I’d say my preview of President Obama’s ISIS speech held up quite well, right down to his abundant first-person references to himself. As anticipated, he continues to view the Islamic State as primarily a domestic political problem. His primary objective is to move the narrative away from his hideous behavior over the summer, from his endless parties and golf outings to his disastrous “I have no strategy” gaffe. On Wednesday night, President Obama declared war on his bad poll numbers.
If there’s one thing I didn’t anticipate, it was Obama’s delusional stroll into his “recovery” fantasies near the end of the speech. That’s perfectly consistent with Operation Get My Poll Numbers Out Of the Basement, but I didn’t think he’d be quite so blatant about it. He’s basically trying to argue people out of scoring his domestic policies so poorly when pollsters call them. Meanwhile, back here in the real world, the workforce continues to collapse, the last unemployment report was an “unexpected” disaster, and within 12 hours of Obama’s speech, jobless claims had soared far beyond expectations for the week. The “unmatched universities” Obama boasted of are crushing students with skyrocketing tuition debt burdens, and churning out people with expensive degrees who can’t find a job. “Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades” despite Barack Obama’s best efforts.
And then you hit the really outer-space “what the hell is he talking about?” passages, which went beyond spin into the kind of outright delusion that makes you wonder about Barack Obama’s mental health. For a warm-up act, he touted Yemen and Somalia as examples of highly successful drone-strike terrorist containment, marking the first time anyone on Earth has advanced Yemen and Somalia as examples of political stable tranquility. “We’re going to turn northern Iraq into Somalia!” isn’t exactly an inspiring battle cry.
That’s nothing compared to Obama’s take on Russian adventurism, Syrian chemical weapons, and ebola:
Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples??? right to determine their own destiny. It is America ??? our scientists, our doctors, our know-how ??? that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria???s declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people ??? or the world ??? again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.
I don’t know what to say about any of that, except that the alternate universe he’s describing sounds better than the one in which Russia still has over a thousand troops in Ukraine, ebola is “spreading like wildfire and devouring everything in its path” (as the Liberian defense minister told the UN Security Council yesterday), and Bashar Assad is still dumping chlorine gas on Syrian villages. Certainly Americans are playing a pivotal role in the effort to contain the ebola outbreak, but what the heck does that have to do with ISIS? His other examples of how everything is going swell are actually things he shouldn’t have mentioned, especially if Syria and its Russian patron are going to end up as “partners” in fighting the Islamic State.
I notice Obama stubbornly insists on calling the enemy “ISIL,” which is even starting to get on the New York Times’ nerves. If there was anyone you’d expect to bow to Barack Obama and adopt his preferred nomenclature without complaint, it’s the NYT, but here’s part of their write-up of Obama’s speech:
In a speech to the nation from the State Floor of the White House, Mr. Obama said the United States was recruiting a global coalition to ???degrade and ultimately destroy??? the militants, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He warned that ???eradicating a cancer??? like ISIS was a long-term challenge that would put some American troops at risk.
???We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,??? Mr. Obama declared in a 14-minute address. ???That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq,??? he added, using an alternative name for ISIS. ???This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.???
Besides the clumsy sound of “ISIL,” the problem with that nomenclature is that it stands for “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” The “Levant” is a far larger area than what ISIS has already conquered – it’s basically the entire eastern coast of the Mediterranean, stretching from Turkey all the way down to Egypt. Here, take a look at this map and tell me if one of the names appearing roughly in the middle of the Levant jumps out at you. Hint: it’s a nation Barack Obama is famously cool towards, having once stated that he thinks it should be considerably smaller than it is now.
Using the name “ISIL” implicitly acknowledges this al-Qaeda group’s territorial ambitions, where as “ISIS” is a more technically accurate and limited description of where they are right now. I look forward to renaming them The Islamic State of Nowhere, but even Obama’s ostensibly tough speech last night conceded that’s a few years off at best. It’s funny that Obama incessantly argues, as he did again last night, that ISIS isn’t really “Islamic,” but he’s comfortable with rhetorically conceding their claim to “the Levant.”
