I was too charitable initially. The more one thinks about Obama’s ISIL speech, the more appalled one becomes. The dismal-enough “ISIL is not Islamic” claim is not what we should concentrate upon. The real scandal is a basic absence of strategic thinking. Many, such as Bing West, more than confirm my suspicion that without special forces involvement on the ground, we cannot remotely hope to “destroy” or even to significantly “degrade” ISIL. And we now learn that Obama received and rejected advice along these lines from the commander of CENTCOM.
But the strategic incoherence is worse than that: As Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff points out, despite the talk in the speech of providing arms to the Free Syrian Army to help us fight ISIL, that’s not the primary purpose of that very weak and likely-pretty-pissed-at-Obama group. It’s primary purpose is to overthrow Assad, and more realistically, to simply survive. Why should it do much to help us hunt ISIL? Obama gave no indication that he is willing to protect it against Assad. Nor any indication of what the long-term U.S. strategy for Syria will be.
Reports indicate that Obama’s implicit suggestion that the new Iraqi government is ready to fight ISIL in an effective and non-sectarian way is a shaky one, and reports show his claim to have already assembled a coalition of the willing contains more than a bit of bluster. Turkey said yesterday it was unwilling to let us use its air-bases, for example.
And then there’s the sheer absurdity of Obama winding up this important speech by claiming that he’s rallied the world to defend Ukrainian independence, and that he “helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people – or the world – again.” Let’s let John Hinderaker, also of Powerline, parse that latter claim:
You might think this delusional, if you didn’t listen closely enough: Obama limited his claim to Syria’s “declared chemical weapons.” Within the last 24 hours, it has been reported that Syria used chlorine gas against civilians on numerous occasions in April. While it is still under investigation, it appears that Assad also gassed civilians last month. But–here’s the catch–Syria never “declared” its stockpiles of chlorine. Way to go, Barry! The most weaselly weasel would be proud of that one.
It’s not just weasel words about something deadly serious, but it also has the air of sheer fantasy. The man is apparently living in a foreign-policy Potemkin village of his own making.
And that’s the really frightening thing. Regardless of how the debate about the present choices regarding ISIL goes, we have two more years in which the man who made this speech will be the primary mover of our foreign policy and our armed forces’ commander-in-chief. Every government and organization on the planet by now knows that the best opportunity for getting away with aggression against U.S. interests or allies, probably for decades to come, will be during the next two years. You’ll have a lame-duck (or nearly so) U.S. president who, despite certain appearances to contrary, is deeply unpopular and divisive, who nonetheless continues to toy with proposals and to block scandal-investigations in ways that may provoke an impeachment action; whose word on foreign-policy matters is not really trusted by anyone; who is hobbled by his close ties with an effectively isolationist left-wing; who has mixed relations with his key European allies; and best of all, who is himself a self-deluded and indecisive fool when it comes to strategic thinking.
We know in our bones that ISIL, if it is left to thrive, will deliver serious attacks upon us in the future. Hundreds, God forbid, maybe thousands, of Americans are going to die if this terror-state is not crushed now, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of non-Americans that ISIL is going to wind up enslaving and murdering in the Middle East. (Of course, similar yet worse things could be said about Iran becoming able to produce nuclear weapons.)
So what are conservative and moderate-leaning Americans to do? Will it be enough to raise our voices so as to get Obama to correct the errors in his strategy, while nonetheless demanding that our representative in Congress support the overall policy, the way the National Review editorial yesterday suggested? At least we will know our bombs will hurt ISIL somewhat. At least America will be seen as trying to harm the bad guys. Isn’t that the best we can hope for?
Or, must we instead conclude that we cannot responsibly support sending American servicemen and women into any new wars under this incompetent and untrustworthy commander? Especially under such a leader, a mission that from the outset omits the necessary means for its stated end must not be undertaken.
