Obama's guide to hostage-taking

You can’t say President Obama’s lame-duck years were devoid of achievements, because in a closed-door bull session with reporters before his Wednesday speech declaring not-war on the non-Islamic Islamic State, he managed to drop one of the strangest, creepiest utterances in the long bipartisan history of S**t My President Says.  From the New York Times:

Mr. Obama had what guests on Wednesday afternoon described as a bereft look as he discussed the murders of Mr. Foley and Mr. Sotloff, particularly because two other Americans are still being held. Days later, ISIS would report beheading a British hostage with another video posted online Saturday.

But the president said he had already been headed toward a military response before the men???s deaths. He added that ISIS had made a major strategic error by killing them because the anger it generated resulted in the American public???s quickly backing military action.

If he had been ???an adviser to ISIS,??? Mr. Obama added, he would not have killed the hostages but released them and pinned notes on their chests saying, ???Stay out of here; this is none of your business.??? Such a move, he speculated, might have undercut support for military intervention.

It was clear to the guests how aware Mr. Obama was of the critics who have charged him with demonstrating a lack of leadership. He brought up the criticism more than once with an edge of resentment in his voice.

???He???s definitely feeling it,??? said one guest. At one point, Mr. Obama noted acidly that President Ronald Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon only to have hundreds of them killed in a terrorist attack because of terrible planning, and then withdrew the remaining ones, leaving behind a civil war that lasted years. But Reagan, he noted, is hailed as a titan striding the earth.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States just imagined himself as an adviser to ISIS, and said he would have counseled them to release their hostages with little No Trespassing notes pinned to their chests… and if they had done so, the war-fevered knuckle dragging rubes in America might not be hassling Obama to come off the golf course and do something about the Islamic State That Isn’t Really Islamic No Matter How Often They Cite the Koran.

Just try to imagine the response if George Bush had said something like this… and it was reported immediately after yet another hostage was beheaded, as the Times alluded in its report.  Who the hell thinks this way?  And who just sits there and nods while the President of the United States babbles like this?  And why are reporters tromping obediently into closed-door off-the-record sessions with President Transparency to help him get ready for his speeches?  As the Times notes several paragraphs in: “Although three New York Times columnists and an editorial writer were among those invited to the second session, this account is drawn from people unaffiliated with The Times, some of whom insisted on anonymity because they were not supposed to share details of the conversations.”

Maybe that was too many questions in a row, so here’s another observation: Six years in, and Barack Obama is still whining endlessly about his predecessors.  Months into the ISIS crisis, and his media sycophants still view all this as a minor scene in “Barack Obama: The Movie,” an endless soap opera in which all that matters are the travails of Our Hero, and his emotional reaction to them.  The NYT article is entitled “Paths to War, Then and Now, Haunt Obama.”  Nobody cares what “haunts” Obama.  We’re looking for leadership, decision-making, and some sense of responsibility that remains wholly absent from the Obama drama.

For example, here’s the specific reference to “haunting” that gave the New York Times its title:

In forming a plan to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria using airpower and local forces, but not regular American ground troops, he searched for ways to avoid the mistakes of the past. He felt ???haunted,??? he told his visitors, by the failure of a Special Forces raid to rescue the American hostages James Foley and Steven J. Sotloff ??? ???we just missed them,??? he said ??? but their subsequent murders were not the real reason he opted for war, although he noted that gruesome videos released by ISIS had helped galvanize public support for action.

He was acutely aware that the operation he was about to embark on would not solve the larger issues in that region by the time he left office. ???This will be a problem for the next president,??? Mr. Obama said ruefully, ???and probably the one after that.??? But he alternated between resolve as he vowed to retaliate against President Bashar al-Assad if Syrian forces shot at American planes, and prickliness as he mocked critics of his more reticent approach to the exercise of American power.

???Oh, it???s a shame when you have a wan, diffident, professorial president with no foreign policy other than ???don???t do stupid things,??? ??? guests recalled him saying, sarcastically imitating his adversaries. ???I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn???t make for good theater.???

