The word of the day is “deliberate.”
On Thursday morning, White House Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken said that the Obama administration is seeking to combat the Islamic State threat, as it executes one “terrorist attack” after another against the United States, in a “deliberate” fashion. That’s a far more generous way of confessing to near paralytic dithering.
Last week, President Barack Obama admitted that his administration does not “have a strategy yet” for attacking the Islamic State in its Syrian stronghold. On Wednesday, noting in the same speech that his administration would seek to “destroy” ISIS and/or “shrink” it into a “manageable problem,” he revealed that he does not really even have a single objective in mind for how to deal with the Islamic State.
The White House has begun to push back on an increasingly panicked press, the members of which appear to have come to the reluctant conclusion that there is no hand on the tiller, noting that both can be true: You can “shrink,” “degrade,” make “manageable,” and eventually “destroy” ISIS. While this may be true, the words of the president and his subordinates leave the listener with the impression that this is a policy being crafted on the fly.
Blinken told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that the United States is stalling on responding forcefully to crimes against humanity and the United States committed by ISIS because they are attempting to build a robust international coalition. “We’ve got to look before we leap,” he said. “We tried the opposite a decade ago, and that didn’t help us very much in the Middle East.”
Nearly six years after George W. Bush left the White House, the Obama White House has been completely unable to even approach his ability to craft an international coalition. They ruthlessly mocked the size of the 48-member strong force that engaged in combat and nation building in Iraq in 2003 because it did not include France and Canada, but defend the execution of perfectly unilateral military action in Iraq today and demand you consider it consistency.
But this is not the only language of the Bush years Blinken appropriated this week. Appearing on CNN on Wednesday, the deputy national security advisor told Wolf Blitzer that the fight against ISIS may be – like the once-defunct War on Terror – a generational struggle. Except he did not say that. Blinken said that throttling the nascent Islamic State in the crib is a project for the next occupant of the Oval Office.
“This, as the President has said, is going to have to be a sustained effort,” Blinken said. “It’s going to take time, and it will probably go beyond even this administration to get to the point of defeat.”
You see, not only does the White House need there to be an international coalition assembled before ISIS is engaged (a process which the president may be engaged in as we speak at a NATO summit in Wales), but he needs the consent of Congress as well. And that is a process which the White House is most assuredly not pursuing at all.
Members of Congress, Democrats in particular, are racing to strike a more hawkish posture on ISIS than Obama. Some are demanding that the White House call Congress back from vacation and hold a joint session to clarify precisely how the administration plans to address this threat. And yet, there is no obvious sense of urgency from this administration. A “deliberate” approach to this crisis would include both calling Congress back and coalition building, as well as the refusal to rule out unilateral military action to avenge what the White House considers “terrorist” attacks on the United States. This is not what is happening.
Even this many years later, the administration remains consumed with behaving in ways they believe will be seen as antithetical to those of the former president. In that process, they have subordinated being viewed as competent to just being viewed as dissimilar to Bush.