Usually when a president delivers a prime-time address to the nation, he has something new to announce — like, say, a new military strategy. Not President Obama. Like a notorious Christmas “re-gifter,” Obama did nothing more Sunday night than repackage his old, failing strategy in the shiny wrapping of tougher language.
With a new CNN/ORC poll showing that 64 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the Islamic State and 68 percent say his military response to the terrorist group is not aggressive enough, Obama decided to ratchet up the rhetoric — acknowledging that we are “at war with terrorists” and promising to “destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.”
But rip away the rhetorical bows and paper, and the substance of what Obama offered is unchanged from his petulant news conference after the Paris attacks where he insisted against all evidence that “the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.”
Nothing has changed. After declaring the Islamic State “contained” a day before the Paris attacks and assuring Americans a day before the San Bernadino, Calif., massacre that the United States was safe from a Paris-style attack, Obama is “staying the course.”
To fend off growing displeasure with his strategy, Obama once again resorted to tearing down straw men. He promised that he would “not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria,” because “if we occupy foreign lands, [our enemies] can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.”
This is ridiculous — and revealing. Obama fails to understand that it was not the U.S. presence in Iraq that allowed the Islamic State to rebuild its insurgency; it was the U.S. withdrawal. It was his glib dismissal of the Islamic State as “JV” terrorists who did not pose “a direct threat to us” that allowed the group’s insurgency to grow. And it was his continuing refusal to take the steps necessary to re-defeat the group that is today allowing the Islamic State to grow and “maintain” its insurgency “for years.”
Obama declared he would not send “a new generation of Americans overseas to fight and die for another decade on foreign soil.” No one is proposing that. Retired Gen. Jack Keane, the author of the successful 2007 surge in Iraq, has laid out a strategy to defeat the Islamic State that requires a minimum of about 10,000 U.S. troops, including advisers, trainers and forward air controllers, as well as Apache helicopters and AC-130 gunships. Keane’s strategy would unleash our Special Operations forces “not just to target leaders or conduct hostage rescue but to conduct large-scale in/out raids to target ISIS critical nodes and functions.” And it would lift the restrictive rules of engagement that result in 75 percent of U.S. air missions returning without dropping their bombs.
Most Americans support this. The CNN/ORC poll finds that a 53 percent majority say the United States should send ground troops to Iraq or Syria to fight the Islamic State. The American people understand: We don’t need another invasion; we need another surge.
We also need to understand what inspires terrorists like Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook to join the global jihad and carry out attacks like the one in California. Obama said Sunday that groups like the Islamic State are “using our presence to draw new recruits.” This is wrong. They are using the perception of American weakness. In August 2014, Obama promised to destroy the Islamic State, but after more than a year of bombing, the group still controls territory in Iraq and Syria the size of the United Kingdom and has expanded its area of operations to include Europe and now quite possibly the United States. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has boasted: “The crusaders’ airstrikes and constant bombardment — day and night — upon the Islamic State have not prevented its advance or weakened its resolve.”
Obama does not get it. But Americans do. And they are not interested in a policy of weakness wrapped in a new package from our re-gifter-in-chief.