The Special Forces mission didn’t fail; Barack Obama failed.  The mission, as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel remarked, was “flawless.”  The hostages weren’t at the location American troops hit, because according to Pentagon sources, “hesitation by President Obama” delayed the mission.  The details of the mission were then leaked to the media to make it look like Obama was doing something about the Islamic State… prompting ISIS to disperse its hostages more widely, to make possible future rescue missions more difficult.

There he goes again with the whining and bleating and sobbing about how it’s so unfair his poll numbers are in the toilet, because nobody understands that while he’s out golfing and hosting fundraising dinners, he’s actually using part of his super-human brain to make careful plans, so it only looks like he’s a disconnected President enjoying two years of early retirement, which the Islamic State is thoughtlessly interrupting with its antics.  (By the way, he was golfing again this weekend, even as news that ISIS had beheaded captive British aid worker David Haines broke, and British Prime Minister David Cameron raced back to his office in less than two hours, to begin setting up emergency meetings.)  Obama’s got his foreign policy directive, “Don’t do stupid s**t,” written on a piece of paper on his desk somewhere.  What more do you people want?

As for Obama’s thoughts on proper progressive catch-and-release hostage-taking: you can turn those comments over in your head from now until the end of Obama’s term, and you’ll never stop finding new ways they’re stupid and weird.  A thought that struck me the third or fourth time I read that passage from the NYT article: the monsters of the Islamic State would read his idea to pin notes to the chests of freed hostages, and immediately think of some ghoulishly sadistic implements that could be used as “pins.”  And if Barack Obama somehow found work as Community Organizer-in-Chief for the Islamic State and made that suggestion, he’d be leaving the meeting with something pinned to his chest, too.  What a delirious misunderstanding of the enemy, on par with Obama’s repeated public insistence that they’re not in any way Islamic.  Beheading is a feature for these guys, not a bug, Mr. President.

On the subject of the Koranic authenticity of the Islamic State, I cannot repeat often enough that the heartless murder of David Haines should serve as inspiration for moderate Muslims everywhere to rally against terrorism, hostage-taking, and murder.  Haines, the father of two children, spent much of his adult life working on relief missions, many of them in Muslim countries.  He was taken captive while working for the people of war-torn Syria on behalf of the French aid agency ACTED, which is now saying that it will “hae to stop working with some populations and leave them suffering and provide them with less support and less aid” due to safety concerns for their relief workers.

Haines’ brother Mike swiftly declared that “the Muslim faith is not to blame for ISIL, nor is it the fault of people of Middle Eastern  descent,” going so far as to quote from the Koran.  The Islamic State recruits using religious authority, which cannot be stripped from them in speeches given by secular Western politicians; that’s a job for the moderate Muslim world, which we are confidently informed is vastly larger than the extremists who populate ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and so forth.  David Haines was a man who risked, and ultimately lost, his life by helping suffering Muslims.  His name should be a rally cry for good Muslims throughout the Middle East, and around the world.

As for how those secular Western politicians are carrying on, Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement was brief, direct, and powerful: “The murder of David Haines is an act of pure evil.  My heart goes out to his family who have shown extraordinary courage and fortitude.  We will do everything in our power to hunt down these murderers and ensure they face justice, however long it takes.”

Whereas Barack Obama took the opportunity to slip in his shiny new poll-tested “degrade and destroy” slogan, and talk up that phantom international coalition he didn’t bother to assemble before announcing it to the world: “The United States strongly condemns the barbaric murder of UK citizen David Haines by the terrorist group ISIL. Our hearts go out to the family of Mr. Haines and to the people of the United Kingdom. The United States stands shoulder to shoulder tonight with our close friend and ally in grief and resolve. We will work with the United Kingdom and a broad coalition of nations from the region and around the world to bring the perpetrators of this outrageous act to justice, and to degrade and destroy this threat to the people of our countries, the region and the world.

The murder of Haines might save Obama from the results of his own bungling to some degree, as the British seem more inclined to participate in the proposed air campaign now.  As the UK Daily Mail reports, the latest ISIS beheading video follows a script similar to their previous outings, including taunts leveled at Cameron and Obama, plus a nod toward their next victim:

The video, titled A Message to the Allies of America, began with recent news footage of Mr Cameron discussing Britain’s foreign policy towards ISIS.

