After a week of talk of eliminating the "cancer" of ISIS, President Obama said Thursday that he was not planning to significantly expand the war against the Islamic extremist movement anytime soon.So if your people can't agree on a strategy, do nothing. That's called Smart Diplomacy™. Even Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is disgusted:
His remarks came after days of heated debate inside the top levels of his own national security bureaucracy about how, where, and whether to strike ISIS in Syria. But those deliberations – which included a bleak intelligence assessment of America's potential allies in Syria -- failed to produce a consensus battle plan. And so Obama, who has long been reluctant to enter into the Syrian conflict, told reporters Thursday that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for confronting ISIS on a regional level.
Those inside the administration advocating for going after ISIS in both Iraq and Syria were sorely disappointed – and lamented their boss's lack of urgency in rooting out a threat that only days before was being described in near-apocalyptic terms.
“Senior strategists in the U.S. government have been working hard all week to gather multiple options that the president had asked for to strike ISIS in Syria. There was a deep rooted belief among many -- especially among military circles -- that the ISIS threat can’t be kicked down the road, that it needs to be confronted now, and in a holistic way,” said one Obama administration official who works on the Middle East. “This press conference is going to lead to even more doubt by those that thought that this White House was ready to take meaningful action against ISIS across the board.”
Obama addressed the White House press corps Thursday afternoon just before personally chairing a meeting of his National Security Council, his top cabinet members and national security staffers. The meeting was the culmination of an intense week-long process that included series of lower level meetings and at last one Principals’ Committee that officials described as an effort to convince Obama to expand his air war against ISIS in Iraq to Syria as well.
But before the meeting even started, the president seemed to have made up his mind.
The President said that although he had ordered up options for striking ISIS in Syria, the administration’s priority was shoring up the integrity of Iraq, instead. Syria would have to wait. He also said he would send Secretary of State John Kerry to the region because “We don’t have a strategy yet,” to confront ISIS on a regional level.
To many outside the administration who have worked on Syria and the ISIS problem, Obama’s decision not to decide on a broader course of action will have negative implications for the war against ISIS. The administration raised expectations about altering its three-year policy of avoiding intervention in Syria, before Obama dashed those expectations Thursday.
“One has to wonder what sort of signal this administration is sending to ISIS by using tough rhetoric on one hand and then contravening what top officials just said,” said a former Pentagon official who served in Iraq. “It’s not just demoralizing to those who want to stop ISIS in its tracks, but ISIS is just going to act with greater impunity now if they believe they got a free pass. Every single ISIS leader was watching that.”
There were deep divisions inside the administration's deliberations over Syria. One set of officials advocated for a campaign to decimate ISIS in both countries by striking ISIS targets across Syria. This camp pushed for hitting near Aleppo where they are advancing, and with at least some coordination with the moderate Syrian rebels. The group, which included officials from State Department, intelligence community and some parts of the military, came up with extensive targeting options for the president that included not only ISIS military assets, but their infrastructure, command and control, and their financial capabilities. Even the oil pipelines they use to export crude for cash were on the target list.
Another group of officials -- led by White House and National Security staffers but also including some intelligence and military officials -- favored a more cautious approach that spurned any cooperation with the Free Syrian Army and focused strikes inside Syria on targets near the Iraqi border. The objective: cut off ISIS supply lines to Iraq. That strategy would fall more squarely within the existing limited missions that Obama has already outlined for his war.
Inside the intelligence community, there is a dispute about whether the Free Syrian Army, which has been fighting ISIS in Syria all year with little international support, can be a reliable partner for any military mission inside Syria.
Appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that Obama, a cautious figure on all matters foreign, is being “too cautious” in this caseThis does not seem like rocket surgery. John Hinderaker simplified it a bit for our practitioners of Smart Diplomacy™:
“I think I’ve learned one thing about this president, and that is he’s very cautious. Maybe in this instance, too cautious,” Feinstein said. “And so hopefully, those plans will coalesce into a strategy that can encourage that coalition from Arab nations.”
“I know that the military, I know that the state department, I know that others have been putting plans together,” she added, in a direct rebuke of Obama’s insistence that his administration does not “have a strategy yet” to roll back ISIS in Syria.
Her subtle savaging of the president went a step further. When asked if ISIS is, as Obama said in January, al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” Feinstein flatly disagreed. “I think it’s a major varsity team, if you want to use those kinds of monikers. But I see nothing that compares with its viciousness,” she noted.
She noted that this is the first group with the funding, training, and expertise to present a global military threat as well as an international terror threat.
“I mean, they crossed the border into Iraq before we even knew it happened,” Feinstein added, contradicting a series of administration officials who have insisted that they watched the ISIS group’s activities in western Syrian and Iraq closely and with great anxiety for over a year. “So this is a group of people who are extraordinarily dangerous. And they’ll kill with abandon.”
President Obama can’t come up with a strategy to deal with ISIS. It’s just so…complicated. Here’s an idea: how about if we kill them?Careful, John. The Left might call you "uncivil."