If there are any Obama supporters left with a shred of intellectual integrity, they've got to find the spectacle of the President trooping over to the United Nations after two days of bombing Syria a bit unsettling. He obviously didn't want to take his chances on consultation with the vaunted "international community" until after his new Not-War was a done deal.
That's the exact opposite of everything the internationalist Left believes in, right? Just like you all - including then-Senator Barack Obama - spent the Aughts howling about the evils of "unilateralism," even though George Bush did get proper congressional authorization. In fact, he did such a good job that Obama is still milking the authorization he obtained. Also, didn't liberals spend the Bush years mocking the notion of "pre-emptive military action?" Because that's exactly what just happened.
Democrats are taking a lot of ribbing right now over Obama acting like Bush, but it would be more accurate to say he's acting like the Left's caricature of Bush. Allow me to quote from Obama's 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, which was given to him because he was breathing, because the Nobel committee wanted to give George Bush a backhanded insult for his allegedly unilateral warmongering ways:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.
Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
Oh, he created a "new climate" in international politics, all right - a climate in which America is held as a laughingstock, played for sport by the bad actors of the world, too weak and indecisive to be of much help in a crisis, and an unreliable if not dangerous ally. And while some members of the Nobel committee might have been fine with all that in 2009, the world is unquestionably a more dangerous, less peaceful place for Obama's efforts. Five years after collecting the ultimate participation trophy, Obama has bombed seven Muslim countries, and the seventh campaign is an action even his very few allies think is illegal. France said as much yesterday, and now it looks like Britain will agree. Fox News brings us the Day Two not-war update:
Early Wednesday, Syrian activists told the Associated Press that aircraft had conducted at least 10 airstrikes on suspected ISIS targets near the border with Iraq.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it was not immediately clear who carried out the air raids Wednesday in and around Boukamal, but cited locals as saying the intensity of the air raids was similar to that of the first wave of strikes on the town by the U.S. and its allies early Tuesday.
The BBC, also citing activists, reported airstrikes around the town of Kobane, near the border with Turkey. Witnesses said that they saw two military aircraft approach the area from the direction of Turkey, but officials from that country denied that their airspace or bases were used in any attack. The reported strikes have not been confirmed by either the U.S. or any of its Arab allies.
Meanwhile, the British parliament is expected to be recalled Friday to discuss a possible role for the U.K. in airstrikes against ISIS. The BBC reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will formally request that Britain join in the campaign. Both al-Abadi and his British counterpart, David Cameron, are in New York this week for the U.N. General Assembly.
Cameron told NBC News Tuesday evening that the fight against ISIS was a battle "you cannot opt out of.
"It has oil, it has money, it has territory, it has weapons, and there's no doubt in my mind it has already undertaken and is planning further plots in Europe and elsewhere," Cameron said.
The BBC reported that any British involvement against ISIS would be limited to Iraq, but not Syria due to concerns raised by the opposition Labour Party. That party's leader, Ed Miliband, told the BBC that any proposed airstrikes against ISIS in Syria would need to be backed by a U.N. Security Council resolution. Such a prospect is unlikely due to the influence of Russia, which holds a veto on the council and has roundly criticized this week's U.S.-led airstrikes.
No one in the Western world would find the prospect of allying with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad appealing, but under international law, that's the only way to make action in Syria legal. And that option is pretty much off the table anyway, because Obama spent last year declaring that Assad had to be deposed - and bombed by American planes - because he crossed the "red line" by using chemical weapons. Obama only said that because he was trying to get everyone off his back about the Syrian strongman's brutality - he was laying down a line he thought Assad would never, ever cross, and his mouth ran away from him. Now he's bombing Syria to get everyone off his back about ISIS. It does not inspire confidence.
President Bush did inspire confidence by doing everything the right way, despite years of revisionist claims from Democrats to the contrary. And if you want to say the effort in Iraq went awry despite all that, well, what does your crystal ball say about the likely results of a half-arsed unilateral campaign with no defined victory conditions; no formal support from the American government, let alone international allies; no strategy; no reliable allies on the ground in Syria, a theater where the "good guys" would all fit comfortably aboard Leonardo DiCaprio's yacht, with room to spare for a drum circle of climate change activists; and a President who is obviously only doing this because his poll numbers are making scary noises in the basement and keeping his Party awake all night?
For better or worse, the American electorate obviously doesn't have much appetite for prolonged military operations, especially when they come off as quagmires with enemies on all sides. Maybe it's a structural problem with representative republics, where any war lasting more than a couple of election cycles inevitably accumulates overpowering political opposition. In any event, when you hear Obama talk about a struggle lasting decades, and you consider his level of personal commitment to anything that doesn't involve the accumulation of domestic political power, you know what he really means is: it'll check off the "fight terrorism" box until I'm out of office. Potential allies know that too, particularly the ones we need to do our ground fighting for us.
The air strikes are already tapering off, and as one Administration official put it, the effort was "shock without awe" to begin with. Of course, the opponent presents nothing like the target-rich environment of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or even Moammar Qaddafi's Libya. Some good targets were hit on the first day, including the menacing Khorasan Group, which has nothing to do with ISIS, but sounds like it needed bombing even more urgently than its rivals in the caliphate. But there aren't that many prime targets left for air strikes... and that's a problem for an operation that's going to be almost 100 percent airpower for the next year, until our "moderate Syrian rebels" and Iraqi proxies are ready to rumble.
