The White House’s strategy for combating ISIS is a moving target. The varying ways in which the threat of the Islamic State has been described by White House officials describes the confusion inside the administration over how to confront this challenge.
One day, the Islamic State like “beyond anything we’ve seen” and a “threat to every interest we have.” Another, ISIS is only a marginal danger to the United States because “we’ve gotten a lot better at protecting ourselves” since 9/11. In one speech, the president says America’s goal is to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, but later in that same speech he says the aim is really to “shrink” them into a “manageable problem.”
On Wednesday night, Obama delivered a speech on the ISIS threat many on his left felt represented the declaration of a new war in the Middle East. The following day, his administration insists that we are not at war with a group which executed a “terrorist attack” against the United States. To the extent that there are any hostilities ongoing in the Middle East, they are part of the same conflict in which America has been engaged since September 11, 2001.
It’s almost like the White House has no national security strategy, and is really just making it up as they go along. Well, it turns out that the only reason it seems like the White House has no strategy is because they don’t.
Via The Washington Examiner’s Susan Crabtree, President Barack Obama’s White House is encountering some resistance from Congress over their request to approve a plan which would transport opposition fighters from Syria to other Middle Eastern countries where they would be armed, trained, and eventually reintroduce into that war-torn nation to fight ISIS. The resistance is not over that plan in particular, but over the fact that the administration has not submitted an national security strategy, as they are required to do by law every year, since the spring of 2010.
Centrist Republican Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told Crabtree that submitting a strategy is perhaps more critical today than ever because “the world is on fire.”
“I cannot remember a more dangerous and turbulent time in the world since right after 9/11, so it’s essential that we have the benefit of the best strategic thinking in our government and the benefit of the best military and diplomatic advice.”
Political timing, she argued, should play no role in White House decision to release the formal national security strategy.
“This analysis should not be delayed in any way,” she said. “It’s absolutely essential that politics not intervene.”
A 1986 law requires the president to present Congress with an annual national security strategy document. Presidents have regularly failed to submit the statement annually, but Obama has waited the longest to update his initial doctrine delivered in May 2010.
Much to Obama’s chagrin, his approach to national security matters continues to invite unfavorable comparisons to his predecessor, George W. Bush. The 43rd President of the United States was nearly as lax in providing Congress with a national security strategy as the 44th President has been.
The likely reason for the delay is that the president’s national security priorities are shifting. In the spring of 2013, Obama outlined a doctrine of retrenchment and disengagement in which he said that the 2001 authorization of force which represented a declaration of war against al-Qaeda was largely obsolete. He advocated for a new approach to counterterrorism which would take America off a permanent war footing.
2014 has scrambled this plan and, as national security threats proliferate on virtually every continent on Earth, Obama is compelled to reformulate the doctrinal elements of his approach to national security. Judging from the White House’s confused approach to the threat posed by the Islamic State, that could take a while.