On Wednesday, President Barack Obama addressed the nation regarding the brutal slaying of an American journalist by Islamic State militants. After conducting that gruesome deed, James Wright Foley’s assassin warned the president that his organization planned to kill yet another American unless the West surrenders Iraq and Syria to the Islamic State’s inhuman designs.
Many of the words Obama deployed in his rhetorical front in the war against ISIS were quite nice and even refreshingly blunt. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” Obama said after a brief list of the atrocities committed by ISIS militants. “ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.”
“People like this ultimately fail,” the president added. “They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.”
History is, indeed, replete with examples of barbaric forces bent on delivering the world back into darkness. Some have failed. Some did not. Those that did fail did so because they were resisted by the armies of civilization. None of history’s dark crusades ever failed in a vacuum.
Obama expressed how “heartbroken” he was at the murder of an American, and he pledged to “extract this cancer so that it does not spread.” But this metastatic tumor has already been allowed to spread. And, even in a fashion that maintained a sufficient level of operational secrecy, the president failed to inform the American people how he planned to excise it.
Just prior to Obama’s address, CNN reporter Barbara Starr reported that American officials now believe that the video of Foley’s assassination was taken inside Syria, where the United States has no military presence and cannot conduct operations in the air without incurring the serious risk of encountering resistance from Syria’s sophisticated, Russian-made anti-air batteries. Obama failed to make note of this.
Nor did the president, perhaps understandably, mention the fact that another American journalist – Steven Sotloff – will be killed next if the president does not give up the ongoing air campaign against ISIS in Iraq. It makes sense that the president did not want to endanger Sotloff’s life further by antagonizing ISIS. Nor does the President of the United States gain anything from appearing to respond directly to ultimatums issued by a loose band of militants in the Middle East. But these are subjects that can be addressed in a cautious manner that also treats the American people like adults.
Where was the status update on the ongoing airstrikes against ISIS positions in the north of Iraq which, judging only from press accounts, appear to be relatively effective? Why did the president fail to address rumors that his administration was aware of the threats to Foley’s life prior to his execution, or that unconfirmed reports have suggested that his killer may have been a former Guantanamo detainee?
For that matter, why did the president not address the fact that a significant number of westerners are apparently fighting alongside ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and Foley’s executioner may have been one of these western jihadists? It is, again, perfectly understandable for the president to not want to get ahead of the facts of this still developing event, but Obama is set to chair as United Nations Security Council meeting in September which is focused entirely on that very threat. He has yet to publicly address this forthcoming UNSC meeting, and this incident would have been a perfect time to broach that subject.
Instead, he leaves it up to his surrogates and the media to inform the public about how this war is being prosecuted. The latest development, breaking just minutes after Obama spoke, is an apparent proposal administration officials are considering to send 300 additional troops to Iraq. Even members of Obama’s own party are now strongly suggesting that the president come to Congress with a request to legally authorize this application of force in Iraq. When does the president plan to speak honestly about the scope of American involvement in the Middle East?
So many members of the media remarked that Obama appeared “shaken” or “pissed” over the execution of an American, which is a commendable and appropriate emotion to experience under these circumstances. The equally appropriate response from those concerned about national security, America’s position in the world, or even the quaint notion of avenging great wrongs would be, “So what?”
The president’s emotional state at any given moment is utterly irrelevant, unless that provides a window into his decision making process while American service personnel are in harm’s way. To many in the press, the study of Obama’s fluctuating emotions is its own virtue. As though this was some reality show. Save it for the confession booth.
What is the plan, Mr. President? Or do we have to wait to read about it in the papers tomorrow?