Thursday, September 11, 2014

Is He Deliberate Or in Denial?

A friend sent me a link to an article at Capital Commentary by Bradford Littlejohn who argues that President Obama is taking some very unconservative criticism from conservatives for being too pokey in his response to ISIS. Littlejohn's point is that deliberateness is a conservative virtue and thus it's ironic that conservative Republicans are faulting him for dotting the i's and crossing the t's before taking action.

My friend asked my opinion on Littlejohn's piece, and I thought I'd share my thoughts on Viewpoint.

In short, I think Littlejohn misses the point. Conservatives aren't (for the most part) critical of Mr. Obama for being deliberate. They're critical of him for a foreign policy that's in shambles. Littlejohn's central passage is this:
the GOP has still lost no opportunity to excoriate President Obama’s dovish and slow-motion foreign policy. When he announced that “we don’t have a strategy yet” on how to systematically combat ISIS, some Republicans seized on the statement as more evidence of his incompetency and refusal to stand up to our enemies.
There are, in my opinion, at least five reasons for the GOP's frustration. Unfortunately, Littlejohn just ignores them.

First, Obama had been receiving regular briefings on ISIS for over a year. During that time he had every opportunity to formulate a strategy, but despite the recommendations of his military and intelligence people he dismissed ISIS as a "JV team" as recently as last January. There's a difference between being deliberate (which is good) and being in denial (which is bad). Mr. Obama has revealed himself, at least from outward appearances, to be the latter.

Second, the problem posed by the murderous savages of ISIS is largely one of his own making. He refused to insist on keeping American forces in Iraq, which he could've done, and was in fact anxious to assure everyone that he was going to pull them all out ASAP. Seventy years after WWII and Korea we still have forces in Europe and South Korea, but Mr. Obama couldn't wait to be seen as the president who got us out of Iraq. Now he's getting us back in. Had we never left it's doubtful that ISIS would have invaded Iraq. This is especially galling given his criticisms of Bush for warning seven years ago that everything that has come to pass would indeed come to pass.

Parenthetically, Bush's reason for going to war in Iraq was that he believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Obama thought that was insufficient reason to topple Saddam and he excoriated Bush for doing so. What, though, is Mr. Obama's rationale for bombing ISIS that did not also apply to Hussein?

Third, the president keeps insisting that our fight against ISIS is contingent upon the cooperation of other countries in the region. This is foolish. If ISIS is a threat to the U.S. we should do whatever it takes to end it regardless of whether other countries help or not. Is Mr. Obama saying that if no other nations assist us that we'll do nothing decisive to end the threat ourselves? He certainly seems to be, but then what's the point?

Fourth, Mr. Obama's record on foreign policy does little to warrant confidence in his leadership. He was largely responsible for the collapse of Mubarak in Egypt which precipitated the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood which, had the Egyptian military not intervened, would have been a disaster. He caused the fall of Qaddafi, and now Libya is in such a mess that we've had to abandon our embassy. He threatened to bomb Assad in Syria, declaring that Assad had to go, and now we're threatening to bomb Assad's enemies and save Assad's skin.

Meanwhile, Russia gobbles up Ukraine and Obama does nothing more than send the Ukrainian army food rations. His only success has been giving the "go ahead" to American forces to take out bin Laden, a mission he had nothing to do with, which he several times deferred from ordering, and finally signed off on. In other words, his only success was reluctantly signing his name to something that any other president would have done months earlier.

Finally, President Obama keeps telling us that there'll be no "boots on the ground" in Iraq. This reminds me of his guarantee that there was a Syrian "red line" which Assad better not cross. Why adopt a strategy that implicitly says to the world that if air power doesn't do the job of destroying ISIS we'll just go home and leave them to plan their attacks on our homeland? How does he expect to "degrade and destroy" ISIS without using American forces? Is he going to depend on the same Syrian "moderates" who only a few months ago he was deriding as "pharmacists and technicians"? Is he going to depend on the same Iraqi army that turned and ran when ISIS invaded leaving all their American weaponry for ISIS to confiscate?

And why tell your enemy what limitations you're placing on yourself in the first place? Why announce to the world that we're going to fight ISIS but we're going to tie one arm behind our back while we do it?

Machiavelli advised his prince that if you're going to attack your enemy you had better be sure to kill him. Otherwise, he will hate you all the more and be more resolved than ever to do you harm. Obama seems not to have learned that simple lesson.

So, contra Littlejohn, it's not Mr. Obama's deliberateness in formulating a strategy that concerns conservatives. It's the nature of the strategy which his policies have made necessary and which seems inadequate and unserious given the nature of the threat.