A War For Show – Rich Lowry – POLITICO Magazine

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry

Compared with President Barack Obama, even Jimmy Carter is John McCain. The former president practically synonymous with American weakness and retreat thinks Obama was too slow to act against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and gives his current strategy only “a possibility of success,” provided it involves (unspecified) ground troops.

When you are too passive for Jimmy Carter, it’s time for some soul-searching in the Situation Room. The late-1970s are calling and want their foreign policy back.

The war against ISIL so far is desultory and occasional, a campaign of underwhelming force. ISIL has still been on the verge of taking the Syrian town of Khobani abutting the Turkish border and on the offensive in Iraq. The erstwhile JV team is defying all the military might that the world’s lone superpower is willing to muster.

There has been renewed talk of how, as former secretary of defense Leon Panetta put it the other day, the fight against terrorism will be a 30-year war. At this rate, it will be a generational struggle merely to get ISIL out of Mosul.

As with all the president’s recent foreign policy failures, this wasn’t just predictable, it was predicted.

To this point, almost everything has lent credence to the skeptical interpretation of Obama’s war: That in reaction to a spectacular media event, the horrific ISIL beheadings, the president staged his own media event, an inconsequential bombing campaign accompanied by a tough-sounding, prime-time speech.

The experience of the surge in Afghanistan, the red line fiasco and now this, suggest that Obama is a hawk precisely to the extent he feels the politics don’t allow him to wiggle out of it.

His talk of Afghanistan as the good war in the 2008 campaign was too fresh for him to countenance an immediate defeat. So he ordered the surge and tried never to speak of it again and now wants to completely liquidate our military presence, on the failed model of Iraq.

He had seemed determined to strike Syria after Bashar Assad used chemical weapons last year, then found a way to crab-walk away from his own earnest warnings.

The war against ISIL happens to be just enough to placate the public’s hawkish mood, without getting too far out in front or taking actions that will fully commit the president.

The Powell Doctrine is to use maximum military power to achieve a clear objective; the Obama Doctrine, judging from this latest episode, is to use minimal military power to create a vague impression. Message: I care about defeating ISIL, for now.

If the president intended to catch up to public opinion, he hasn’t gotten there yet. A Fox News poll last week found that 57 percent of people think our actions against the Islamic State haven’t been aggressive enough. Sixty percent of Democrats don’t think Obama has been tough enough in taking on Islamic radicals (Jimmy Carter apparently among them).

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

via A War For Show – Rich Lowry – POLITICO Magazine.

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