When last we left former President Barack Obama, he was scooting off to Europe to do something-or-other that will persuade Vladimir Putin to halt his slow-motion invasion of Eastern Europe. A herd of reporters chased him to Marine One and begged him to make some kind of statement about ISIS beheading another captive American, journalist Steve Sotloff. Hope that Obama would reconnect with the real world, spin on his heel, and provide a burst of leadership was written on the faces of his media admirers.
They went home with nothing, and spent the evening half-heartedly pecking out op-eds that argued Obama’s determination not to let a few dead Americans get in the way of his plans was actually a form of steely resolve that would have the head-choppers shaking in their boots. (They’ve given up on their hilarious attempt to complain Obama copes with extreme grief and rage by golfing the pain away, a trial balloon that deflated once photos of the Golfer-and-Chief smiling, laughing, and fist-bumping with his billionaire golf buddies half an hour after he delivered the Foley statement began circulating.) A decade after relentlessly mocking President George Bush for spending a few minutes after the 9/11 attacks reading a book to a roomful of children he did not wish to panic, the Left is reduced to arguing that Obama is showing leadership by refusing to put his golf clubs down.
Obama finally got around to making a statement once he was in Estonia, and it started off much more promisingly than his Tee Time statement on the murder of James Foley. On that occasion, the President’s language was almost entirely passive. He talked about how “the entire world” was “appalled by the brutal murder” of Foley, rather than expressing his personal disgust or the unique outrage of the United States at the murder of a citizen. “Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world,” Obama continued. It was reminiscent of the time he claimed The Entire World had draw the “red line” on chemical weapons in Syria. He spent the rest of that statement talking about how much the Islamic State stinks, how they have nothing to do with bona fide Islam, and how their ultimate failure is inevitable because they have “no place in the 21st Century.”
None of this made much of an impression on ISIS, which pointedly quoted from Obama’s Tee Time statement in the videotaped murder of Steven Sotloff. So this time it was refreshing to see Obama step up his rhetoric a bit, referring to the beheadings as “barbaric,” a “horrific act of violence,” and a “terrible crime against these two fine young men.” He also promised “our reach is long and justice will be served,” which is a great deal more proactive than talking about ultimate spontaneous failure.
But then things got weird, as Fox News reports:
After taking some heat for admitting last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to address the militant group in Syria, Obama said they do have a regional strategy. Ultimately, he said, “our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so it is no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States.”
But later in the press conference, Obama returned to the topic and noticeably softened his tone.
He clarified that if the U.S. is joined by an international coalition, they can “continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem.“
The remarks are likely to sow confusion on Capitol Hill, and possibly among allies.
“Are we going to contain ISIS or are we going to crush ISIS? And the president has not answered that,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told Fox News, reacting to the president’s remarks.
Speaking Tuesday night on Fox News, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the Islamic State has “got to be destroyed” and claimed the president does not yet have a strategy to implement that.
What the hell? This time you’ve gone too far, ISIS – we’re going to shrink you slightly! One more step across this red line, and so help me God, we’ll make you “manageable!”
And Obama’s response to the firestorm that erupted after he admitted he has no strategy to defeat ISIS is to… repeat that he has no strategy to defeat ISIS. He’s hoping no one will notice that “regional strategy” is political code for “I’m really hoping the Kurds, Iraqi army, and ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels tackle these guys for us,” a possibility that serious strategic planners have grown increasingly dubious about, especially since nobody in the region looks at Barack Obama and sees a war leader that will back them every bloody step of the way to glory. Obama’s penchant for turning on American allies and making doomed outreach efforts to adversaries has definitely made an impression.
It was not unreasonable for Obama to observe that it will “take time to roll them back,” but let’s not forget that he’s the one who let them get established in the first place, ignoring warnings from far more intelligent people that an American presence in Iraq was necessary to keep such a threat at bay. Obama and his campaign hacks made fun of such warnings during the 2012 campaign. He assured us ISIS was nothing more than a bunch of bin Laden wannabees, the “junior varsity” squad of a “decimated and on the run” al-Qaeda. Now he’s effectively conceding victory to them in Round One of the new great war – they’re dug in, they’ve got a functioning trans-border terror state, and they’re not going anywhere. The best the American super-power can hope to do, assuming uncertain regional allies are willing to do most of the bleeding, is “roll them back” a little.
It’s pretty clear who the junior varsity player in this conflict is, and his objectives remain primarily political. He won’t do anything that would shatter the morale of his kook base voters or validate anything George Bush did in Iraq. He’s hoping everyone will forget how he stood by and allowed the ISIS cancer to metastasize, ignoring a long string of warnings from American intelligence, and pleas for help from the Iraqi government. He’s rolling the dice and hoping ISIS doesn’t reach out and do something bigger and bloodier than executing a hostage every week or so. Barack Obama deals with crises by dragging them out until his media pals lose interest in them and change the subject. Obama is wagering that we’ll get used to jihadi snuff films, and a few tactical battlefield successes to thwart the further expansion of the Islamic State will allow him to claim his containment strategy is working.
