I certainly agree with almost all of Carl’s balanced assessment of the president’s speech. To tell the truth, however, I feel Obama’s pain enough not to repeat the sound concerns about his strategic, constitutional, and even factual “issues.” I judge the speech redeemed by the goal of destruction and the extended riff about American exceptionalism — we’re the only guys who can get this done. The president came to that conclusion reluctantly, and it was against his deep desire not to be a war president. I prefer not to question his motives or dwell on the speech’s subtext of weakness. Who wouldn’t feel a bit weak when faced with nothing but tough and risky choices? Who wants to have confidence in the “good” Syrian rebels, the Iraqi security forces, the new Iraqi government (the new bosses ain’t much different from the old ones), the Saudis, and even, probably, the Iranians? Sure the Kurds are trustworthy and resolute, but they can’t, on their own, put ISIL on the eve of destruction.
I think the president was stuck with saying no troops on the ground, but we can hope that he cleverly exempted Kurdistan and even special forces from that proclamation. Sure, this isn’t like the famous (and a bit overrated) Surge, but Obama doesn’t really have that option. We can reasonably hope that the president will overcome his relative cluelessness by learning through doing, just as President Bush started to do at a certain point in his second term. Let’s give the president credit for trying to be more realistic than most of the members of his party and a good number of Republicans. We can wonder, with plenty of evidence, whether he’s up to the job, but he’s the only commander-in-chief we have. The best piece of advice he’s been given is to get rid of most of his national-security team and hire people who could actually help him now. He can’t do that all at once, but . . .
God help and God bless President Obama.