Obama's poll-driven ISIS speech pleases almost no one
President Obama commandeered 15 minutes of prime time network television last night (text here) because his advisors told him he had to. After pulling American troops out of Iraq, he wanted reality to conform to his vision of a world that would leave us alone if only we left it alone. Though he is incapable of admitting or even recognizing the folly of this approach, he can recognize what the polls tell him.
His off-the-cuff admission that he had no strategy for dealing with the ISIS beheaders who have focused the attention of the American people on the threat of Islamic terror has seriously damaged his standing. The polls have been telling his advisors he is losing the trust of the American people, with a midterm election only weeks away. Fox News:
59 percent of voters think the U.S. is less respected today than when Obama took office. That’s up 11 percentage points from 48 percent who felt that way last year -- and up a significant 22 points from 37 percent in 2012.
Among independents, 67 percent feel the U.S. is less respected. That’s a dramatic increase from 38 percent in 2012.
By a 15-point margin, Democrats are more likely to say the U.S. is less respected (35 percent) since Obama took office. Just 20 percent of Democrats say the country is more respected today, a drop of 32 points from 52 percent who felt that way in 2012.
Overall, 57 percent of voters think Obama is “weak and indecisive” on foreign policy, up from 48 percent last year. Twenty-three percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents say he’s weak.
People fear an attack is coming -- yet don’t think the president will do what it takes to defeat ISIS. More than three-quarters of voters think ISIS is planning an attack on U.S. soil (77 percent) and about the same number say the U.S. should be doing more to stop ISIS (76 percent).
Even if they dismiss Fox, the Washington Post has similar bad news:
A majority of Americans and even many Democrats consider President Obama's tenure to be a "failure," according to a new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News.
The poll shows Americans say 52-42 that Obama has been more of a failure than a success. Among registered voters, the gap is even bigger -- at 55-39 -- with four in 10 (41 percent) saying they "strongly" believe Obama has been a failure.
Those saying Obama has been a failure include one in four Democrats (25 percent), nearly three in 10 liberals (29 percent) and the vast, vast majority of conservative Republicans (92 percent). Nearly one in five liberals (18 percent) say they feel "strongly" that Obama has been a failure.
So he went on television last night to enunciate…something. Because he has to do something. (“Do” in his customary sense of “say.”) The particulars don’t matter nearly as much as the appearance. So he chose a venue with no audience, but with a satisfying god-like echo, thereby avoiding the necessity of a ping-pong looking back and forth between two teleprompters, which has become an annoying visual trademark of his public addresses.
The substance of what he said was almost laughable, beginning with the absurd lie the ISIS is not Islamic, and continuing on to liken his new strategy to that being employed in Yemen and Somalia, two near-failed states that continue to generate terror threats to America. He studiously avoided an uncomfortable third country. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post noticed:
The president’s use of these countries for comparison is telling. He didn’t list Libya, where this strategy failed miserably. Libya is now war-torn, another haven for jihadists. It was where four Americans lost their lives because no one in the administration was willing to provide on-the-ground assistance to stabilize the country and, as the country’s central government crumbled, failed to anticipate a jihadist threat. Moreover, the idea that we can leave U.S. troops out of it has resulted in the near-disintegration of Iraq. Obama simply won’t recognize error. He refuses to learn the lessons of failure because he doesn’t recognize that he has failed.
He announced two baby step measures that almost certainly will not get the job done, if the job includes destroying ISIS. He is sending a few hundred more “advisors” to Iraq, and he is bombing within Syria. These half-measures are designed to avoid provoking his left flank in the Democratic Party. But they are unlikely to buy-in to any escalation. David Corn in Mother Jones lays out the basic problem:
…now that he has committed the United States to renewed military action there, where's the line? When US military intervention in Libya was debated in the White House, Obama, after careful deliberation, chose a calibrated course of action that included limited US military involvement as part of a multilateral campaign. That plan achieved its end: Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was ousted. (The dust there, however, is far from settling.) Obama's approach to ISIS is similar, but this problem is more vexing and the risks greater. His speech gave little indication of how he might confront the possible problems and hard choices that will likely come.
There's an old cliché: no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The same might be true for a case for war. Once a war is started, the narrative of that war, like the events themselves, can be hard to control.
Peter Baker of the New York Times is also skeptical:
After years of trying to avoid entangling the United States in another “dumb war,” as he called the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Mr. Obama is now plunging the United States into the middle of one of the world’s bloodiest, most vicious and fratricidal conflicts.
Whether he can wage this war in a more effective way, crushing a jihadist group while minimizing American casualties, could be the central national security test of his final two years in office — and the first one confronting his successor. Mr. Obama acknowledged that “it will take time to eradicate a cancer” like ISIS, but gave no estimates.
So, he is pleasing almost nobody. But Obama’s polls are so low now that some bounce can be expected, though it will not be a large one. His problem is that the strategy he has enunciated is bound to fail because air power cannot take back territory. That requires troops with boots on you-know-what. The late Kirk Scharfenberg's immortal words abut Jimmy Carter aplly equally to Obama: "More mush from the wimp."