Golly, what could have made Democrats anxious about their President’s Oval Office speech on ISIS and terrorism? Could it have been because Barack Obama doubled down on the failed strategy that has allowed ISIS to metastasize into a multinational threat? Or could it be because Obama spent about two-thirds of his speech discussing non-sequiturs to the topic, such as the no-fly list and animosity toward Muslims? The Hill’s Niall Stanage says take your pick:
Democrats are increasingly fearful that President Obama’s handling of the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is becoming a liability for their party.
Those fears have become more acute after Obama’s Sunday evening address from the Oval Office, where the president unveiled little by way of news or strategic shifts.
“Weak and unclear,” Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf told The Hill, when asked for his reaction to Obama’s remarks. “What is the plan of action?”
Sheinkopf added that, at this point, “any rational person would worry about his legacy, and any rational Democrat would worry about the Democrats being injured in an electoral setting.”
Stanage notes that Democrats now worry that Obama has dissipated any improvement made on national security after the bin Laden raid. That process actually began two months prior to the election, when the State Department and Pentagon got caught with its pants down in Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11. The decline amplified with Obama’s “jayvee team” dismissal of ISIS in the beginning of the year, and accelerated even more with his admission in August 2014 that his administration had no strategy to deal with ISIS.
Fifteen months later, the strategy Obama hastily pulled together after that embarrassment is still the one to which he clings. In part, that’s because he doesn’t want to extend the US and his administration any further, and in part because he doesn’t want to face the reality of his own failures over the last seven years, especially in Iraq and Libya.
Hillary Clinton has begun moving away from the policy, Stanage notices:
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has made a concerted effort to distance herself from Obama on ISIS. Speaking on ABC News’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday, Clinton said “we’re not winning” against ISIS, adding that “we have to fight them in the air, we have to fight them on the ground and we have to fight them on the Internet.”
Those comments further emphasized a distinction that Clinton had highlighted when she said at a recent primary debate that ISIS “cannot be contained” but instead must be “defeated.” Her choice of words in that instance was telling; Obama had been widely criticized for having said, on the day before the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, that ISIS had been geographically “contained.”
The real issue for Democrats is that the electorate no longer has much confidence in Obama’s ability to lead, including but not exclusive to national security. Bernard Goldberg argues the Sunday speech will only make matters worse for Obama and his party, and will exacerbate the crisis in confidence Americans already have:
To this day, he won’t utter the words “Islamic terrorists.” During the last Democratic presidential debate, all the candidates refused to state the obvious – that we’re at war with radical Islam. And Hillary Clinton said the term was “not particularly helpful.”
None of this liberal squeamishness is resonating even with those who once supported Barack Obama. Polls show that a big majority of Americans don’t approve of the way the president is fighting terrorism in general and ISIS in particular. But even in his Oval Office speech, he offered nothing new in the way of a strategy to defeat the Islamic State.
Mike Tyson once observed that every boxer has a plan – until he gets hit in the mouth. President Obama’s plan (whatever it is) has taken more than a few shots to the mouth. But it’s as if the president actually believes that his vision of a world –where ISIS is the junior varsity and is contained and terrorism is on the run — is the real world, simply because he deems it so.
Barack Obama once got by on his magic, on a charisma that few politicians are lucky enough to possess. The magic is gone. The charisma, such as it is, no longer mesmerizes. Americans know we’re at war with Islamic terrorists, no matter how inconvenient the president and Hillary Clinton find that fact to be. And no matter how many times they refuse to even utter those words.
In a real sense, it’s this mealy-mouthed approach that left the door open for Donald Trump’s bombast on the war. Americans are tired of hearing platitudes and getting lectured by Obama and other Democrats about how they are the problem.