When a Democratic President loses the New York Times, the lame-duck era has truly arrived. Barack Obama will give a speech tomorrow to outline his strategy for dealing with ISIS, which Obama admitted has been absent even while he described the threat as “jayvees” to al-Qaeda and Iraq as a success story for his administration. The NYT’s Peter Baker helpfully provides a scorecard of ignorance when it comes to Obama’s foreign policy for speechwatchers to follow:
When President Obama addresses the nation on Wednesday to explain his plan to defeat Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, it is a fair bet he will not call them the “JV team.”
Nor does he seem likely to describe Iraq as “sovereign, stable and self-reliant” with a “representative government.” And presumably he will not assert after more than a decade of conflict that “the tide of war is receding.”
As he seeks to rally Americans behind a new military campaign in the Middle East, Mr. Obama finds his own past statements coming back to haunt him. Time and again, he has expressed assessments of the world that in the harsh glare of hindsight look out of kilter with the changed reality he now confronts.
Baker duly notes that the White House has tried to spin away the “jayvees” statement and other such pronouncements, but Baker isn’t interested in carrying water for the administration on that score either:
But the transcript of the New Yorker interview showed that Mr. Obama made his JV team comment directly after being asked about terrorists in Iraq, Syria and Africa, which would include ISIS. After Mr. Obama’s initial answer, Mr. Remnick pointed out that “that JV team just took over Fallujah,” a city in western Iraq seized by ISIS. Mr. Obama replied that terrorism in many places around the world was not necessarily “a direct threat to us or something that we have to wade into.”
Journalistic organizations like PolitiFact, Factcheck.org and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker all rejected the contention that Mr. Obama was not referring to ISIS when he made his comment about JV teams.
In other words, Obama lied on television in his interview with Chuck Todd. That’s a rather startling narrative for the Times to take with Obama, even implicitly. Baker then goes on to explore Obama’s list of feel-good statements about pulling out of Iraq, such as “the tide of war is receding,” that the withdrawal would be “leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq with a representative government,” and the now-infamous “red line” on Syria. In each case, the White House now argues that these comments were aspirational, which is hardly the context in which they were delivered at the time.
Where does that leave Obama on the cusp of his big war speech? Grasping for straws, as Baker quotes author Aaron David Miller at the end of the article. Having blown his credibility on these obviously false claims regarding the region, Obama has little hope now of persuading Americans that he now knows what he’s doing in the Middle East.
John Boehner wants to hear a coherent strategy for the US to confront and combat terror from Obama tomorrow, one that “goes after ISIS and destroys them.” Boehner warned against more tactical announcements, saying that they can’t be assessed until Obama explains his overall strategy. “Anyone who thinks this is just an Iraq-Syria issue,” he told reporters, “is not paying much attention to what’s happening around the world.” That is, of course, the impression voters have formed of Obama, and the first thing he has to dispel tomorrow.
Jon Karl at ABC News doesn’t think we’ll hear much more than “Hey, I have a strategy now” (via Jeff Dunetz):
Karl: Good morning, George. Even more significant in that new poll, is that an equally large number of Americans in this poll support expanding those air strikes Syria. This is a dramatic change of public opinion. Just a couple of months ago, there was deep reluctance to get involved in any way in the Middle East. Now, you see wide concern about the threat posed by a group that’s been beheading Americans, taking over large territory, large amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria. In this poll, 91%—91% said that they see ISIS As posing a vital threat to U.S. Interests.
Stephanopoulos: But the President is not prepared to announce tomorrow night that he is ready to strike Syria with air strikes. And it comes with a time he is facing some real popularity problems. We see 56% of the country disapproving of how the President is handling foreign policy.
Karl: Right and the single-biggest factor in that, is that a majority say the President has been too cautious in responding to this threat. That’s why he’s giving the speech. He’s not going to order air strikes on Syria yet. He is going to make the case that he has a strong approach, a strategy for taking on this group.”
Waking up is the first step.