On Nov. 12, President Barack Obama said of ISIS: “What is true is that from the start, our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them.”
On Nov. 13, ISIS-connected terrorists left 129 people dead and 352 wounded in Paris.
ISIS naturally dominated Obama’s Monday press conference at the G20 summit in Turkey. Yet although the president used the words “leader” and “leadership” fourteen times, the concept was, ironically, absent from his remarks. Speaking with as much passion as an instructional video on waste reclamation, he doubled down on his legacy of inaction, infighting, and incompetence.
The first question came from a reporter for Agence France-Presse: “The equation has clearly changed. Isn’t it time for your strategy to change?”
The president responded, “Well, keep in mind what we’ve been doing.” He then delivered a laundry list of international cooperation, targeted airstrikes, and economic pressure aimed at thwarting the Islamic State. The implication: He’s already on the right track. Nothing needs changing.
Not once did he address what was obvious to the reporter and the world: The Paris atrocity has demonstrated that his ill-defined strategy to “degrade” ISIS is a failure, one that has endangered the Western world and that clearly needs to change.
He grossly caricatured those who take issue with his strategy—or lack thereof—as “a few who have suggested that we should put large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground” and implied that his only option was the current course, “unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.” This rhetoric has become a pattern: When faced with credible criticism, create false choices.
That the president is entirely unwilling to accept the need for improvement or adaptation in the light of this obvious foreign policy failure leads to uncomfortable questions about how insulated from reality the man might be.
There have been few lapses in leadership as maddening—and insulting to the American people—as Obama’s refusal to outline a clear path to victory against a force that certainly has a clear strategy against free nations: indiscriminate bloodshed.
A strategy connects ends and means—what is our goal (end), and how do we get there (means)? It is not clear what Obama’s goal is. Is it to destroy ISIS? Or just to keep their damage to a minimum so that it becomes the next president’s problem?
To be sure, Obama landed some pre-emptive strikes, but they were against Americans who happen to be Republicans:
You know, I had a lot of disagreements with George W. Bush on policy, but I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam. And the notion that some of those who have taken on leadership in his party would ignore all of that, that’s not who we are.
The president proves more artful at destroying straw men dressed up as GOP presidential hopefuls than he is at targeting terrorists. I suppose he is most afraid of the group that endangers him professionally.
Further, he condemned as “shameful” American governors who have demanded closer vetting of Syrian refugees or refused to accept them from Washington. In light of the fact that at least one attacker in Paris had a Syrian passport, and that high numbers of those entering Europe are neither Syrian nor refugees, the governors’ concern seems prudent rather than pernicious. Slandering them for prioritizing the safety of their own citizens is as galling as it is cowardly.
The president’s clear intention was to use the aftermath of the Paris atrocity to make excuses and launch partisan political attacks. It will be difficult to unify against ISIS behind a man who is more interested in dividing his own countrymen.
Obama’s remarks in Turkey will be studied in history and foreign policy curricula for years to come as a prideful dereliction of leadership.