If you thought the threat posed by the Islamic State was a national security matter, as most of the nation does, you would be incorrect. It is, in fact, a domestic political matter. That is clearly how the White House views it. There is no other way to explain their inane vacillation and incomprehensibly fluid position on what the response to the threat posed by ISIS should be.
How did we get to this confused and uninspiring place? Let’s review.
President Barack Obama committed an unforced error last week when, during a critical speech on the Islamic State, he contradicted his earlier assertion that the goal of the United States was to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. When asked how this would be accomplished, Obama’s extemporaneous thoughts on the objective of the U.S. mission shocked the country.
America, Obama said, would “continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem.”
That hurt him.
A Fox News poll released this week showed that a majority, 54 percent, did not believe Obama was “prepared to do whatever it takes to defeat Islamic extremists?” Another plurality, 48 to 38 percent among likely voters, believed that the president’s “manageable” comment was a revealing window into how he truly wanted to handle this threat to Western civilization.
America’s confidence in Obama’s ability to competently manage America’s foreign affairs began not merely ebbing but hemorrhaging. The bleeding had to be stopped. On Wednesday, Barack Obama did a capable job of assuaging America’s concerns about their commander-in-chief apparently not sharing the apprehension of 90 percent of the public. Obama assured the nation that neutralizing the group responsible for what the White House considered “terrorist” attacks on the nation represented a national security imperative.
All that repair work was undone on Thursday when the administration, having been flogged by their progressive base over what they believed was the president’s plan to take the nation back into war in the Middle East, bent over backwards to claim that the war they were planning was not in any way new. In fact, it was not even a war.
“If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL they can do so, but the fact is it’s a major counter-terrorism operation,” Secretary of State John Kerry said. “I don’t think people need to get into a war fever on this.”
“I don’t know whether you want to call it a war or sustained counterterrorism campaign. I think, frankly, this is a counterterrorism operation that will take time,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice said on CNN. She later added that what was being contemplated in the Middle East would look “very different” from a conventional war.
White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest confirmed this was the administration’s position, and added that they did not need to seek any new congressional authorization for this non-war. He insisted that ISIS, a group routinely at odds with al-Qaeda, is actually synonymous with al-Qaeda. Therefore, the 2001 authorization to use force against that group applies to this and presumably any other Islamist terror organization which arises in the future.
On Friday, we got yet another set of mixed signals from the White House. “The United States is at war with ISIL in the same way we are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates,” Earnest said.
Asked to clarify his and the administration’s position, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby essentially said that the United States always regarded ISIS and al-Qaeda as identical entities and the coming action is merely an extension of the resurrected War on Terror. “What I said is it’s not the Iraq War of 2002,” Kirby clarified. “But make no mistake, we know we are at war with ISIL in the same way we’re at war and continue to be at al-Qaeda and its affiliates.”
Life imitates art. We have always been at war with ISIS.
There is nothing inspiring about playing politics with matters relating to the security of the American people. The president’s approach has been dishonest from the start. He never intended to pursue a mission in Iraq and Syria that had as its goal the neutralization of the threat posed by ISIS. Obama’s administration was foolish to suggest that what happened to James Foley (and, presumably, Steven Sotloff) was a “terrorist attack” if they were not going to respond to it as such.
Perhaps one of the reasons why Americans of all political stripes have lost faith in Obama’s ability to manage America’s foreign affairs — and you don’t dip into the low 30s on any issue without shedding the support of Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike — is because he conducts foreign policy so utterly faithlessly. Say what you will about cowboys, at least they have the courage of their own convictions. Obama seems to be forever second guessing himself; pursuing the path of least political resistance with little regard for the efficacy.
This administration manages America’s interests aboard always with an eye toward preserving Obama’s political standing at home. This is quite bizarre. Obama would find that a competent approach to foreign policy would restore America’s faith in his leadership. Perhaps competence is asking too much.