It’s not surprising that the members of this administration still regard the mere invocation of George W. Bush as a sufficient counterargument when they are criticized, but it is galling.
The White House’s internal conflict over the appropriate strategy to combat the ISIS threat has been spilling out of the West Wing and into the headlines for some time. The most recent example of this phenomenon occurred this week when President Obama again reassured the public that no ground troops would be committed to the fight against ISIS. This statement came just a day after Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he could recommend the use of ground forces in a “combat advisory role” should the situation warrant it.
The Washington Post investigated further and revealed late Thursday that Dempsey is not the only American military leader who has little faith that Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy will be effective.
Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who served under Obama until last year, became the latest high-profile skeptic on Thursday, telling the House Intelligence Committee that a blanket prohibition on ground combat was tying the military’s hands. “Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility,” he said. “We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground.”
Mattis’s comments came two days after Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took the rare step of publicly suggesting that a policy already set by the commander in chief could be reconsidered.
Despite Obama’s promise that he would not deploy ground combat forces, Dempsey made clear that he didn’t want to rule out the possibility, if only to deploy small teams in limited circumstances. He also acknowledged that Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander for the Middle East, had already recommended doing so in the case of at least one battle in Iraq but was overruled.
White House Press Sec Josh Earnest joined the hosts of Morning Joe on Friday where he was asked to respond to this criticism. The White House’s point man for dealing with the media countered these thoughtful critiques by summoning of the demon spirit Bush under the apparent assumption that it would suffice as an argument.
“All they do is they misinterpret Chairman Dempsey’s testimony, and the rest of the time they essentially quote – they quote people how are either frequent critics of the president or people who supported the previous Iraq War,” Earnest said of The Post’s story. “So, the more accurate headline would be ‘Supporters of the Bush war in Iraq criticize Obama’s strategy.’”
It is perfectly enraging that this man would suggest that the fact that these military leaders who served their country for decades are disqualified from offering their expertise on matters martial because of that fact. It is unconvincing and juvenile for Earnest to presume that merely invoking the name Bush will serve to shut his critics up, though this threadbare trick still works on the hosts of MSNBC’s morning show. It is more than a little disturbing that this White House continues to treat this threat to national security as a political problem to be managed rather than addressed comprehensively.
This desperation on the part of the administration would be comical if it were not so dangerous.