Why Is Our President Thinking About What He Would Tell ISIS if He Were Advising Them?

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Why Is Our President Thinking About What He Would Tell ISIS if He Were Advising Them?

A strange presidential comment, revealed to the world Sunday by the New York Times:

But the president said he had already been headed toward a military response before the men’s deaths. He added that ISIS had made a major strategic error by killing them because the anger it generated resulted in the American public’s quickly backing military action.

If he had been “an adviser to ISIS,” Mr. Obama added, he would not have killed the hostages but released them and pinned notes on their chests saying, “Stay out of here; this is none of your business.” Such a move, he speculated, might have undercut support for military intervention.

Why is our president thinking about what he would tell ISIS if he were advising them?

Does the president spend a lot of time thinking about this? Or did it just strike him as a fascinating little nugget of insight to share with a guest while discussing ISIS?

I can see the value in trying to understand the thinking of your enemy. I can see the value in thinking through an ultimatum to the group, contemplating what you’ll demand and what consequences to threaten. You can “offer advice” to a foe in the sense of, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

But Obama’s “if I was an adviser to ISIS” comment doesn’t sound like any of these — at least from the context that we’re given by the Times’s sources, individuals who have met with the president in the past week. It’s just, Hey, if I were advising the enemy, this is what I would have told them.

Okay . . . what’s the point? Why spend any time thinking about that scenario? Did ISIS call and ask for advice? They didn’t attach notes; they detached heads. That’s the choice they made. Now the question is what we’re going to do about it.

Notice Obama’s assessment presumes ISIS wants to avoid a U.S. military intervention. Is this a manifestation of the mirroring effect, where Obama projects its own values and priorities onto its foes? (Think about how often he insists publicly that seizing Crimea and moving into Ukraine isn’t in Russia’s interest, or that bellicose or provocative actions on the part of Iran aren’t in that country’s interest.) ISIS appears to want to send the message, far and wide, that they don’t fear a clash with the U.S. military. Perhaps they want to demonstrate that they can commit horrific crimes against American civilians with no serious repercussion. Maybe they think God wants them to do this. Maybe they’re nuts! In the end, the “why” matters less than the “what.”

Viewed from another angle, President Obama’s comment sounds like a complaint. If ISIS hadn’t beheaded Americans, there wouldn’t be such widespread demand for action against ISIS in the American public.

“If I were advising ISIS . . . ”

Well, you’re not, Mr. President. What, are you looking for another job? Some sort of freelance consulting gig on the job, when you clock out as Commander-in-Chief?

Walter Russell Mead:

It is probably true that a lower profile by ISIS would have made it more difficult to win support for airstrikes in the United States and around the world, but that’s hardly the point. ISIS is a master of the pornography of politics and the pornography of perverted religion: slave girls, heads on spikes, executions uploaded to the Internet, naked defiance in the face of its enemies. ISIS isn’t trying to win a conventional geopolitical chess match, it wants to electrify millions of potential supporters and change the nature of the game. The execution of American hostages succeeded brilliantly, from an ISIS point of view. It has made President Obama look weak, forced him to change his entire Middle East policy and brought the jihadi movement back into the world spotlight. The politics of spectacle has eclipsed Al-Qaeda, weakened Assad’s position, drawn the awe and admiration of jihadi wanna-bes and funders, and elevated 30,000 thugs and nutjobs to a major force in global events. Yes, that elevation carries with it the risk of serious pushback and even conventional military defeat, but jihadi ideology has benefited enormously from what ISIS has accomplished so far. ISIS still isn’t going to conquer the world, but radical Islam is closer than ever to launching the clash of civilizations of which bin Laden dreamed.

ISIS has much less money than President Obama does, many fewer fighters, much less equipment and in every other conventional measure of power it is a pipsqueak compared to the Leader of the Free World. But who is acting, and who is reacting? Who is dancing to whose tune?

Are we about to learn what happens when the United States goes to war with a commander-in-chief who doesn’t really want to go to war? A president who’s ordering a particular military action because he feels he has to in order to placate public opinion, but that he has deep doubts about? How can that possibly turn out well?

Josh Jordan: “Shorter Obama: If I were advising ISIS, I’d tell them not to execute Americans on video so I can keep pretending they aren’t a threat to us.”

Ladd Ehlinger Jr.: “Ah yes, I remember when FDR thought-experimented an advisorship position with Imperial Japan.”

Doug Powers: “Obama also probably would have advised ISIS to pin OFA donation envelopes and voter registration forms to the shirts of released hostages.”

Iowahawk to the president: “If you were advising ISIS, they would be bankrupt.”

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