The president, traveling in Estonia, proclaimed today: “Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL [the Islamic State] so that it’s no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States. In order for us to accomplish that, the first phase has been to make sure that we’ve got an Iraqi government that’s in place and that we are blunting the momentum that ISIL was carrying out.” Well, maybe not “destroy.” More like contain: “Our objective is to make sure that ISIL is not an ongoing threat to the region. And we can accomplish that. It’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some effort.” He has decided we do have a strategy after all. First, we have to have a stable government in Iraq AND, he says, “the regional coalition that’s going to be required so that we can reach out to Sunni tribes in some of the areas that ISIS has occupied, and make sure that we have allies on the ground in combination with the airstrikes that we’ve already conducted.” Then maybe there will be some military action.

epa04381785 US President Barack Obama speaks during a joint news confernce with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (unseen) following their meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, 03 September 2014. Obama arrived in Estonia 03 September to meet with the heads of the Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - amid growing concerns about Russia's military involvement in Ukraine. The three former members of the Soviet bloc have been anxiously watching Moscow's alleged support for eastern Ukrainian separatists, as each country also has Russian minorities. EPA/VALDA KALNINA President Obama (Valda Kalnina/European Pressphoto Agency)

Obama’s statement, characterized by his usual equivocation, also was a remarkable display in buck-passing. He said that as soon as Mosul fell, the administration jumped into action. But what about letting the Islamic State grow in both Syria and Iraq up to that point? No, no, it’s George W. Bush’s fault because he started the war in Iraq, Obama says, blocking out memory of a stable Iraq handed to Bush’s successor. Obama’s three-plus years of inaction in Syria and the pullout of U.S. troops don’t figure in his lecture on the vacuum in the Middle East.

No one bothered to ask Obama why he didn’t act sooner to stem the Islamic State in Syria by, say, giving robust support to the Free Syrian Army or to put that regional coalition together months ago. (By the by, can’t we reach out to Sunni tribes on our own?) Delay, deflect and duck responsibility. Like the student racing to cram for the exam because he goofed off during the semester, Obama is running out of time. This uncertain trumpet, alas, is our president for the next two years. Heaven help us.