Bizarre: Obama tells us what he'd do if he was advising ISIS

Jim Geraghty alerted me to this strange quote from President Obama in the New York Times:

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.

It was clear to the guests how aware Mr. Obama was of the critics who have charged him with demonstrating a lack of leadership. He brought up the criticism more than once with an edge of resentment in his voice.

“He’s definitely feeling it,” said one guest. At one point, Mr. Obama noted acidly that President Ronald Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon only to have hundreds of them killed in a terrorist attack because of terrible planning, and then withdrew the remaining ones, leaving behind a civil war that lasted years. But Reagan, he noted, is hailed as a titan striding the earth.

Geraghty is puzzled by this bizarre comment:

Why is our president thinking about what he would tell the Islamic State if he were advising them?

Does the president spend a lot of time thinking about this? Or did it just strike him as a fascinating little nugget of insight to share with a guest while discussing the Islamic State?

I can see the value in trying to understand the thinking of your enemy. I can see the value in thinking through an ultimatum to the group, contemplating what you'll demand and what consequences to threaten. You can "offer advice" to a foe in the sense of, "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

But Obama's "if I was an adviser to ISIS" comment doesn't sound like any of these -- at least from the context that we're given by the Times' sources, individuals who have met with the president in the past week. It's just, hey, if I were advising the enemy, this is what I would have told them.

Okay . . . what's the point? Why spend any time thinking about that scenario? Did the Islamic State call and ask for advice? They didn't attach notes; they detached heads. That's the choice they made. Now the question is what we're going to do about it.

Notice Obama's assessment presumes the Islamic State wants to avoid a U.S. military intervention. Is this a manifestation of the mirroring effect, where Obama projects its own values and priorities onto its foes? (Think about how often he insists publicly that seizing Crimea and moving into Ukraine isn't in Russia's interest, or that bellicose or provocative actions on the part of Iran aren't in that country's interest.) The Islamic State appears to want to send the message, far and wide, that they don't fear a clash with the U.S. military. Perhaps they want to demonstrate that they can commit horrific crimes against American civilians with no serious repercussion. Maybe they think God wants them to do this. Maybe they're nuts! In the end, the "why" matters less than the "what."

Viewed from another angle, President Obama's comment sounds like a complaint. If the Islamic State hadn't beheaded Americans, there wouldn't be such widespread demand for action against it in the American public.

"If I were advising ISIS…"

Well, you're not, Mr. President.

Geraghty asks "Are we about to learn what happens when the United States goes to war with a commander-in-chief who doesn't really want to go to war?" This is evident from the president's rhetoric. He wants to "destroy" ISIS without commiting US troops but outside of a some forces in Iraq, there are no ground troops to be had. Why this disconnect between reality and rhetoric?

It appears that the president is conflicted about the coming campaign in ways we are just beginning to understand. If you read the Times story, you are struck how bitter he is about his critics. He thinks the war has been forced on him, that people don't understand how "nuanced" he is and how "thoughtfully" he approaches decisions like this.

A revealing quote from one of the attendees of the meeting:

“This is someone who, more than most in the political world, is comfortable in the gray rather than the black and white,” he said. “So many other people in the political world do operate in the black and white and are more quote-unquote decisive, and that’s a mixed blessing. He clearly falls on the side of those who are slow or reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with.”

This is a recipe for indecisiveness. The idea that when you go to war, you don't want to be forced "into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with" is ridiculous. The president is so desperate to avoid sending troops that he appears willing to lose rather than do what is necessary to win.

A president who'd rather not win a war so that he doesn't have to take a "one sided" position? That sounds like Obama.