Allow me to toy with that second option for a bit. What would a “retrenchment for now — given this leader” conservative platform on foreign policy say? I think the following:
1) Unless Obama actually sends front-line fighting special forces to help our air-forces target ISIL, and makes a promise to stay with the mission until the end of his term, there should be no Republican support in Congress for the action. If Obama is unwilling to agree to these (and perhaps other) necessary provisions, Republicans should openly oppose the air-strike campaign in every way short of denying it funding in ways that expose our pilots to greater risk. Highlight each and every violation of the War Powers Act as a violation of existing law, regardless of our opinions about its constitutionality. Make the argument that wounding a deadly enemy, instead of killing or thoroughly maiming him, will provoke sympathy for him and increase the likelihood of his effectively attacking us.
2) Repeatedly demand that Obama seal the border with emergency measures.
3) Call upon Obama to promise Putin that we won’t send troops or arms to fight him in the Ukraine, and that under no circumstances will we support its joining NATO or the E — if Putin wants the mess of economic warfare with the EU and a prolonged insurgency war in Ukraine, that’s his bed to lie in. Simultaneously establish forward NATO bases in the Baltic States — thereby breaking existing promises not to.
4) The Republican Congress should openly warn Putin that no matter what degree of division they get into with Obama over the next two years, up to and including impeachment, they will stand by him in defending all NATO members from every sort of attack, and will insist that he do so. Similar warnings, perhaps less public, should be sent to Chinese leaders with respect to our commitment to our allies Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
5) Denounce the Obama timeline for withdrawing from Afghanistan, but do not make opposing it a major focus of a Republican Congress.
6) Demand that arms, aid, and advisors be sent to the Kurdistan Regional Government no matter what (well, short of it supporting independence for the Kurds in Turkey, which it likely has the wisdom to refrain from).
7) If Obama goes through with the preemptive air-only war against ISIL, exert pressure to send more advisors to and plan more air sorties with Kurdish forces. If Baghdad fails to step up, so be it and let the Kurdish forces be the ones to hold any territory taken from ISIL, perhaps to use as a bargaining chip in future Iraq-partition talks.
8) Demand stronger Obama threats against the Iranian nuclear policy, and back him to the hilt on these.
It’s an ugly policy. It means a willingness to tolerate Putin invading the Ukraine(which I would admittedly advise in any case), Assad remaining in power, and much else. It even means letting ISIL remain in place, if Obama intransigently refuses to cut a deal, for two years. As indicated above, that might mean a heightened risk of ISIL attacking the homeland. Politically, it would mean some congressional votes made in alliance with members of the “anti-war” left.
What it says is that we can have little confidence in engaging in serious wars under this president, while simultaneously warning potential aggressors not to take advantage of this situation. His confusion is not ours. The weakness he conveys with his words is something of an illusion, as there is more to the American republic than him. If you dare to try to take advantage of our political discord by crossing the lines indicated, we will put aside our differences with him in an instant.
You can tell I’m attracted to such a platform. I suppose its main slogan could be “No War without a Plan for Victory!” But its big problem now is that the public knows something real has to be done about ISIL, and it will be inclined to interpret serious Republican resistance to Obama’s policy as irresponsible obstruction of that need. Larry Kudlow makes the case for supporting the president’s plan, and in just such a November-tuned political way. Still, I sure don’t see how we can responsibly get behind a plan this incoherent, combined with a commander-in-chief this clueless and an American public that remains pretty viciously divided (thanks, Dems!) about all matters Iraqi.
May God help us, and turn our president’s eyes towards some adequate measure of wisdom. I say this prayer with his truly dangerous Big Amnesty plan in mind as much as this ISI -plan, because my fear is that a simultaneous occurrence of domestic and international chaos is just around November’s corner.
But in preparation for the possibility that God will not answer this prayer, and with the need to decide soon upon us, perhaps some of you can tell me whether Republicans should support the president’s present ISIL plan or not. I’m leaning strongly towards no.