The President's Speech
Do We Have a Strategy Now?

The President’s speech was good as oratory, but the lack of understanding of what is really going on in the Middle East means that the strategy the White House seems bent on pursuing is unlikely to succeed.

Published on: September 11, 2014
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  • lukelea

    but the lack of understanding of what is really going on in the Middle East

    Oh, so who is the wise guy who really understands? Seriously, I think he has a strategy: contain and manage the threat posed by ISIL with air support of indigenous forces on the ground who are threatened by ISIL, of which there are plenty. It may not have an endpoint, but neither do any of the alternatives.

    • Corlyss

      You mistake tactics to make Dims appear competent in national security to minimize the damage to the brand in November for a strategy to deal effectively with a danger Doofus allowed to grow for 6 years because Val is a dangerously incompetent advisor on all fronts.

      • Anthony

        Corlyss, Corlyss let it go! As you told me once, your analytical skills warrant better. Your ability transcends AI’s audience.

        • Corlyss

          Instead of metacommenting, how’s about just rebutting my substantive analysis with your own?

          • Anthony

            No meta… and no need to rebut; its not that serious. But I retain my right.

          • Corlyss

            You do that metacommenting thing to my posts often. I’ll admit I’m in a grumpy mood because my hard drive crashed last week and between that and the determined effort of new sw packages to make me return them for a refund in total exasperation, my microscopic patience has been sorely tried.

          • Anthony

            …you’re still producing and I trust irritants mentioned will be gone shortly.

  • Corlyss


    The only eay we’d get a war-to-the-death “strategy” out of Doofus is if some clever chap were to relabel ISIS and al Qaeda “Republicans!”

  • wigwag

    It would appear that ISIS has not only demolished the territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria, it has destroyed President Obama’s aspirations for a rapprochement with Iran. Surely Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs will make their rhetorical support of Obama’s War on ISIS contingent on the President’s willingness to abandon his dream of a reconciliation with Iran. Without Saudi support, the War on ISIS looks just like what Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney always said it was; a civilizational battle royale between the West and the Islamic world. Won’t Obama do almost anything, including walking away from his dreams for an Iranian partnership, if that’s what it takes to prove Cheney wrong?

    But ISIS has done more than demolish two failed Middle Eastern States and the stature of a flawed American President, it has demolished the credibility of some of the most well-known foreign policy realists and their obsession with the idea of off-shore balancing. After an eclectic approach to foreign policy in his first term, it’s a school of thought that Obama bought into lock, stock and barrel in his second; that’s why his foreign policy has crashed and burned.

    As far as I can tell, the idea that Obama found so compelling was the idea that the realists were selling; that stability in the Middle East could be achieved if only an appropriate balance of power could be reached between Shia Iran on one side and the moderate Sunni regimes on the other. What Obama never articulated, but may well have been in his heart, was the idea that an empowered Iran would also counterbalance Israel; a nation whose leaders annoyed the President to no end. With the Sunnis (and Israel) on one side and with Shia Iran (and its allies) on the other, both sides would be so preoccupied eyeing each other, that neither could afford to stray too far from the dreams of the American President.

    Instead, Obama got far more than he bargained for; an all out, knock-down, drag-out civil war between Sunnis and Shia and a mini-civil war between Sunni autocrats (with the kings and dictators on one side and an Islamist mob on the other.)

    Of course, it’s not all Obama’s fault. If Dick Cheney’s book is to be believed, the former Vice President begged George W. Bush to bomb Iran; it’s Adam Garfinkle’s old boss (at least I think she was), Condi Rice, who talked Bush out of sending in the bombers. Had Iran’s hegemonic aspirations been cut down to size, Assad might never have survived in Syria and Hezbollah might have found itself in a far more desperate situation in Lebanon. Innumerable young Sunni Syrians would never have been turned into refuges with absolutely nothing to do but become radicalized Jihadists. Without Iran’s malign influence, the Iraqi leadership might have been more tempted to appease rather than humiliate Iraq’s Sunnis. I’m not sure that Garfinkle would go quite this far, but it seems to me that George W. Bush and Barack Obama are inadvertent coconspirators in creating ISIS. Had they death with Iran when it would have been easier than it is now, ISIS might not exist in 2014.

    To this very day, the press excoriates neoconservatives for the Bush Administration’s mismanagement of the Iraq War. I am waiting for the press to start excoriating the realists who’s theories have contributed to the deaths of millions of Middle Easterners, the destruction of more than one nation state and the impoverishment of tens of millions of new Middle Eastern refugees.

    Garfinkle is right; Obama doesn’t have a strategy and nether does the buffoonish John Kerry. But then again neither did George W. Bush or Condi Rice. What we need are better Presidents and Secretaries of State.

