WASHINGTON — The two most critical rules of warfare are to never tell your enemy what you will not do, and never be seen as a reluctant, vacillating warrior.
Barack Obama has broken both of these rules over the course of his presidency in the war on terror. He told them at the outset when we’d be leaving, and now says under no circumstances will he put more “boots on the ground.” I guess they’re happy to hear that.
He came into office on a pledge to “end” the war in Iraq, and won re-election by not only boasting he had delivered on that promise, but also that we had defeated the al-Qaida terrorists. They were no longer the threat they had been, he said, and he would step up his withdrawal strategy in the region.
Throughout his 2012 campaign, he told voters that the terrorists had been “decimated,” that we “had them on the run.”
He went further in his policy of retreat: banning the term “war on terror” that had been the hallmark of our post 9/11 response, and telling the enemy precisely when we’d be leaving.
But no one told the terrorists the war was over. And as the administration went about pulling out of the region as fast as it could, al-Qaida spinoffs were metastasizing like a cancer across the Middle East — more aggressive and more lethal than before.
While the White House was sleeping, or more likely, looking the other way, the reborn, rebuilt, rearmed and refinanced ISIS/ISIL forces were rolling unimpeded across Iraq — in a blitzkrieg-style war, seizing territory, beheading U.S. hostages and staging mass executions in a trail of atrocities that led to the gates of Baghdad.
They took control of even more territory in Syria, where they were helped by a chaotic civil war, and now threaten Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and surrounding Arab countries.
When the growing terrorist war had reached its tipping point, the American people became alarmed, and voter polls of Obama’s handling of international policy plunged.
Now he is hurriedly in the midst of changing policies in what critics say is a total flip-flop on the issue in the wake of his clumsy, all-too-rapid withdrawal strategy. Even when terrorists were mowing down helpless Syrian citizens, he stubbornly held to his position against going into Syria until last week.
His sudden about-face decision to bomb radical Sunni terrorists there was announced grudgingly on the South Lawn before he boarded his helicopter for a global summit in New York.
The announcement took a mere three minutes, and he never uttered the word “war.” At long last, after thousands of civilian deaths, Obama’s stubborn resistance to help save the besieged Syrian people had fallen — but only because of intense political pressure.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll last month reported that more voters disapproved of his handling of international affairs than the way he’s handled either health care or the economy. A stunning 92 percent of registered voters now say the Islamic State poses a serious threat to our national security.
Obama’s advisers must have told him that it wasn’t just his legacy that was endangered (whatever that is), but his own party, which is on the brink of losing the Senate in the midterm elections.
A Republican TV ad this week is attacking Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina for being AWOL at half of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s hearings this year and never uttering a word of complaint over Obama’s previous policies toward terrorism.
“While ISIS grew, Obama kept waiting, and Kay Hagan kept quiet,” the ad’s narrator states — “failing to recognize the growing specter of the Islamic State.”
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who’s running against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, is running an ad that says she and Obama are “confused” about the very real threat that the Islamic State poses to the U.S. Polls show the race is in a dead heat.
On Sunday, Obama went on the CBS program “60 Minutes” with the understanding that it was going to deal in large part with his abruptly changed policies toward the Islamic State’s war of terror on the civilized world.
CBS’ Steve Kroft didn’t ask him how he could explain his al-Qaida-is-dead campaign statements in the wake of its stunning resurrection, or at least it was not in the edited version we saw Sunday night. That was a lost opportunity, because millions of Americans remember him claiming he had all but buried the terrorist menace.
But Kroft did ask why he persisted in his long, head-in-the-sand dismissal of the terrorist threat while the Islamic State’s armies grew into a monster that now threatens many nations in the region, and possibly our own.
Americans have seen the president shift the blame so many times before, on everything from the economy to the incompetent rollout of Obamacare, and that’s what he did again now.
Instead of admitting it was a poor misjudgment on his part, he told Kroft that as the Islamic State armies were gathering strength, “they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.” Who are “they”?
Obama “has a maddening tendency to describe the events of his own presidency as if he were a spectator or commentator,” writes former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, now a syndicated columnist.
“He talks as though his past judgments were infallible, even though his current strategy consists mainly of measures — arming the Syrian rebels, bombing Syria, strengthening Iraqi institutions — that he had previously ignored, dismissed or mocked,” Gerson observes.
The president gets a daily national security report that leaves nothing out, including a detailed record of the rise of the Islamic State.
Over the course of the past two years, Obama knew about its growing threat from his intelligence reports and from his national security advisers. He heard the warnings that came from members of Congress who had traveled to the region. But in the end he chose to do nothing — until the political polls forced him to change course.