National Security & Defense

Obama: Dissent Is Not American

(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)
For our president, ISIS is the opponent, but Republicans are the enemy.

Three days after the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Americans were primed to hear their president express heartfelt anger, which he did in his press conference in Antalya, Turkey, at the end of the G-20 summit. And they did hear him describe ISIS as “this barbaric terrorist organization” and acknowledge that the “terrible events in Paris were a terrible and sickening setback.”

But what really got him angry, as the transcript and video make clear, were reporters’ repeated questions about the minimal success of his strategy against ISIS; Republicans’ proposals for more active engagement in Syria and Iraq; and critics of his decision to allow 10,000 Syrians into the United States.

The reporters did not seem this time to be absorbing his patient instruction. ISIS “controls less territory than it did before,” he stated — but not much less, and it is still holding Iraq’s second-largest city and a huge swath of Iraqi and Syrian desert.

Our military could dislodge them, he admitted, but explained that then we’d have to occupy and administer the places we capture. In other words, we’d be facing the kind of messy situations we faced in Iraq.

RELATED: President Obama Demonizes Dissent — Again

But in his self-described goal, “to degrade and ultimately destroy,” the word “ultimately” looms uncomfortably large. Most Americans want people who behead Americans destroyed considerably sooner than that. They wonder why the world’s greatest military can’t do that.

Such action, Obama suggested, might be bad public relations. ISIS has “a twisted ideology” and we play into its “narrative” by treating it as a state and using “routine military tactics.” ISIS “does not represent Islam” and treating it as a “Muslim problem” will lead to “greater recruitment into terrorist organizations over time.” It’s not clear why the significant minority of Muslims with positive feelings to ISIS will accept an American president’s definition of their faith.

RELATED: It’s Not Just Republicans Who Distrust Obama on the Refugee Crisis

“A political solution is the only way to end the war in Syria,” he said, looking forward to negotiations between Syrian factions, encouraged that “countries on all sides of the Syrian conflict agree on a process that is needed to end this war.” But he felt obliged to acknowledge continuing disagreements over “the fate of Bashar Assad” — no small item.

He described Americans who counsel a different course as “folks (who) want to pop off” and who think their advisers are better than the Joint Chiefs or soldiers on the ground. This ignores the fact that Obama has repeatedly rejected the advice of career military leaders and his own appointed civilian leaders who recommended more active policies.

#share#In Obama’s defense, it must be said that getting Middle East decisions right is hard. When he said “Assad must go” in August 2011, many knowledgeable observers thought he soon would. His statement in the August 2012 campaign season that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be “a red line” seemed to many a reasonable deterrent.

This is not a president who has prioritized human rights in Middle East policy.

In retrospect those statements were mistakes, unforced errors that led to acquiescence in Russian intervention in Syria in September 2013. And Obama’s decision, in Walter Russell Mead’s words, “to stand aside and watch Syria” by rejecting advisers’ proposals to send in troops or enforce a no-fly zone, has led to the outflow of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

This is not a president who has prioritized human rights in Middle East policy, as evidenced by the cold shoulder given to Iran’s Green Revolution protesters in June 2009 and the long inaction in addressing the problems of Syrian refugees, now flowing into Europe.

#related#All of which makes more grating Obama’s denunciation of Americans who are critical of his call to admit 10,000 refugees here. In Antalya he accused them of closing their hearts to victims of violence and of being “not American” in suggesting prioritization of the Christian refugees who have been singled out for torture and murder.

He could have acknowledged people’s qualms as legitimate and argued at greater length, as former ambassador to Iraq and Syria Ryan Crocker did in the Wall Street Journal, that we have processes in place that would effectively screen out terrorists. Or have proposed, like Speaker Paul Ryan, a pause before accepting any.

But that would have meant not taking cheap shots against the political opposition at home — the people who really make him angry.

— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2015 the Washington Examiner. Distributed by

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2018

Most Popular


Men Literally Died for That Flag, You Idiots

The American flag’s place in our culture is beginning to look less unassailable. The symbol itself is under attack, as we’ve seen with Nike dumping a shoe design featuring an early American flag, Megan Rapinoe defending her national-anthem protests (she says she will never sing the song again), and ... Read More

The Plot against Kavanaugh

Justice on Trial, by Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino (Regnery,  256 pp., $28.99) The nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was the political event of 2018, though not for the reasons anyone expected. All High Court confirmations these days are fraught with emotion and tumult ... Read More
Politics & Policy

He Just Can’t Help Himself

By Saturday, the long-simmering fight between Nancy Pelosi and her allies on one side and the “squad” associated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the other had risen to an angrier and more destructive level at the Netroots Nation conference. Representative Ayanna Pressley, an African-American Massachusetts ... Read More
White House

On Gratitude and Immigration

Like both Rich and David, I consider it flatly inappropriate for the president of the United States to be telling Americans -- rhetorically or otherwise -- to “go back where you came from.” In consequence, you will find no defense of the president from me, either. What Trump tweeted over the weekend was ... Read More

Gender Dissenter Gets Fired

Allan M. Josephson is a distinguished psychiatrist who, since 2003, has transformed the division of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychology at the University of Louisville from a struggling department to a nationally acclaimed program. In the fall of 2017 he appeared on a panel at the Heritage Foundation ... Read More

The ‘Squad’ Gives a Gift to Donald Trump

On Sunday, Donald Trump gave the Democrats a gift -- comments that indicate he thinks native-born congresswomen he detests should “go back” to the countries of their ancestors. On Monday, the four congresswomen handed Trump a gift in return, managing to respond to the president’s insults in some of the most ... Read More
PC Culture

A Herd Has No Mind

sup { vertical-align: super; font-size: smaller; } Funny thing about my new book: I had begun shopping around the proposal for writing it long before my brief period of employment with that other magazine and the subsequent witless chimp-brained media freakout and Caffeine-Free Diet Maoist struggle ... Read More