night that America is prepared to wage a sustained air campaign against Islamic militants “wherever they exist,” much the same way the administration has for years targeted terrorists in Yemen and Somalia, according to excerpts of the president’s speech released by the White House.

Ahead of the prime-time address, administration officials have signaled that Mr. Obama is ready to order airstrikes inside Syria against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. They have said a military air and drone campaign to degrade and destroy the militant group could take years of sustained effort.

According to the brief excerpts, the president will promise to “ultimately destroy” the militant groups, but he will seek to draw a clear distinction between the military action he is preparing to put in motion and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that were begun by his predecessors.


As President Obama prepared to explain his reasons for taking military action against the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, top U.S. intelligence officials told Congress on Wednesday that the organization did not pose an immediate threat to the country.

The Department of Homeland Security is “unaware of any specific credible threat to the U.S. homeland” from the Islamic State, said Francis X. Taylor, the undersecretary for intelligence and analysis.

However, Taylor cautioned that the group “constitutes an active and serious threat within the region and could attempt attacks on U.S. targets overseas with little or no warning.”


Here are the numbers behind the bullet points above: 59 percent of voters think the U.S. is less respected today than when Obama took office. That’s up 11 percentage points from 48 percent who felt that way last year — and up a significant 22 points from 37 percent in 2012…

Overall, 57 percent of voters think Obama is “weak and indecisive” on foreign policy, up from 48 percent last year. Twenty-three percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents say he’s weak…

Still, by a 54-39 percent margin, voters say Obama isn’t prepared to “do whatever it takes to defeat” ISIS, and a 55-percent majority feels embarrassed he doesn’t have a strategy to deal with the Islamic extremist group in Syria. About a third is reassured Obama is taking time to develop a strategy.


Allies to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are casting a stark distinction between a decisive, assertive Clinton and a pragmatic, deliberative President Obama on foreign policy…

“You never want to be a Monday morning quarterback on these issues because who knows how things would ultimately turn out, but Obama has been passive on these issues,” one former aide to Clinton said. “She would have taken a more aggressive approach.”

Another former Clinton aide took it a step further: “It’s the very notion of decisiveness,” the former aide said. “She’s not gnashing her teeth the way we’re seeing time and time again with Obama.”…

A CNN-ORC poll this week showed that only 30 percent of Americans think Obama has a clear plan for combating ISIS. The survey followed a Washington Post/ABC News poll that showed one in four Democrats considers the Obama presidency to be a “failure.”


[A diplomat I spoke to] was reflecting on America’s position in the world almost halfway into President Barack Obama’s second term. Fresh in his mind was the extraordinary string of errors (schizophrenic Egypt policy, bipolar Syria policy), missteps (zero Libya post-intervention strategy, alienation of allies in the Middle East and elsewhere), scandals (spying on Americans, spying on friends), halfway measures (pinprick sanctions against Russia, lecture series to Central Americans on the border crisis), unfulfilled promises (Cairo speech, pivot to Asia), and outright policy failures (the double-down then get-out approach in Afghanistan, the shortsighted Iraq exit strategy)…

Obama’s presidency is largely a product of a moment in history that likely will be seen someday as an aberration — the decade after 9/11, during which a stunned, angry, and disoriented America was sent spinning into a kind of national PTSD. Call it an age of fear, one in which the country and its leaders were forced to grapple with a sense of vulnerability to which they were unaccustomed. The response of George W. Bush’s administration — entering into the long, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, remaking U.S. national security policy around the terrorism threat — led to a backlash that ushered Obama into office with a perceived mandate to undo what his predecessor had done and avoid making similar mistakes.

The problem is that in seeking to sidestep the pitfalls that plagued Bush, Obama has inadvertently created his own. Yet unlike Bush, whose flaw-riddled first-term foreign policy was followed by important and not fully appreciated second-term course corrections, Obama seems steadfast in his resistance both to learning from his past errors and to managing his team so that future errors are prevented. It is hard to think of a recent president who has grown so little in office.


