In a perfect world, Obama would have had a phone on his podium during the speech and called the Saudis: “Hey, can I put you on speaker? Look, hey, is there any way you could take the lead on this one? We did the two Iraq wars and are dealing with Iranian nukes. Can you field this ISIS? Cool, thanks.”
Instead we got a confident-sounding but ultimately dispiriting address. Obama may have presented a plan and reassured us that the Islamic State (IS) problem was manageable. But Obama’s confidence rings as hollow as George W. Bush’s. In fact, just as 43 often cited Saddam’s “rape rooms” 44 invoked rape, and while it’s true and tragic in both cases it’s also true in Sudan and Congo. Indeed, Obama’s “degrade and destroy” sounds a lot like Bush’s “shock and awe.” To be fair, Obama didn’t hype the threat to the homeland, to use that grim word. There was no talk of nukes, only the fact that ISIS had threatened us and might at some point down the road be able to actually hurt us. Still, the speech was depressing—not just because the president faces such a complicated situation but also because he engaged in rhetorical tricks.
Somalia and Yemen are successes? Good lord. At least when Bill Clinton famously pointed to Bangladesh as an economic model for micro businesses, he had a point, albeit one that seemed jaw-dropping at the time. It’s not that anyone expects Somalia and Yemen to be Swiss-like after hearing from our drones and special forces. But Somalia is utterly chaotic and Yemen is still terrorist rich. We haven’t destroyed any groups there, only clipped them at times which barely counts as degrading their organizations.
A broad-based coalition? Let’s see. There’s a lot of reason to doubt that the countries we need the most will do much. Turkey is the transit point for would-be terrorists who want to join ISIS. Maybe John Kerry will work a miracle, but this coalition, even with encouraging signals from the Saudis, feels more like George W. Bush’s than his father’s.
The myth of moderates we can support. The history of post-World War II America is filled with efforts to find moderates amidst chaos. Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American, chronicles this naivety in Vietnam. We sought such moderates in South and Central America and elsewhere. Maybe the Syrian Free Army are all democrats, led by John Adamses. At this point we’d settle for them being better than Assad or ISIS. Would you bet on them being freedom fighters?
What Iraqi Army? Um, we just spent countless dollars to train the Iraqi army for the past ten years. And what did it get us? A force that collapsed when ISIS rolled across Iraq. Maybe, as Obama said, there will be a new inclusive government in Iraq and that will make for a stronger national army. But what makes us think that we can get this worthless army can now be turned into the essential fighting force that Obama touted? Could that possibly be done with a few hundred more troops/advisors? Please.