    • wigwag

      Two of Barack Obama’s favorite foreign policy gurus (even though they play no official role in his Administration) are Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft; these two clueless old fools and their fellow travelers in the foreign policy establishment are as responsible for the current disaster in the Middle East as anyone.

      Where is ISIS finding its recruits? Could it possibly be in the refugee camps that house many millions of young Syrian men who watched their parents and siblings tortured and killed by Iran’s ally Assad? Filled with anger, hungry for revenge and with absolutely no hope for a better future, is it any wonder that they find comfort by allying themselves with ISIS? Is it possible that ISIS is finding recruits amongst the disaffected Sunnis who have been humiliated, harangued and harassed by the Shia regime in Baghdad?

      At who’s behest were the Syrian Sunnis ethnically cleansed and the Iraqi Sunnis humiliated? To ask the question is to answer it; the perpetrator wass obviously Iran. This is the same Iran that Scowcroft and AI Editorial Board member Brzezinski begged Obama to appease.

      In a 2008 interview with Haaretz, Brzezinski warned the Israelis not to advocate an American attack on Iran. He said,

      “One piece of advice that I would give the Israeli government is not to engage in this campaign for an American attack on Iran, because I don’t think America is going to attack Iran, and if it did, and the consequences would be disastrous.”

      In a 2009 interview with the Daily Beast, Brzezinski lavished praise on Obama’s foreign policy acumen. He said,

      “Well, Obama has been very impressive in refining our policy toward the world on a lot of issues, very impressive…”

      But when asked what the United States should do if Israel threatened to attack Iranian nuclear installations, Brzezinski was blunt,

      “We are not exactly impotent little babies. They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch?…we have to be serious about denying them that right. That means a denial where you aren’t just saying it. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not. No one wishes for this but it could be a Liberty in reverse. ”

      In a 2013 Al Jazeera interview with John Seigenthaler, Brzezinski defended Assad against Barack Obama’s assertion that Assad had to go.

      “I was totally perplexed when President Obama announced sometime in late 2011 that Assad has to go. First of all, it wasn’t clear to me why should we be dictating his departure, and I didn’t see in Syria anything like the Arab Spring in Egypt or elsewhere. It was more a matter of an externally supported sectarian war — I repeat, sectarian. Not democratic but sectarian — Sunnis against Shiites. And I also didn’t sense that when the president said that, that Assad has to go, that there was anything behind those words. And as a result I think our policy contributed to greater chaos in Syria, then to the appearance on the scene of groups very hostile to us, as well as some groups friendly to us that oppose Assad but who are the weakest among all of the opposition groupings. So it became a policy that, in my judgment, was self-defeating…”

      Finally, later in 2013 Brzezinski and Scowcroft penned a letter to Congress praising the possibility of a rapprochement with Iran and criticizing those in Congress who wanted to ratchet up sanctions. In their letter they suggested that the problem of Iran’s advancing nuclear program pales in comparison to the consequences of an attack, which they called “an act of utter irresponsibility and potential immorality” given the civilian casualties that would likely ensue.

      Striking Iran would produce a wider crisis that would set the region “aflame” and harm US interests from Afghanistan through Iraq and Syria, he said. It would also generate “widespread, long-lasting hatred” for the US among the Iranian people

      In an AL Monitor interview, Brzezinski insisted,

      “Striking Iran would produce a wider crisis that would set the region aflame and harm US interests from Afghanistan through Iraq and Syria, he said. It would also generate widespread, long-lasting hatred for the US among the Iranian people.”
      Once you realize that ISIS gestated in an anti-Sunni environment instigated by Iran while the Obama Administration averted its eyes, it becomes obvious that those like Brzezinski who advocated placating Iran bear significant responsibility for the horrors that ISIS is now inflicting. Those foreign policy gurus who insisted that such a misguided policy was wise are every bit as complicit in the collapse of stability in the Middle East as the neoconservatives who advocated the American attack on Saddam Hussein.
      As for Brzezinski himself, he’s a special case. Even though Adam Garfinkle can’t bear to face the truth of it, blowback from Brzezinski’s misguided policies in the 1970s in Afghanistan helped to create the Taliban and maybe even Al Qaida many years later. In the second decade of the 21st century, Barack Obama’s fondness for Brzezinski’s recommendation that America suck up to Iran helped create ISIS.
      Midwifing the birth of the Taliban, Al Qaida and ISIS; that’s quite a career. Zbigniew Brzezinski must be very proud of itself. And the American Interest must be very proud of having such an astute judge of foreign policy as part of its leadership.

