Quotes of the day

After a weeklong effort to convince skeptical lawmakers of his strategy for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), President Obama is now taking his sales pitch to the United Nations

The president will personally lead a Sept. 24 meeting of the U.N. Security Council focused on the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters, and the U.S. will seek a new resolution demanding countries tighten laws to prevent the flow of fresh recruits to terror groups…

Securing the resolution — much like last week’s congressional vote to authorize training and weapons for Syrian rebels — will serve as a tacit endorsement of the president’s strategy to confront ISIS…

“I do expect that we will have a successful resolution, which means agreement among at least a majority of member states and no vetoes, but I expect actually it will be a resolution that we’re able to reach unanimity on given the import of the issue,” Rice said.


A power struggle between two radical Islamist groups, Jamat al-Nusra and ISIS, for control of that country and large swaths of Iraq threatens to produce unprecedented levels of violence and eclipse the threat that Al Qaeda poses to the U.S. homeland.

With Jamat al-Nusra assuming the role of Al Qaeda’s infantry, Al Qaeda is looking once again to establish a sanctuary from which to plan and direct attacks against the West, as it once did in Afghanistan…

Our Intelligence Bureau, along with the FBI, believes that there are more than 100 Americans who are fighting in Syria, some with ISIS and others with groups affiliated with Al Qaeda.

The question we grapple with is: What do we do when these people come home? Is their war over, or having worked with groups steeped in bombings, assassinations and executions, do they bring the battle back with them?


As the United States begins what could be a lengthy military campaign against the Islamic State, intelligence and law enforcement officials said another Syrian group, led by a shadowy figure who was once among Osama bin Laden’s inner circle, posed a more direct threat to America and Europe.

American officials said that the group called Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack. The officials said that the group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior Qaeda operative who, according to the State Department, was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched…

Some American officials and national security experts said the intense focus on the Islamic State had distorted the picture of the terrorism threat that has emerged from the chaos of Syria’s civil war, and that the more immediate threats still come from traditional terror groups like Khorasan and the Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda’s designated affiliate in Syria…

Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria analyst with the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, said that American strikes could benefit the Nusra Front if the United States did not ensure that there was another force ready to take power on the ground.


The cold reality, though, is that defeating ISIS outright in Syria will take something more substantial than dropping a few bombs in support of a few U.S.-trained moderates. Either the American military will have to intervene in force (including with substantial ground troops) or we’ll have to ally, in a very un-American display of machtpolitik, with Bashar al-Assad. Both options may have supporters within the Republican Party. Many hawks seem ready to send in ground forces, and John McCain has explicitly argued that we should be willing to go to war with both Assad and the Islamists at once. From Rand Paul, meanwhile, you hear what sounds like a version of the ally-with-Assad approach, albeit couched in somewhat ambiguous terms.

The White House would clearly prefer not to choose either path, either escalation. But its current approach seems likely to drift more in McCain’s direction, with a gradual ramping-up (today bombing, tomorrow special forces, the next day … ?) in Syria that makes a clash with Assad and a multifront war steadily more plausible.

There is still time for the president to reconsider, to fall back on the containment-and-attrition strategy in Iraq and avoid a major commitment inside Syria. That strategy does not promise the satisfaction of the Islamic State’s immediate elimination. But neither does it require magically summoning up a reliable ally amid Syrian civil strife, making a deal with the region’s bloodiest dictator, or returning once again to ground warfare and nation-building in a region where our efforts have so often been in vain.


In his handling of the Islamic State the president has been slow to act, slow to move, inconsistent in his statements, unpersuasive, uninspiring. No boots on the ground, maybe boots on the ground but not combat boots, only advisory boots. He takes off the table things that should be there, and insists on weird words like “degrade”—why not just “stop and defeat”?—and, in fact, “ISIL.” The world calls it ISIS or Islamic State. Why does he need a separate language? How does that help?…

Meanwhile time passes. The president’s own surrogates this week seemed unsure, halting, sometimes confused. A month ago there was a chance to hit the Islamic State hard when they were in the field and destroy not just their arms but their mystique. At this point we are enhancing it. It is the focus of all eyes, the subject of the American debate. Boy do they make us nervous, maybe they’re coming across our borders.

Maybe all this is the president’s clever way of letting time pass, letting things play out, so that in a few months the public fever to do something—he always thinks the public has a fever—will be over. And he will then be able to do little, which perhaps is what he wants.

But none of this looks clever. It looks like poor judgment beginning to end.


Democratic strategist James Carville questioned the wisdom of continued military operations in the Middle East, telling a This Week panel Sunday morning that all the U.S. efforts in Iraq seemed to do was require further U.S. military efforts down the road.

“Thirteen years ago this October we started bombing Muslims in the Middle East,” Carville said. “We’re still bombing them. Does any sane person think that thirteen years from now we’re not going to still be bombing them? Of course we are. …Maybe there’s no alternative other than bombing people. But we’re getting the middle of four, count ‘em, four civil wars here.”