It is hard to tell which was worse — the substance of the president’s remarks on Thursday or that he thought it was a good idea to go out there, with no real news on anything. He confirmed what many of us have long suspected — there is no strategy for dealing with the Islamic State, which his own advisers — but not the president — say is a real threat to the homeland. Obama would only say the Islamic State is a threat to Iraq. It leaves one wondering if he really thinks a jihadist state in the Middle East is no big deal for the U.S.
Obama’s speech was a train wreck from start to finish. Here are the 10 lowlights:
1. “[M]y priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIl made in Iraq are rolled back and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively and secure itself.” There is no recognition that we might need to destroy the Islamic State or that it poses a threat to the U.S.
2. “We don’t have a strategy yet.” Yes, he said it. One would think he’d be embarrassed to acknowledge that he has done nothing as the Islamic State threat emerged and grew stronger over a four -year period. (“‘ISIL did not suddenly become effective in early June 2014: it had been steadily strengthening and actively shaping the future operating environment for four years,’ the report from the West Point center said.”) This is nothing short of dereliction of his duty as commander in chief. By evening the White House was in damage control mode insisting the president had an overall strategy, just not a military plan for Syria. Huh? Where is that overall strategy, and why doesn’t he, after more than three years, have a military plan for Syria? It really is mind-boggling.
3. “I think it would be international opinion that Assad’s lost legitimacy in terms of dropping barrel bombs on innocent families and killing tens of thousands of people.” Wow –really? So why is Assad still in power? Oh that’s right, the president erased his redline. This should have been evident for several years and yet Obama has dawdled and rejected outright proposals that would have accelerated Assad’s exit.
4. “[T]here’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.” Thunk. How long will that take? Shouldn’t he know by now?
5. Asked if Russia’s action was an invasion he replied, “I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now. As I said in my opening statement, there is no doubt that this is not a homegrown, indigenous uprising in eastern Ukraine. The separatists are backed, trained, armed, financed by Russia.” Again, his lack of concern and refusal to recognize yet another violation of our sovereignty and the complete failure of his half-measures to halt Russia is bracing. But never fear, he is going to meet with NATO leaders.
6. “Now, the fact that Russia has taken these actions in violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukrainians has resulted, I believe, in a weakening of Russia, not a strengthening of Russia. That may not be apparent immediately, but I think it will become increasingly apparent.” Really? It’s not apparent to most people.
7. “We don’t have those [Article V NATO] treaty obligations with Ukraine.” But we did make a promise to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for its giving up nuclear weapons at the end of the Cold War. That sure didn’t work out for them. It is really a stunning statement from the president that we had no binding obligation to protect Ukraine.
8. Obama was asked “How about sending arms to the Ukrainians?” He didn’t answer, which is an answer of sorts. That decision like so many others now looks like an invitation for Russian aggression.
9. “It would have been helped along if Congress had voted for the supplemental that I asked for. They did not. . . .And it continues to be my belief that, if I can’t see the congressional action, that I need to do at least what I can in order to make the system work better. But you know, some of these things do affect time lines and we’re just going to be working through as systematically as possible in order to get this done. But have no doubt: in the absence of congressional action, I’m going to do what I can to make sure the system works better.” There is simply no Constitutional justification for such a position, and if undertaken will set a dangerous precedent that both parties will follow in the future, to the detriment of Constitutional governance.
10. The press’s performance. Did no one think to quiz the president as to how he could have been sleeping for four years while the Islamic State threat grew? And why he still does not have a policy? Apparently not. Nor did anyone follow up to the question as to whether Russia has invaded Ukraine. It’s a pretty basic question, so why won’t the president give a straight answer?