The White House says also that the campaign may take three years. It is hard not to be bitter about the lost time. For the hideous circumstances that are now impelling us to action were foreseen. In Syria, where the butchery has been unimpeded for three years and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and his apocalyptics came to flourish, we waited and waited and waited. Two hundred thousand deaths, nine million refugees, and one caliphate later, we can wait no more. Why is arming the Free Syrian Army right today when it was wrong yesterday? (The answer is that it was right yesterday, too.) Is there really nothing about its eternity of dogmatism and diffidence that this White House regrets?…

If we are about to reverse our course and undertake the kind of extended diplomatic and military campaign that until a few weeks ago was inconceivable for us, then we must reflect clearly upon the conditions of its success. New varieties of half-heartedness would be disastrous. Shall we not do stupid stuff? Fine, then. Not bombing ISIS in Syria would be stupid stuff. (Where is the border between Syria and Iraq?) Not transforming the Free Syrian Army into a powerful fighting force would be stupid stuff. Not arming—and in every other way standing behind—the Kurds would be stupid stuff. And—here comes the apostasy!—not considering the sagacious use of American troops would be stupid stuff. The obsolescence of the American army is not a conclusion warranted by the war in Iraq. In our determination not to fight the last war, we must not pretend that it was the last war. If the president’s ends in his campaign against ISIS are justified, then he must not deny himself the means. The new government in Baghdad may work out or it may not. Our allies may agree to share the toughest burdens of the campaign or they may not. The outcome of this multilateral effort will depend on the United States. It still comes down to us. Why are we so uneasy with our own moral and historical prominence?


As with al Qaeda back in the day, our fears of ISIS suffer from massive threat inflation at every possible level. At the start of the summer, the number of ISIS fighters in Iraq was somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 to 10,000; those numbers have doubtless grown but they still face off against more than a quarter of a million Iraqi troops and somewhere between 80,000 and 240,000 Peshmerga soldiers. Even the much-maligned Free Syrian Army numbers 70,000 to 90,000. And, it’s worth pointing out, ISIS is facing intense opposition (and some cooperation) from other jihadist groups, including and especially al Qaeda.

If the Iraqi armed forces are in fact incapable of fighting successfully against ISIS after years of training and resources given them by the United States, there is in fact little we will be able to do to change things in Iraq (Obama has already ruled out “boots on the ground,” and it’s unlikely he will change course between now and leaving office). At the same time, we’re now in a position where we are de facto allies with at least two of our longtime enemies in the immediate vicinity: Iran and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, whose government Barack Obama was set to attack just a year ago. Indeed, the widely expected push to start bombing targets in Syria can only help Assad, who earlier this year was supposedly close to total defeat. The United States and other Western countries being hit up to form the next multinational coalition are now prepping their citizens to help keep Assad in power for the foreseeable future…

Given all this, it’s easy to sympathize with why Barack Obama copped to not having a strategy on what to do in the Middle East. But given his past record—tripling troop strength in Afghanistan with nothing to show for it, bombing Libya with nothing to show for it, “resetting” relations with Russia with nothing to show for it—there’s no reason to be hopeful that the president will finally come up with a workable plan. Especially if early reports that he’s pursuing a three-year strategy that will, according to The New York Times, outlast his second term, thus saddling the next president with an inherited war of choice.


The war against ISIS is a war that will be fought in alliance with Iran in support of Iranian client states: the Assad regime in Damascus and the sectarian Shiite government in Baghdad. Obama forced Iran’s special friend Nouri al-Maliki to resign as Iraqi prime minister. That prettied up the Baghdad government’s image, but the real power in Iraq remains the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). If U.S. airpower weakens ISIS, it’s the IRGC that will command the advancing Iraqi forces—and IRGC cadres who will stiffen the demoralized Iraqi army. In Syria, that same job will be done by Hezbollah…

The trouble with the policy of aid-Iran-but-don’t-admit-it is that the United States receives nothing in return—and specifically, no abatement of the Iranian nuclear program. The Obama administration may hope that by acting as Iran’s air force today, the United States may somehow gain Iranian goodwill tomorrow. Instead, the bizarre real-world effect of the administration’s deny-the-obvious messaging is to empower the Iranians to act as if they were doing the United States a favor by allowing the United States to whomp their enemies for them…

The protection of allies is an important U.S. interest. The honoring of international commitments is an important U.S. interest. And it could even be argued that humanitarian action can be justified when it will save many lives, at low cost in American blood and treasure, without creating even worse consequences inadvertently. This new campaign against ISIS does not even pretend to meet that test. It’s a reaction: an emotional reaction, without purpose, without strategy, and without any plausible—or even articulated—definition of success.


Via the Free Beacon.


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