It then cut to the man kneeling in an orange jumpsuit in the desert. Reciting what appeared to be a prepared script, he said: ‘My name is David Cawthorne Haines. I would like to declare that I hold you David Cameron entirely responsible for my execution.

‘You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State, just as your predecessor Tony Blair did, following a trend amongst our British Prime Minsters who can’t find the courage to say no to the Americans.

‘Unfortunately it is we the British public that in the end will pay the price for our Parliament’s selfish decisions.’

The ISIS militant, who has a British accent, then said: ‘This British man has to the pay the price for your promise, Cameron, to arm the Peshmerga against the Islamic State.

‘Ironically he has spent a decade of his life serving under the same Royal Air Force that is responsible for delivering those arms.

‘Your evil alliance with America which continues to strike the Muslims of Iraq and most recently bombed the Haditha Dam will only accelerate your destruction, and playing the role of the obedient lapdog, Cameron, will only drag you and your people into another bloody and unwinnable war.’

The footage then showed what is believed to be the body of Mr Haines.

Another hostage, named in the video as a second Brit, is then paraded.

The militant adds: ‘If you, Cameron, persist in fighting the Islamic State then you like your master Obama, will have the blood of your people on your hands.’

So no, Mr. Obama, they don’t seem inclined to let their hostages toddle off carrying Strongly Worded Letters to their Western critics.  They seem to think this business of brutally murdering captives and releasing taunt-laced videos of their agonizing deaths is sending the right messages – not solely, or even primarily, to Barack Obama, although it’s no surprise to see that he thinks this is all about him.  These are recruiting videos, and they’ve been disturbingly effective.  Obama’s lately been complaining about how the Internet makes him look bad – “The world’s always been messy; we’re just noticing now, in part, because of social media” – while ISIS gleefully uses that same technology to spray its bloody message across the world and rake in converts.

If ISIS draws some pinprick U.S. air strikes, but the anticipated three-way beatdown from the Iraqi army, Kurds, and “white-hat” Syrian rebels doesn’t materialize, they’ll be more appealing than ever – that’s a desirable outcome for the Islamic State.  Give them a few years of rallying support from the sizable number of inauthentic Muslims who seem inclined to believe in this caliphate for some weird, completely non-religious reason, by posturing as the champions of Islam who took the best punch the Great Satan could deliver and remained on their feet, and who knows what the political situation in certain neighboring countries might look like… or how many operatives they’ll have available for asymmetrical warfare around the world.

One other thing about the one-two punch of the Haines beheading and the New York Times account of Obama’s off-the-record fat-chewing session with media pals: it’s clear that the enemy retains the initiative in this war.  The Obama Administration is still arguing with itself over whether the word “war” can be used to describe what it has in mind for the Islamic State.  “We’ve made it clear from the start,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on Fox News Sunday.  “Just as we have been at war with al-Qaeda, in a similar fashion we are at war with ISIL.”  Which amounts to yet another sales pitch for the Obama Administration’s new ideologically-conscious diet food product, I Can’t Believe It’s Not War!, a war-lite rhetorical blend designed to make normal people think the Administration is taking bold action without annoying the nutty base voters of the Democrat Party.

That means the enemy is still calling the shots, setting the terms of the engagement, and listening to Team Obama tell them exactly which strings they need to pull in order to produce a variety of outcomes.  (Couldn’t they wreak quite a bit of mischief at this point by releasing one of their hostages with a note that says “Dear Barack Obama, stay out of here; this is none of your business?”)  The Administration is still entirely reactive.  There’s another part of the New York Times article where Obama “vowed to retaliate against President Bashar al-Assad if Syrian forces shot at American planes.”  That hands the initiative over to Assad as well – he’s probably not going to fire on American planes while they’re busy bombing the most effective military element that’s been trying to overthrow him, but he’s got the option if he wants to make trouble for Obama.  When you run an operation like the Obama White House, your blustery threats don’t intimidate anyone, because they know domestic politics is your primary concern by a long shot.  Instead, your threats become checks everyone knows you might not be willing to cash.