Lost in the chatter about the American air campaign was another horrifying defeat for the Iraq army, as an army base in Anbar province was wiped out by an ISIS force that included suicide bombers driving Humvees. From the Washington Post:
On Monday, a day after the attack, five survivors ??? including three officers ??? said that between 300 and 500 soldiers were missing and believed to be dead, kidnapped or in hiding. Army officials said the numbers were far lower, leading to accusations that they were concealing the true toll.
If the survivors??? accounts are correct, it would make Sunday the most disastrous day for the Iraqi army since several divisions collapsed in the wake of the Islamic State???s capture of the northern city of Mosul amid its cross-country sweep in June.
In any case, the chaotic incident has highlighted shortcomings in an army that the United States has spent billions of dollars training and equipping, and it has further undermined the force???s reliability as a partner as President Obama expands airstrikes into provinces including Anbar.
So we're looking at a long period of bombing that will, at best, contain the Islamic State and keep it from making any more big territorial gains. Unfortunately, such air campaigns tend to produce the conditions under which a group like ISIS has the most success at recruiting, which is why one of President Obama's goals at the United Nations is to secure "a resolution that would require all countries to prevent the recruitment and transport of would-be foreign fighters preparing to join terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group," as Fox News reports. "However, Obama administration officials have acknowledged that U.N. resolutions can be notoriously difficult to enforce."
This one will be especially tricky, and it's not likely to do much about the danger of ISIS operatives, or the very much not-decimated and not-on-the-run al-Qaeda, sending terror operatives back out to Western nations. Obama's own Party isn't big on taking serious measures to prevent that, having just defeated a measure that would have kept Americans who sallied forth to fight for the Islamic State from returning to the U.S. They have been returning, as the Administration concedes, in a story from the New York Daily News:
Some of the deluded Americans who fought with the murderous Islamic State militant group in Syria and Iraq have now come home, a senior Obama administration official warned Monday.
And an NYPD official said New York City could be their ultimate target.
There was no exact figure, but the National Counterterrorism Center estimates more than 100 Americans enlisted in ISIS or with the al-Nusra Front, which claims ties to Al Qaeda, the official said.
???It includes those who???ve gone, those who???ve tried to go, some who???ve come back,??? said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity at a briefing.
The good news is ???the FBI is looking at them,??? the official said. ???These are FBI matters, I refer you to them on specifics.???
This is the first official confirmation from the Obama administration of what terrorism experts had long feared ??? that Americans trained abroad in jihad are coming home to possibly spread terror.
Means, motive, and opportunity: there's little doubt ISIS has the capacity to pull of terror attacks, and it's got all the incentive in the world to try them under these conditions. The dream of every such group is to take the Great Satan's best shot, then prove it's still standing. They've got at least a year before they face any credible opposition on the ground, especially in Syria. And they're up against American leadership that couldn't be less serious about what it's doing, less vague about its ultimate objectives, or more confused about how to achieve them. These cute little "degrade and ultimate destroy but don't call it a war" word games the Administration has been playing are clearly designed to make the conditions of success so vague that nearly anything that happens can be described as part of the plan. You can already hear the next two years of speeches: "As I have always said, our objective is to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and that takes time. Some say we should drop a thousand nuclear bombs on Syria immediately, others say we should surrender and give Minneapolis to the Islamic State as the spoils of war. I reject those false choices..." Alas, that kind of war policy leaves plenty of wiggle room for the enemy, too.
Something had to be done about ISIS, and evidently about the Khorasan Group... but it matters a great deal what is done, and how. President Obama has now adopted every single policy and attitude in the War on Terror he ran against, and which his Party castigated as stupid and evil for most of a decade. Rarely has an argument on foreign policy been won as decisively as George Bush won this one. The lingering question is how well Obama has learned his lessons.
Update: Among the critics of American air strikes in Syria, we find... the "moderate Syrian rebels," a.k.a. the people Obama expects to forget about moderately rebelling against Bashar Assad and fight ISIS on the ground for us. From ABC News:
The U.S.-led campaign against the extremists has met with mixed reaction from Syria's multitude of rebel brigades, many of whom have been locked in a deadly fight with Islamic State militants since January. But the rebels' ultimate goal is to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, while the U.S. is focused on defeating the Islamic State group.
On Wednesday, the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group criticized the American-led airstrikes for being limited to the Islamic State group and other extremists while leaving Assad's government untouched.
"We regret that the international community has come up with partial solutions to the Syrian conflict in which hundreds of thousands were killed or detained by the Assad regime," said Nasr al-Hariri, secretary general of the Syrian National Coalition.
In a statement, al-Hariri also said that any effort other than helping Syrians overthrow Assad will only further fuel extremism.
That's not good news at all. But is it really surprising? Obviously pummeling the most militarily effective part of the resistance against the Assad regime is going to help the Assad regime. The assumption that other Syrian resistance forces would abandon their primary goals to battle ISIS, when one of the almost certain outcomes would be the triumph of the regime, always struck me as rather unrealistic.
Update: Remember all that stuff the Administration was saying about an "imminent attack" from the Khorasan Group, justifying a dose of mission creep in the very first hours of the non-war against ISIS? Um... never mind.
??? Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) September 24, 2014