The world needs a clarion

You want to think he is playing a cool, long game, that there’s a plan and he’s acting on it. He’s holding off stark action to force nations in the region to step up to the plate. The comments of the Saudis and the Emiratis are newly burly. Good, they have military power and wealth, let them move for once. He is teaching our Mideast friends the U.S. is not a volunteer fire department that suits up every time you fall asleep on the couch smoking. In the meantime he is coolly watching new alliances form—wasn’t that the Kurds the other day fighting alongside the Iranians?

Mr. Obama’s supporters frankly hope that there’s a method to the madness, that he is quietly, behind the scenes and with great subtlety pulling together a coalition that will move. But this is more hope than knowledge, and a coalition would need a leader. You have to wonder if potential coalition members won’t think twice about following such an uncertain trumpet. They have reason to doubt Mr. Obama’s leadership, and it is not all due to his current, contradictory statements. Once again, the Syria “red line” episode shows itself an epochal moment. The president’s decision not to act after Syria used poison gas on its citizens showed other leaders of the world that this president will make a vow—a public yet personally tinged one, of great consequence—and feel free, when the moment reaches crisis levels, not to come through. It wasn’t that he looked dishonest, it was that he looked unserious. With the hard human beings who run the world, that is deadly.

People say Mr. Obama hasn’t spoken on the Islamic State with sufficient “passion,” but the world at the moment probably doesn’t need more passion. He needs to speak with clarity, conviction and most of all credibility. Politicians always think they have to reach people’s hearts. They have to reach their minds.