The Good, the Bad, and the Cowardly in Obama’s ISIL Speech

The Good: 

1) Obama used the verb “destroy.” Hear, hear!

2) Obama spoke of aiding “Iraqi and Kurdish forces.” (emphasis added) Very good, because I’ve argued before, Kurdish independence is inevitable, and we should at this point aid them regardless of whether we think their eventual independence makes further Iraq partition (i.e, into Sunni and Shiite zones) more likely. 

The Bad:

1) Obama promised no American boots on the grounds. Sounds like trainers only.  I’m no military expert, but it seems to me that you need aggressive commando-like American spotter teams to conduct effective air-campaigns in this day and age. And it seems to me you would want to at least occasionally use commando attack teams if you really want to destroy the enemy. The really bad thing here is that this will cause us to lose, but there is also this:  are we going to generally have our pilots pull the death-trigger at the behest of Iraqi teams? That will get dicey when Islamic State forces are operating close to Sunni militia groups also in rebellion against the Shia-dominated government, and the call from some Iraqi Armed Forces team to take out such-and-such a building comes in. 

Air-only campaigns don’t win wars, even on the flat plains of Mesopotamia.  And yes, there is something morally contemptible about them.

2) All of this is coming from Obama. Lies, broken promises, empty threats, etc. have consequences. And lots of them have a lot more consequences. Such as no one’s being able to take you at your word. I really want to believe my president when he says our mission is to “ultimately destroy” ISIL. But we’ll see. 

The Cowardly:

1) The nonsense about ISIL not being “Islamic.” Orwellian junk that convinces no-one. Just like Bush, but with less excuse given what we’ve all seen since 9/11. As others have pointed out, there were other ways of indicating the Islam-inspired nature of their goals while still arguing that orthodox Islam wouldn’t approve of them.  But he went on to say they have no “vision” at all, beyond “slaughtering anyone in their path.” Even Sauron had more vision than that, if I recall, but apparently these ISIL guys are truly mindless slaughterers. So, Orwellian junk that convinces no one, delivered without even a pretense of coherence.  

2) Obama flatly said — sure, in the midst of saying he has already won congressional support for doing this (war against ISIL) — that he has the authority to do this. Period. 

This reflects Obama’s contempt for all matters constitutional. He consistently abdicates his responsibility to use occasions like this to remind and inform the public about the constitutional issues involved. Now, I think he does have the authority to do this, but he needs to explain why. My position on executive war-starting power is the Hamiltonian one, so I’m not a Tim Kaine guy who thinks we need a new-fangled version of the War Powers Act. Nor do I think the War Powers Act is constitutional.  But I want a president who openly says, “Look, here’s a law on the books, and when I can abide by it without compromising our security I will, and thus I will go before Congress as the statute says, and thus seem to need its after-the-fact ratification of my decision to go to war, but this is not one of those cases, so I’m going to ignore this unconstitutional law.” Or, I want one who says, “I intend to obey the War Powers Act, because it’s law, and it’s constitutional.” Or I at least want one who says, “Hey, opinions on the constitutionality of the law are divided, and I’m going to consult Congress as much as I can and make the decision about whether to abide by its timetables only when the deadline comes.” But this blank “I have the power” talk telegraphs contempt for the intelligence of the American people, and for their duty to know their Constitution. Of course, a public that accepted that duty would cause problems for Obama in other areas.   

3) Isn’t it time we had a president who says aloud the obvious fact that when you massacre a bunch of Christians, you’re making it that much more likely that the American public will demand that the U.S. attack you? Right now, this would be a useful thing for certain terror organizations in Africa to hear. 

Full speech is here. Slightly odd that the administration is apparently now insisting on the “ISIL” usage over the “ISIS” one that had caught on.

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