David Brooks: Obama Using Timid Islamic State Rhetoric to Avoid ‘a New and Aggressive Policy’

Friday on PBS’s “NewsHour,” New York Times columnist David Brooks reacted to President Barack Obama’s end-of-the-year press conference in which the president continued to say progress was being made in the fight against ISIS.

Brooks said that claim was in question and reasoned that Obama had been reluctant to talk up the threat of ISIS because require perhaps a more aggressive action by the United States, which would require a stepped-up reaction.

Partial transcript as follows:

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST OF “NEWSHOUR”: Let`s talk about the president. He had a news conference today, David. But look at his record. I mean, he said we`re making progress, there`s still challenges. It says at the end of this yore, how have his policies worked in Syria, against ISIS, in Iraq, you know, in both countries?

DAVID BROOKS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, there are a couple of layers here. The first one is, he said quite accurately, we can`t stop all the lone wolves. You had a couple out there in San Bernardino. Obviously, we can`t stop that.

Are we making progress? He claims we are. That`s highly disputed. ISIS remains magnetic. They`re drawing more forces, sometimes they take ground, sometimes they lose ground, it`s not clear that we`re necessarily making progress against him.

The third thing and the biggest backdrop is, we`ve just had for six years, an existentially weak policy in that area. You know, he drew a red line with Assad, he ignored it, he was asked by people in his own administration to be more aggressive with ISIS, early on, he wasn`t.

In my view, we left Iraq too early and destabilized the region. So, the existential issue is one of passivity. And so, we made some progress recently, but I would not — but he`s arguing from a place of weakness because of the things — the mistakes that were made in the past.

WOODRUFF: Existentially weak position?

MARK SHIELDS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes, rather than relitigate that, I mean, 14 years of war, there is no appetite in this country for military intervention in the Middle East. The president, I think, most recently has been caught flat-footed in understandable change in public interest, priorities and concerns. I mean, you have the Russian airliner, vacation civilians shot down by the same group that then has the attack on Paris and paralyzes the great city at night and then it`s followed up at least by disciples in San Bernardino massacring civilians at a Christmas party.

It`s understandable switch, a sea change in American attitude and concerns, and from the economy and jobs, to personal safety and survival and concern about terrorism. The White House, the president in particular, just didn`t pick that up. I don`t know why.

WOODRUFF: Why not?

SHIELDS: I don`t know why, somebody suggested, disdain for cable news that — or whatever, I don`t know. But he didn`t. What`s been missing, I would suggest, rather than policy, because Norman Schwarzkopf, the great general, said it doesn`t take courage to order men into battle, it does take courage to go into battle.

The opposition right now is talking loosely about going in, and getting tough and kicking tail and all the rest of it, but what is missing is any sense of resoluteness, or strength of the president. He talks about it like he`s talking about the gross domestic product and how it`s grown and interest rates.

There isn`t, to me, anyway —

BROOKS: I agree. He hasn`t reflected the fear people feel, the concern people feel, that — even the anger and outrage people feel.


BROOKS: But that`s because of who — he who says A must say B. And so, if you don`t want to get to — if he says A, outrage, serious problem, you have to have a new and aggressive policy, which he doesn`t want to have. He believes in the current policy. It`s a moderately aggressive, maybe. But if he wanted to step up the rhetoric, he`d have to step up the action and he doesn`t want to step up the reaction, therefore, he can`t say really, verbalize much.

Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor


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