The Hill reports that “the politics of terrorism have returned with a vengeance for the midterm elections,” and not just for one party. Republicans and Democrats alike have raised the alarm at the lack of strategy or even messaging coherence at the White House in the face of this virulent threat. National security is very much on the table, Alexander Bolton notes, thanks to what seems to be an inability of Barack Obama to recognize the threat, let alone deal with it:
Obama’s response to the advances made by the radicals of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has provoked a chorus of criticism, including from vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year.
And it’s not just the broad threat posed by ISIS that has changed the political landscape — Obama has given GOP critics an opening by fumbling several public statements.
One gaffe came during a recent press conference when he admitted that, when it comes to countering ISIS, “we don’t have a strategy yet.”
Former spokesman Robert Gibbs called it a “wince-able” moment.
Senate Democrats who are running for reelection in a tough political environment are sounding the alarm bell.
It’s not just Democrats running for re-election that are sounding that bell, either. Senator Dianne Feinstein won’t have to defend her seat until 2018, but she’s not remaining silent about the threat that the White House has fumbled all summer. In an essay for USA Today, the Senate Intelligence chair argues that the time to confront ISIS is now, not later — and that the American effort to defeat ISIS has to go beyond just a few tactical attacks:
Unlike other terrorist groups, ISIS has grown into a sophisticated military force and is estimated to have between 10,000 and 20,000fighters. The group now firmly controls large swaths of territory in both Syria and Iraq.
The threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated. This is the most vicious, well-funded and militant terrorist organization we have ever seen, and it is very quickly consolidating its power. …
But ISIS’ aspirations don’t stop there. In an audio message, the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said, “Our last message is to the Americans. Soon we will be in direct confrontation, and the sons of Islam have prepared for such a day. So watch, for we are with you, watching.”
I understand that many Americans don’t want to become mired in another war. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have claimed thousands of American lives and cost more than $1 trillion. But Americans need to understand ISIS’ degree of viciousness as well as what will happen in the absence of U.S. leadership and action.
If the United States fails to unite and lead the world against ISIS’ horrific goals, we could suffer the consequences for decades to come.
Feinstein says she looks forward to Obama’s plan, which he promised to unveil on Wednesday. In a rather odd move, Obama has already ruled out any American boots on the ground, which tips our hand to ISIS and probably made them breathe a sigh of relief. The US can’t dislodge ISIS from the ground they firmly hold through bombings, because it would result in high numbers of civilian casualties. If Obama and whatever coalition he brings together can’t sustain boots on the ground, they won’t sustain that kind of collateral damage either, which means that ISIS’ leaders will only need to worry about assassinations via drones. Without boots on the ground, the US won’t be able to get reliable intel for that to make enough of an impact to drive ISIS back into the desert.
But the issue is more strategic than tactical, too. We will likely hear on Wednesday that only a united Iraq can defeat ISIS, but the Sunnis are not going to trust the Iranian-backed Shi’ites to share power again, and aren’t going to respond to American guarantees unless we put boots back on the ground. Given the choice between ISIS and the subjugation of their tribes by Iran, most of those tribal leaders will choose ISIS, which is the direct result of us abandoning them by leaving Iraq despite our earlier assurances that we could force Nouri al-Maliki to share power.
This is the kind of strategic thinking that has been absent all along in the White House, which has played checkers on the domestic-politics board while ISIS and other powers (notably Russia) are playing chess on a global board. Salena Zito diagnoses the core issue for this lack of strategic thinking in the Obama administration, which comes from the people who have Obama’s ear — but also from the man himself:
Barack Obama, who won the presidency largely because he was not George Bush, desperately wants to be what his voters were looking for — a domestic president done with wars, and not preoccupied with big foreign policy and national security issues.
You can see it in his eyes, his voice, his body language, in the lack of conviction in his words.
The reason there is no strategy, as he said, about Islamist terrorists in Syria (and why there likely won’t be one) is that his brain trust — Valerie Jarrett and key people on his National Security Council — are nowhere near qualified to advise him on security issues; they focus more on domestic issues and politics than on national security. …
President Obama shows absolutely no desire, no will, to do what must be done; so far, the only will he has shown is to kick this threat down the road, past the midterm elections.
The fear is, will he continue kicking the terrorist can down to the end of his presidency? That is, if he can do so without something as horrid as 9/11 striking this country again?
He may make some key decisions after the midterms. But addressing the ISIS threat in a manner that accomplishes some strategic end is not the Obama way.
Obama will roll out what he calls a “strategy” on Wednesday, but don’t expect much more than aspirational nonsense about Iraqi unity, global resolve, and a healthy dose of lecturing about what he sees as “21st-century behavior.” That, and a lot more can-kicking than ass-kicking.