As for the meager policy component of Obama’s speech, it’s just more of what he’s already doing. We’ll drop more bombs, and give more weapons to the “moderate” Syrian rebels (hopefully not the ones who sell captured American journalists to ISIS death squads for cash!) Obama spent much effort reassuring his base that ground troops will never, ever be deployed in combat roles. He repeated his new poll-tested “degrade and ultimately destroy” slogan with comical intensity, a bit of rhetorical mouthwash designed to rinse out the taste of his earlier “manageable problem” gaffe. He gave himself another pat on the back for killing Osama bin Laden, but then tried to portray his policies in Iraq and Afghanistan as successes, rather than the disasters they are. His Iraq pullout is what paved the way for the rise of the Islamic State, and the only question in Afghanistan is whether the Taliban are back in power before Obama leaves office.
Where does Obama get the authority for this years-long campaign? Not from Congress, that’s for sure. In the age of the Imperial Presidency, the rubber-stamp legislature is not to be consulted on such matters. Instead, Obama will invoke the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force given to President George Bush – you know, the same one President Obama said he wanted to repeal last year, back when he was still dismissing ISIS as the “junior varsity” of al-Qaeda. Barack Obama 2014 just told Barack Obama 2013 to get bent. It should be noted that some congressional representatives from both parties are quite happy to be left out of the new war against ISIS… but there are also representatives from both parties who are very angry at Obama for circumventing them,
There was, unsurprisingly, no admission of error in Obama’s speech. He admits no mistakes, therefore her learns nothing. A lifetime of such arrogance made him the man he is today, and his country has suffered greatly for it, both in our domestic economy and our standing abroad.
Update: Man, it looks like Obama’s tough speech and commanding leadership really wowed the Turks. They’ve already announced that they will not allow attacks on ISIS to be launched from their air bases, and will not participate in any combat operations against the Islamic State. So George Bush, who put together a massive international coalition and properly sought the very same congressional authorization Obama is still leaning on today, was a unilateralist cowboy, while the pitiful man who has squandered American prestige around the world is the great internationalist who was going to make the whole planet love and respect us.
Update: There has been considerable merriment about a flash poll of the MSNBC audience – the people who screamed themselves hoarse for years on end damning Bush as a unilateral cowboy and unitary executive – saying by a margin of 88-12 that Obama does not need congressional authorization to take military action against ISIS. I know that sounds funny if you take the “anti-war” movement at all seriously, but you shouldn’t. There was never much of an anti-war movement. There was an anti-Bush movement, period. The Senator who made a big deal about voting against authority for Bush to take action is now using the very same authority he voted against to take action as President, and his very pliable followers are perfectly happy with that. It’s not so much hypocrisy now as dishonesty then.
Update: More dazzling Obama leadership on the world stage…
British Foreign Secretary : Britain will not join air strikes in Syria @AFP
??? Stephen Collinson (@StCollinson) September 11, 2014
Update: As for those “moderate” Syrian rebels Obama’s strategy relies on arming more heavily, a commander in the heavily “vetted” Free Syrian Army has admitted his group has been collaborating with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Back to the old strategic drawing board!
Update: Russia has warned that American air strikes against ISIS in Syria would violate international law, as reported by the BBC:
“The US president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the US armed forces against Isil (IS) positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government,” ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich was quoted as saying.
“This step, in the absence of a UN Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”
Syria also repeated its warning that the US had to co-ordinate with the Syrian government before launching air strikes on its territory.
“Any action of any kind without the consent of the Syrian government would be an attack on Syria,” National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said on Thursday.
Last month Syria offered to help the US fight Islamic State, however the US ruled that out.
Our debonair internationalist “America is nothing special” Nobel Peace Prize-winning Citizen of the World President didn’t bother checking with anyone beyond his team of White House toadies before making that speech last night, did he?