  • Anthony

    Do we have a strategy now! “Well, this is what being President gets you, and in a partisan ether, for which he is as responsible as anyone, this is what it smells like.” Essay could end with those words but adds so much more: “simplicity trumps nuance, that personalization trumps abstraction, and that pictures trump text and the cumulative result of decontextualizing facts and trivialzing meaning is to imbecilize the body politic” (Adam Garfinkle). Now bring on the war! Remember contextual endpoints – they’ll be coming….

  • Corlyss

    Richard Epstein has a cogent analysis of Doofus’ speech here the first half of the hour:

    I especially enjoyed the part where he recounts a remark Obama apparently made at one point, during his fanciful preparation for a job that has completely overwhelmed him, to the effect that he was smarter on every subject than all the people who ever worked for him and how Epstein punctures the arrogance of such a stance. Simply put, given his woeful performance, he should fire everyone that works for him, particularly Val Jarrett, and start over with a staff of people who know MORE than he does because “if he doesn’t get the staff stuff right he’ll never get the substance right.” As we all know, Val has driven out everyone that knows more than she does, “beards” I called ’em, to the great injury of the nation.

    • Curious Mayhem

      Someone who’s confident in his judgment and really knows what he’s doing will higher people at least as smart as he is, if not smarter, and learn from them. Reagan and Eisenhower were pilloried for listening (sometimes) to people smarter than they, but they had a point. A president of somewhat lower and closer-to-common intelligence will then apply his judgment and common sense to what he hears.

      The fact that having gone to Harvard allows Obama to put on such airs and display such affectations shows us all we need to know about why Obama went to Harvard in the first place. And haven’t we had enough of genuinely high-IQ presidents who tend to be somewhat out of touch with reality? I mean Wilson, Hoover, Nixon, and Carter.

  • lhfry

    I find it helpful to judge Obama’s actions by this astute description of him by Thomas Sowell – and this speech is no exception:

    “Like other truly talented phonies, Barack Obama concentrates his skills on the effect of his words on other people — most of whom do not have the time to become knowledgeable about the things he is talking about. Whether what he says bears any relationship to the facts is politically irrelevant.

    A talented con man, or a slick politician, does not waste his time trying to convince knowledgeable skeptics. His job is to keep the true believers believing. He is not going to convince the others anyway.”

  • Duperray

    A converted ex-muslim said in a recent foreign TV show that in case a sincere muslim would like to implement all major coranic prescriptions, he could not be else than what we call “a terrorist” in West. Islam base line is to convert the entire Mankind to this religion by force, fear and terror if necessary. Islam received two military devastating blows, Lepanto 1672 and Vienna 1683: Deducing that “God is with Christians”, they abided and forgot their conquest wishes for few centuries, specially for their extremely low economic wealth.

    Now, with long duration crude oil revenues allowing high grade weaponry acquisition (even sometimes free of charge thanks to providential west arming its so called “friends”…), with West totally and politically negating God, with a falling global morality, West deserves no respect: From a rejuvenated muslim faith promotion attracting many young men everywhere, since 1980 muslim world perceives that a new era for re-conquest is coming, hence their messy uprising.

    Despite I agree with most of comments about ISIS desirable destruction, I wonder whether it would be possible. In effect, the two Afghanistan wars, Irak War and so on… never destroyed the “beast” up to oblivion. In front of superior forces, they withdraw and dilute themselves into the peaceful population from which they came. When western forces go away, they resurrect. I might be wrong, but let’s see what further happens.

    For me, West target is not that much to destroy present ISIS troops and organisation (many others will replace it in case of) as long as the Islam root motivation exists. This is what we need to destroy, ie “the hope to reconquer lost ground and expand islam further to many new populations”.

    To perform this mental crushing we may not need to kill millions of their fighters, we need to demonstrate a terrible cold determination and no inhibition at all to use super weapons, essentially nuclear (very impressive). Shall Iran replies with a small one, thousand more could be sent to it…

    We would fight them on same terrain as them: As they consider each western citizen responsible for their “mishap”, so they kill innocents. So we have to do, otherwise they will never abandon again their desire of conquest.

    • niki

      You sound Eastern European. And of course you believe in God (the Christian one).
      So, the solution is a religious war, with nuclear weapons, in order to repeat the victories at Lepanto and Vienna. Amazing that nobody else thought about this simple solution. Meanwhile, the slightly misguided ISIS leaders and their enraged followers will swallow Jordan, KSA, and the rest of the kingdoms, and might even convert to the One True God. Unless they are stopped by nukes too. Might not be good for the stock market….

      • Duperray

        Christian YES; European yes; Eastern? No, western. So you are right twice out of three. Good !
        Now you are authorized to pray your own God: Stock Market, your Bible: Speculation and your priest: $
        By the way, ask them to provide you and consorts all necessary motivation to sustain assaults of the already triggered 21st century War.

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