The “no strategy” gaffe caught many by surprise on Thursday, calling into question for many critics two questions about Barack Obama’s competence. First, how could the White House have no strategy to deal with a threat that had been rising in the region even before Obama’s dismissal in January of ISIS as “jayvees”? Second, what possessed Obama to not just admit that the White House had no strategy, but declare it in a press conference?
The Washington Post editorial board stresses today that this particular gaffe should be the least of our worries. Not for the first time, they accuse Obama of being so far into a fantasy world that he’s not even listening to his own Cabinet members about the seriousness of the threat — and keeps talking so much about what the US can’t do about it that it seems like Obama’s arguing for his own incompetence:
The president’s goal, to the extent he had one, seemed to be to tamp down all the assessments of gathering dangers that his own team had been issuing over the previous days.
This argument with his own administration is alarming on three levels.
The first has to do with simple competence. One can only imagine the whiplash that foreign leaders must be suffering. They heard U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power denounce Russia as “today . . . they open a new front . . . Russia’s force along the border is the largest it has been . . . the mask is coming off.” An hour later, Mr. Obama implicitly contradicted her: “I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now . . . it’s not really a shift.”
Similarly, his senior advisers uniformly have warned of the unprecedented threat to America and Americans represented by Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq. But Mr. Obama didn’t seem to agree. “Now, ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] poses an immediate threat to the people of Iraq and to people throughout the region,” he said. “My priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back.” Contrast that ambition with this vow from Secretary of State John F. Kerry: “And make no mistake: We will continue to confront ISIL wherever it tries to spread its despicable hatred. The world must know that the United States of America will never back down in the face of such evil.”
The discrepancies raise the question of whether Mr. Obama controls his own administration, but that’s not the most disturbing element. His advisers are only stating the obvious: Russia has invaded Ukraine. The Islamic State and the Americans it is training are a danger to the United States. When Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. says the threat they pose is “in some ways . . . more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general,” it’s not because he is a warmonger or an alarmist. He’s describing the world as he sees it. When Mr. Obama refuses to acknowledge the reality, allies naturally wonder whether he will also refuse to respond to it.
They wrote that editorial before Obama spun this fantasy, too:
Obama at DNC event: “[T]hings are much less dangerous now than they were 20 years ago, 25 years ago or 30 years ago." pic.twitter.com/DwCKsp12Ki
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) August 29, 2014
Rick Perry echoed the WaPo’s sentiment in our interview yesterday, emphasizing that the President seems totally disengaged with reality. He also worried about what allies thought of American support in this vacuum of leadership:
This “is a disengaged administration, Perry said. “This is a president who seems to be disengaged from what’s going on in the world. When you stand up in front of the international — the global press,” he continued,” and talk about a photojournalist who’s been beheaded by an absolutely brutal terrorist organization like ISIS, and thirty minutes later be on the golf course — you’re disengaged with what’s going on in the world. … That I fear more than anything.”
So does the Washington Post editorial board, which almost can’t believe how bad it’s getting at the White House. Almost six months ago, they warned that Obama’s foreign policy was “based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality,” and the headline on it declared, “President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy.” At that time, they scoffed at the tiresome Obama cliche that such-and-such development was “on the wrong side of history” or not 21st-century behavior. Now they seem much more alarmed than before … and so does everyone else outside of Obama’s inner circle.