Given the realities on the ground, a cold-blooded case for essentially learning to live with a contained Islamic State might be made… provided we have total confidence they won’t reach outside their borders to conduct terror operations. It’s not what the American people want to hear, after watching two of our citizens get their heads sawed off on video with knives – we’re just going to do what we would have done anyway, and use a little light bombing to help everyone ISIS wants to invade hold the line against them. They’ll keep beheading, we’ll keep containing, and with a little luck, Obama will play the al-Qaeda Junior Varsity squad to a draw.
But it’s a huge assumption to believe the Islamic State can be prevented from conducting big-ticket overseas terror operations. They’ve certainly got the means – Obama has worked hard to make U.S. border security a sick joke, and ISIS has an abundance of operatives, equipment, and money to strike with. Remember how two Americans were killed fighting for ISIS in Syria last week? Guess what one of them did for a living, before he left America for front-line combat duty in Syria? He was cleaning airplanes for Delta at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The sort of containment strategy Obama outlined gives ISIS every reason to pull off a job on American soil, to prove they’re not “contained.” Since their recruiting successes have depended on their aura of savage determination and invincibility, they’re virtually obliged to do something like that, something big enough to grab headlines and exploit Obama’s political weakness. The downside would be a 9/11-style backlash that prompts more aggressive American action against them, but if Obama’s putting all his chips in the containment basket, he’s going to face American fury after a big terror attack, not a rally-round-the-flag consolidation of domestic support. He’ll be lucky to remain in office a week after the dust settles. He’s putting himself in that position by looking weak and confused now.
At the very least, ISIS planners can assume they’ve got even odds of significantly disrupting the American political system with a successful attack. They’re up against a guy who’s already trying to walk back comments he made just a few hours ago…
Senior admin official: POTUS was not walking back his “degrade and destroy” ISIS goal when he said he wanted to make ISIS “manageable.”
??? Jim Acosta (@JimAcostaCNN) September 3, 2014
Obama’s still crossing his fingers and hoping somebody else takes care of the Islamic State for him. The enemy retains the initiative as Round Two of the war Obama refuses to declare gets under way.
Update: Obama’s spokesman, the comically misnamed Josh Earnest, is actually trying to pretend he never made the “junior varsity” comment about ISIS. You’ll never hear that claim again after today, since it was promptly shredded by even the most sympathetic fact-checkers, but it matters that they tried. It matters that they think Americans are stupid and docile enough to forget Barack Obama’s plain words upon command. It’s interesting that they think their loyal drones in the media and left-wing blogs would faithfully run with the White House spokesman’s comments and pump out a thousand “Wingnuts keep hitting Obama on ‘junior varsity’ comment he never made!” pieces. It’s telling that today is the first time a reporter directly confronted the White House about Obama’s deadly error in dismissing the threat of ISIS.
And it’s further proof they still see the ISIS quagmire as a domestic political issue – something they can spin their way out of.
Update: Fortunately, the savages at ISIS make mistakes too. For example, as the Daily Caller reports, they have apologized for releasing the video of Steven Sotloff’s beheading ahead of schedule:
???The ???Uyūn al-Ummah [Twitter] account shared a video of the message by the Islamic State???s second American prisoner, Steven Sotloff, before it was officially released by the official Al-I???tisām Organization account,??? their apology begins.
???The admins asked the brothers operating ???Uyūn al-Ummah to explain who had published the clip, and the brother ??? God forgive us and him ??? replied: ???We saw somebody in our mentions tweeting about the clip. Our brother thought that Al-I???tisām had released it and hurried to share the video. But when ???Uyūn al-Ummah???s admin checked Al-I???tisām???s account to confirm its authenticity, he found that it hadn???t yet been released, and proceeded to delete it, apologizing to his followers and his brothers in the Islamic State.??????
The announcement also includes screencaps of the unofficial account tweeting out the video, apologizing for accidentally being the first to make it public, and admitting to deleting their original tweet.
???The admins of the ???Uyūn al-Ummah account repeats its apologies to their followers and to the Islamic State,??? the message concludes.
They deleted a Tweet? That’s so pathetic. By the way, why the hell are they still permitted to have Twitter accounts?
??? Heather Childers (@HeatherChilders) September 2, 2014
Update: Here’s a nasty long-term strategic idea… what happens if Obama’s containment plan weakens the Islamic State, and then Iran rolls in and leads the charge to knock them down?
Update: Today’s “Protect the Precious!” award for heroic media efforts to shield their beloved President from criticism comes from the Obama stalwarts at the New York Times, who briefly refer to Steven Sotloff’s family at the beginning of their report on his murder… and wait until literally the last two paragraphs of the story to casually mention that they’re furious at the Obama Administration for its “inaction.”
A person close to the Sotloff family expressed outrage at what he viewed as a pattern of deliberate leaks in Washington suggesting that Mr. Sotloff was killed the same day as Mr. Foley ??? a strategy he said the family sees as an attempt to absolve the administration of inaction.
???It was incredibly frustrating for us, because it was as if basically they were saying, ???Don???t hope for any positive outcome,’ ??? said this person, who requested anonymity because he did not have the family???s permission to speak publicly.
“Don’t hope for any positive outcome” would make a fine slogan for the Obama lame duck years.