It’s safe to say that Barack Obama’s press conference from Turkey impressed few and dismayed many, including some among his usual cadre of supporters. The Washington Post editorial board issued a sharp rebuke to Obama for his churlish attitude at the presser, and for his continued use of straw-men arguments when dealing with critics. Noting that few are calling for an occupation-level invasion of Syria to combat ISIS, the Post’s editors castigate Obama for refusing to even consider incremental changes to his abject strategic failure against the terrorist quasi-state:
PRESSED ABOUT his strategy for fighting the Islamic State, a petulant-sounding President Obama insisted Monday, as he has before, that his critics have offered no concrete alternatives for action in Syria and Iraq, other than putting “large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground.” This claim was faulty in two respects. First, few if any White House critics are proposing a U.S. ground operation on the scale of the previous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, military experts both within and outside the administration have proposed more modest measures that could significantly increase the pressure on the Islamic State if the president were to adopt them.
No one is calling for an Iraq or Afghanistan-level invasion, but it will take boots on the ground to defeat ISIS. Air strikes alone will not defeat an entrenched enemy, especially one with ISIS’ brutal methods of controlling civilian populations. Whether those boots on the ground come from the US, a coalition of Western nations, or the armies of surrounding Sunni nations, the only way to defeat ISIS is to first drive it off its ground and crush it on the run. Obama wants to avoid that truth by claiming that political reform has to come first, but that has no chance of success while ISIS is holding and gaining territory in Syria and Iraq.
But even at that, the Post’s editors note, Obama won’t even try anything new that would be well short of combat boots on the ground:
Numerous military experts have proposed that the United States stiffen the Iraqi forces attempting to retake the town of Ramadi, and Arabs and Kurds advancing toward the Islamic State capital of Raqqa , by deploying more Special Operations forces who could act as forward air controllers and advise on battlefield tactics. Mr. Obama could also send advisers to Iraqi battalions; currently, U.S. personnel operate only at the division level. More specialized U.S. assets, such as advanced drones, could be used to back local forces.
For more than a year, some experts have been urging Mr. Obama to begin the direct delivery of weapons, ammunition and other equipment to Kurdish forces in Iraq as well as Sunni tribal fighters. The administration has persisted in trying to route this materiel through the Iraqi government, only to see the deliveries slowed or blocked. The administration could begin direct deliveries while exerting more pressure on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to follow through on promises to reach political accords with Sunnis and Kurds.
Not only are Kurds putting boots on the ground, they’ve been effective against ISIS when properly equipped. The government in Baghdad doesn’t want the Kurds using this opportunity to declare their independence, though, or to seize ground that Baghdad wants in its own hands. They have thwarted US efforts to bolster Kurdish fighting potential, while their own army continues to fail at every turn, thanks to corruption and low morale.
The Post’s editorial ends by telling Obama, essentially, to grow up and recognize the failure of his leadership:
Many present and former U.S. officials believe they are feasible. The president would be wise to set aside his defensiveness and reconsider them.
Howard Kurtz calls this poor performance and the refusal to admit failure a potential turning point for the media:
If ever a single sentence summed up a media mindset, it was when CNN’s Jim Acosta, in language simply not used in White House news conferences, asked Obama today in Turkey: “Why can’t we take out these bastards?”
Other journalists joined in the markedly aggressive line of questioning, pressing the president on why he had underestimated the threat from ISIS, why he hasn’t taken stronger action, essentially why he has been leading from behind. At one point Obama complained that the questions were getting repetitive — which simply underscored that his answers were not satisfying the press corps.
The shift in tone is remarkable, both in its impatient focus on terrorism after the coordinated murder of 129 people in France, and in demanding accountability from a president who has often received soft treatment in the past.
Yeah, well, pardon me if I don’t bet the mortgage on this being a lasting change in media coverage. Right now it’s obvious that Obama was trying to sell a fantasy when he claimed that ISIS was “contained,” just hours before the Paris attacks that left more than 120 people dead in the streets. Will the media be this tough in two weeks when Obama starts claiming again that his strategy is working? A month from now?
Or heck, why even wait that long?
"Starring." Celebrity empty suit POTUS. https://t.co/St8v0DDGkE
— Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) November 17, 2015
Obama is GQ’s Man of the Year … for what, exactly? For his sports analogies, apparently:
“I’m able to stay focused even when there’s a lot of stuff going on around me … Maybe [like] Aaron Rodgers in the pocket, in the sense of you can’t be distracted by what’s around you, you’ve got to be looking downfield,” President Obama tells Bill Simmons during their conversation at the White House. The leader of the free world is on the cover of GQ’s 20th Anniversary Men of the Year issue, and he sits down with Simmons to discuss the Obama era and beyond.
“One thing you learn as president is you’re not always going to perform flawlessly and you have to be able to put that out of your mind and then look at the next problem coming down the pipe,” he explains when Simmons probes about how he handled Ferguson last year, and if perhaps he would do anything differently if he could go back. “If I’m working out in the gym, sometimes I’ll go to NBA Classics and watch some of these old classic games … A thing that you’re reminded of, watching those old Bulls games, is Jordan had some stinker games in the playoffs. But he would get that out of his mind, and then the next moment comes and he’s right there. … Part of what I try to do—not at the level that Jordan did on the basketball court, but part of what you aspire to as president or any of these positions of leadership—is to try to figure out how to be in the moment, make the best decision you can, know that you’re going to get a bunch of them right, but a bunch of times you’re also not going to get it exactly the way you want it.”
Perhaps he should spend less time with GQ and watching old NBA games, and more time leading the free world — and listening to those who have better ideas.