Barack Obama’s statement on the beheading of James Foley got mixed reviews yesterday, but perhaps tellingly not on MSNBC’s Hardball. Neither Chris Matthews nor Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman appeared too impressed with the anodyne reference to “justice” in the context of the videotaped beheading of an American journalist, but Matthews sounded positively offended by Obama’s vague statement. Let’s just say that Matthews wasn’t feeling any tingles as he demanded that Obama take action rather than allow terrorists to attack Americans with “impunity!” (via Newsbusters):
MATTHEWS: I don’t know why he used the word ‘justice.’ It’s not appropriate here. This is an attack on our country, we have to react to it. This is a national, er, our country versus this group that has declared war on us.
FINEMAN: Well, Chris —
MATTHEWS: What’s justice mean in this con– I don’t know why the word’s used, like we’re going to go to the World Court with this?
FINEMAN: Well, especially since he had previously in that same statement basically depicted them as a, as killers who, cold-blooded killers who deserve no quarter.
MATTHEWS: They’re all in this!
FINEMAN: Yeah, I think he also said they don’t belong in the 21st century —
MATTHEWS: All the ISIL crowd belong —
FINEMAN: — or that they don’t belong in any century. But the question is, Chris, and some of our people at the Huffington Post have been looking into this, there’s a school of thought that says, ‘Obviously, this is exactly what ISIL wants.’ They want to engage us, they want us to attack. Their whole strategy, their whole theory is to push our buttons in a way that we commit —
MATTHEWS: Well, then we’re going to help them out.
FINEMAN: Well, that’s, that’s, that’s the concern, and that’s the conundrum [crosstalk] that the President has right now.
MATTHEWS: The American people — that’s what I’ve been saying, Andrea [Mitchell], for a long time now. No American president can survive if he lets Iran get nuclear weapons, and no American president can survive if he lets Americans be beheaded on international television with impunity. Impunity! He has to strike back, as an American, it’s in our soul!
Matthews may be thinking about two other hostage crises in our past in drawing that conclusion. There was a long stretch in the 1980s when Hezbollah, acting on orders from Iran, abducted Americans and held them for years. Ronald Reagan’s administration ended up trying to cut a secret deal to swap arms for the hostages and wound up dealing with the Iran-Contra scandal. Jimmy Carter had a much more severe hostage crisis with Iran directly, one that (like this one) included a failed military rescue attempt, and for which Iran suffered no penalties other than the economic sanctions. We’ve seen hostage crises corrode two American presidencies based on a lack of action, and neither of those involved videotaped beheadings and taunting, although Hezbollah did execute one hostage by hanging.
Matthews isn’t the only one worried that Obama isn’t taking this seriously. His former deputy director at the CIA, Mike Morell, tells CBS that the White House is greatly underestimating the necessity of direct action and commitment needed to end the ISIS threat:
The U.S. military mission in Iraq is narrowly focused on helping displaced Iraqis by flying in humanitarian aid, and protecting U.S. interests in the country — not on targeting ISIS leadership.
That, says Morell, is not enough. He argues the relatively “small leadership” of the group must become the focus, along with reclaiming territory those leaders now control, and “that means capturing or killing them.”
Morell explains that under current White House policy in order to take lethal action against any individual terror suspect, that person must be a member of a named terrorist organization (ISIS meets this requirement), and they must pose a direct threat — and capture cannot be an option.
“I don’t know if they (Obama administration) have made that determination or not,” said Morell.
The former CIA insider says the only way to effectively combat ISIS, which has re-branded itself simply the “Islamic State,” is to bolster Iraq’s own military force — which literally ran away in many instances from the Sunni extremists as they spread from Syria into north and west Iraq earlier this summer, and to get better intelligence on the leaders’ movements.
Morell also rebuked the White House for leaking the rescue effort. The Obama administration seems ill prepared to deal with this in every conceivable way.