In 2008, Senate neophyte and first time Presidential candidate Barack Obama had very definite ideas on how American foreign policy should be restructured. The unqualified Commander-in-Chief-wanna-be viewed our international presence as heavy handed and counterproductive. He promised to fix all of that first by undoing his predecessor’s military incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq. Beyond that, what he had in mind was anyone’s guess.
We don’t have to guess any more. For the past six years, the theories of the inexperienced candidate Obama have been the policies of President Obama. That’s shocking, really. Capable people who begin out of their depth usually grow in their jobs. But rather than being witness to a productive maturation process with Obama, we are observers of the opposite. Ideas grounded in ignorance have successfully resisted challenge despite repeated failures.
Last Wednesday, the President tried to make up for some of his recent fiascos with a speech on his new ISIS strategy. But speeches are difficult to read in general. Obama’s, in particular, are almost indecipherable. Without a doubt, his rhetoric sounds good to the listening ear. But, when the text is examined too much is left to the imagination and too much is simply wrong.
A forthright speech would have taken a clarifying form:
“I state as certainties things that sound good in the moment, but some of them are untruths, others are exaggerations and too many are unknowns. For example, I declare that Iraq now has an inclusive government, but it is impossible, at this early juncture, to know whether it truly is.
I claim that my actions in Yemen and Somalia are legitimate successes on which the new ISIS policy is based. But, in reality, my efforts in those two countries are, at best, pointless and, at worst, have strengthened Al Qaeda in the regions.
I state that American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world, but I constantly turn my back on promises and people. I’m sure you all remember how I looked the other way when the Syrian government crossed my red line. Russia is slowly crushing the Ukraine to death, but I’ve declared victory and gone on to other distractions.
I ignored the ISIS threat for years as the Al Qaeda successor grew larger and more capable and became a greater terrorist force than its predecessor. But bin Laden is dead and I’ll remind you of that as often as I can since it makes me look strong.
I agree that ISIS is a terrorist group, but I have to insist that it isn’t even radical Islam. It has conquered an area about the size of Belgium. But I need to make ISIS seem smaller than it is so I deny that it a state.
In conclusion, I do admit that ISIS, left unchecked, is a threat to the American homeland. But, I insist that the lives of our citizens be placed in the hands of highly questionable local troops and unwilling partners. You may recall that I dismissed thousands of Syrian rebels as civilians unworthy of my aid, but now they will get it. Britain is our biggest ally, but it is uncertain about airstrikes over Syria. The Germans will say no to any airstrikes after this speech, but, I never actually asked them anyway.”
While the true meaning of rhetoric becomes apparent with time, on Wednesday it seemed more like Obama was simply buying time. He did not define victory or provide even the tiniest glimpse of what success may look like. He merely said “it will take time” to eradicate a cancer like ISIS and the effort will be “steady and relentless”.
The problem with dragging out these campaigns interminably is that people inevitably lose sight of their critical purpose. Weariness sets in. Eventually, politicians will declare victory where none exists and the effort will end having accomplished only delays.
Will failure be the outcome of this war, too? It certainly sounds like death by a thousand buts.