On Wednesday evening, President Obama gave his long-awaited speech spelling out his carefully planned strategy to deal with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The speech was brief by Obama standards – approximately fifteen minutes – and well-articulated.
Sadly, it was also deeply problematic on virtually every strategic and rhetorical level.
Obama led off his speech by stating that his own policies in drawing down American troops had somehow forwarded American security, although he couldn’t explain why – and although the highest percentage of Americans now feel threatened by terror since before September 11. After dismissing the current terror threat as an inevitability – “We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world” – he then turned to ISIS.
And his first words were a lie: “ISIL is not Islamic.”
This would come as a shock to the Islamic State. What are they, Buddhist? And why do so many Muslims support their goals? But Obama forged forward with his paternalistic lecture of the beautiful nature of Islam, stating, “No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.” Apparently, some religion condones the killing of innocents, even if it is a minority segment of a broader religion.
After explicating the well-known evils of ISIS – their brutality, their execution of captured prisoners, their murder of children and rape of women and attempted genocide against the Yazidis – Obama talked in convincing terms about their threat to the region and the world.
Then, finally, he turned to his vaunted strategy.
“American power,” he said, “can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing the region.” This is, as the president is so fond of saying, a false choice: American power is required to create the security preconditions on the ground necessary for stability. Obama proved that when he removed all American troops from Iraq in 2011, leading to the rise of ISIS.
So, what exactly did Obama recommend? After fibbing about the new “inclusive” Iraqi government – the new prime minister is backed by Iran, and his interior minister pick heads a Shiite milita group, so it’s a little early to celebrate – Obama then suggested that America would “lead a broad coalition to roll back this terror threat.”
“First,” Obama said, “we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists…I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
It is worth noting here that President Obama has no interest in consulting with Congress concerning such airstrikes, largely because they are unanimously supported. That unanimous support would seem to be a reason for going to Congress under a nonpolitical wartime leader. But for Obama, it’s a reason to ignore Congress and seize political credit for himself.
“Second,” Obama continued, “we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground.” And here, suddenly, Obama wanted Congressional help in giving resources to unnamed Syrian fighters in the opposition: “I again call on Congress to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters.”
This was a clever political maneuver – after seizing all political credit for widely popular airstrikes by ignoring Congress, Obama now plans to avoid culpability for handing guns and cash to the unnamed and magical Syrian opposition by thrusting Congress into the debate. In truth, Obama should go to Congress for approval on both airstrikes and funding; he has in the past refused to go to Congress for either. His decision to split the baby is an obvious attempt to manipulate the process for political gain.
To further pressure Congress, Obama also stated that Congress had to hand resources to the anonymous Syrian opposition because American troops would not be involved in this battle. In a statement that must have comforted the members of ISIS, Obama refused to contemplate at any point in the future American troop involvement in the battle against ISIS.
“Third,” Obama said, “we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks.” We have been doing that for a few decades now. But Obama’s true addition to the strategy of using counterterrorism intelligence came a few sentences later, when he promised to “chair a meeting of the UN Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.”
Presumably, this will involve writing strongly-worded letters.
Fourth, Obama stated, “we will continue providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization.”
And that was it. The vaunted strategy was complete.
“This is American leadership at its best,” Obama said, complimenting himself on his strategic genius. “We stand with people who fight for their own freedom, and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.” So far, that strategy is working beautifully. Except for the fact that America did all that in Iraq, then left the place to ISIS and Iran.
There were a few other doozies: Obama said that we would pursue the same strategy against ISIS that we used “in Yemen and Somalia for years,” a statement that does not inspire confidence, given the fact that Yemen and Somalia continue to be terrorist hellholes, as even Nicholas Kristof pointed out.
Obama also said that “we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together, so I welcome congressional support.” Except with regard to America’s border, apparently.
Obama awkwardly transitioned to domestic policy concerns, linking 9/11 with the Great Recession and then touting his skewed record. That was one way of distracting from his awful foreign policy record. He used a second method moments later, when he deployed his greatest weapon: his mouth, from which he unleashed a massive cloud of rhetoric. He declared American leadership “the one constant in an uncertain world”; he blathered about America having the “capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists” (Turkey and Qatar would beg to differ); he bloviated about America rallying “the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny” (except in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine); he jabbered nonsensically about Ebola virus; he lied that America had “helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons”; he explained that “From Europe to Asia — from the far reaches of Africa to war-torn capitals of the Middle East – we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity” (except for the South China Sea, Boko Haram, Libya, or Israel, of course).
Obama concluded by telling the story of a Yazidi who said, “We owe our American friends our lives.” He did not mention that the Yazidis would never have been trapped on a mountain in the first place, their children dying of dehydration, had Obama not forfeited a country America had helped secure.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.