President Obama famously disparaged ISIS as a terrorist junior varsity squad. Without conceding error, Obama has come to rue the characterization so much that he baldly lies about it. According to Obama, he wasn’t singling out ISIS when he referred to the terrorist “jv” in his interview with the apostle David Remnick of the New Yorker. It is a misjudgment that rebounds on Obama himself to mark him as the jv president.
Let us pause for a moment over Obama’s disparagement of ISIS as a terrorist jv squad to Remnick. It was superficially sophisticated. It supported a defense of his (our) misguided withdrawal from Iraq, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It served to justify continued inaction. And it was monumentally wrong. Classic Obama.
John wrote here on Sunday about Peter Baker’s page-one New York Times story “Paths to war, then and now, haunt Obama.” If one seeks to understand Obama’s state of mind, it’s an article that warrants close attention. Here is a passage regarding ISIS that is bizarre (almost) beyond belief:
Mr. Obama had what guests on Wednesday afternoon described as a bereft look as he discussed the murders of Mr. Foley and Mr. Sotloff, particularly because two other Americans are still being held. Days later, ISIS would report beheading a British hostage with another video posted online Saturday.
But the president said he had already been headed toward a military response before the men’s deaths. He added that ISIS had made a major strategic error by killing them because the anger it generated resulted in the American public’s quickly backing military action.
If he had been “an adviser to ISIS,” Mr. Obama added, he would not have killed the hostages but released them and pinned notes on their chests saying, “Stay out of here; this is none of your business.” Such a move, he speculated, might have undercut support for military intervention.
Only last week in his interview with Chuck Todd, Obama asserted that he lacked a sense presidential theater. According to Obama, it wasn’t something that came naturally to him. Yet here is Obama providing his critique of the grand strategy of ISIS terrorist theater. What is going on here? I offer a few thoughts.
In part the remarks reflect Obama’s grandiosity. “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” Obama has declared. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” To this list we can now add: “I’m a better terrorist strategist than Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”
In part the remarks reflect Obama’s reluctance to confront ISIS. Obama’s “strategic” response to ISIS is limited and ambivalent. If only they had used their public relations sense to support his desire to avoid confrontation, life would have been easy. Now he has to serve up something to mollify the American public. Obama does not consider the possibility that ISIS has his number somewhat more closely than he has theirs. Obama to the contrary notwithstanding, for example, they know they’re Islamic and that Obama has little appetite to take them on.
In part the remarks reflect Obama’s misunderstanding of Islamist terrorism. The terrorists mean to terrorize and demoralize us. They are an Islamist/terrorist form of shock and awe. The beheading are in fact demoralizing so long as the perpetrators remain at large and undefeated. They do not fear Obama’s response and they have yet to be proved wrong.