Yesterday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined several times to say, in response to a direct question from Fox News’ James Rosen, that the U.S. is at war with ISIS. Today, President Obama made it clear enough that, in his view, we aren’t.
We know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem.
One doesn’t go to war over “manageable problems” — e.g. highway fatalities or a spike in the inflation rate — one manages them.
How does Obama propose to manage the problem presented by ISIS? The way any good bureaucratic manager would — by “organizing” others:
[W]hat we’ve got to do is make sure that we are organizing the Arab world, the Middle East, the Muslim world, along with the international community to isolate this cancer.
The goal — “isolation” (not destruction) of ISIS — is insufficient. The means — “organizing” the Middle East — is impossible.
George Will is fond of adding up the military assets of various Middle East entities and showing that ISIS’s assets pale in comparison. But the entities whose assets Will totes up are at loggerheads with each other and/or plagued by internal strife.
Will, I should think, would be among the first to acknowledge that the Middle East cannot be “organized.” In Syria, at least four major factions are fighting one another. It is estimated that 200,000 have died in the conflict. Iraq began politically disintegrating almost the minute the U.S. pulled out.
The Egyptian government is trying to cope with radical Islamic revolutionaries. Saudi Arabia and Iran seem politically stable for the moment, but their governments detest each other.
John Kerry and others like to point to the coalition George H.W. Bush put together against Saddam Hussein in 1990-91. But Bush accomplished this in the context of a relatively stable Middle East.
Bush also built his coalition based on the understanding that the U.S. would do virtually all of the major fighting. Obama has not made that commitment. To the contrary, all indications are that, although the U.S. would supply air power, Obama envisages the “boots on the ground” belonging mostly to non-Americans.
Recall too that Bush sounded a certain trumpet when he said of Saddam’s aggression “this will not stand.” Obama, by contrast, is talking about “isolating” ISIS. If you’re living in ISIS’s neighborhood, your goal will be to evict the barbarians, not to fence them in.
Even from an American perspective, moreover, isolating ISIS would be insufficient to protect ourselves from its terrorism — the touchstone of the Obama doctrine, to the extent one exists. An ISIS confined to even small portions of Syria and/or Iraq could still plan and execute terrorism in our homeland, just as al Qaeda did when it was isolated in Afghanistan.
If the U.S. could somehow “organize the Middle East,” we would deserve much more for our efforts than “isolating” ISIS.
Obama, with his boundless faith in diplomacy — which is actually boundless confidence in himself — seems to be making even the limited homeland security that isolating ISIS might produce contingent on achieving an all but impossible diplomatic mission.
What if we aren’t “joined by the international community” and cannot “organize the Arab world, the Middle East, [and] the Muslim world.” Does Obama then throw up his hands and sit by as ISIS becomes increasingly “unmanageable”? I wouldn’t be surprised.