“But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet.” With those words, President Barack Obama summarized the weakness and incompetence of his own administration. Nearly six years into office, and several years after the Syrian civil war began, and the avatar of “smart power” still cannot figure out what to do. He is paralyzed by his own postmodernism: to act is to lose the moral high ground of perspective, to become the object rather than the subject of criticism. So he talks, and talks, and talks–and does nothing.
Obama has gotten away with it until now, largely because the media continue to treat him as if he actually deserved that Nobel Prize, but also because the conservative opposition doesn’t have a strategy yet, either. Some Republicans content themselves with talking about how we need a “stronger America.” That is a posture, not a strategy. It is the GOP version of “smart power”–an attitude rather than a policy, one whose basic purpose is to convey a contrast with the incumbent, but which does not actually point to a particular set of goals or actions.
Actually, the “ISIS crisis” has provided the U.S. with a unique opportunity to undo some of the mistakes of the recent past and to secure key strategic gains against our most dangerous enemies. If the U.S. were to take the fight directly to the so-called Islamic State, we could not only stop the brutal atrocities ISIS is committing against civilians and soldiers alike, but we could also restore stability to Iraq, replace the brutal Assad regime in Syria, and reestablish a military deterrent against a nuclear Iran, with the aim of toppling that regime over time.
Yes, there is a case for war.
It is a tough case to make, but the American people are broadly in favor of taking tough action against the emerging threats in the Middle East. Americans are not “war-weary” as much as we are tired of wars that fail because of poor leadership. In that regard, the American people are far ahead of American politicians, who are terrified of speaking honestly about what it will take to confront the emerging threats to freedom and prosperity–and how the costs of inaction continue to rise the longer we wait to do what we must.
The fact is that American liberty and security are incompatible with the following: an expansionist Russia that flouts international boundaries; an aggressive China that threatens free trade in the Pacific and Indian oceans; a revolutionary regime in Iran that is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons, and continues to arm, fund and inspire terrorists around the world; and a pseudo-state run by violent Sunni extremists with access to oil money and heavy weaponry. War may not be the solution to all these problems, but it is the only solution to the latter.
Obama is resisting that conclusion, rather desperately. We know that he believes in a world where there is “no victor, no vanquished.” He is now applying that philosophy to ISIS/ISIL. We are not “about to go full scale on an elaborate strategy for defeating ISIL,” he said. Rather than defeat the terror group, he said, he hoped to “degrade ISIL’s capacity to engage in the terrible violence and disruptions that they’ve been engaging in.” But presumably, they would be allowed to survive, lest their defeat lead to a resentment that breeds future conflict.
Effectively, Obama wants to wind the clock back to September 10, 2001, when the Taliban regime was tolerated so long as it kept to itself. It seemed impossible, the next day, that America would ever be able to forget the folly of that approach. And yet we have an American president today who insists that we are not at war with ISIS, even after it has declared it is at war with us.
Say this about George W. Bush: he made some glaring foreign policy mistakes, but he was often willing to correct his approach when circumstances so demanded. Not Obama.
There is a rare opportunity to stop ISIS before it becomes an even greater threat–and to forge bipartisan unity at home. After all, even Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX), one of Obama’s most vehement critics, has said he might support the president if he came to Congress for a declaration of war.
The longer Obama waits, however, the less confidence Congress will have that he intends to see a war to its conclusion, and the more it will resent any action Obama does take as a usurpation of its constitutional powers.
And while Obama dithers, ISIS destroys.