“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” Samuel Johnson said. A few centuries later his fellow Englishman, Winston Churchill, quipped, “The United States invariably does the right thing, after having exhausted every other alternative.”
It’s not true of the United States, but it is true of Barack Obama who, having exhausted every alternative that involved appeasement or pretending that ISIS wasn’t a threat, has decided to do the right thing, … as long as he gets enough applause for doing it.
With his approval ratings, particularly on American leadership and national security, lower than Assad’s, he decided to exploit September 11 to butch up his foreign policy image.
After spending the last few years ignoring ISIS, he delivered a carefully timed speech vowing to take it on. The speech might have been a little more credible if it had not come from the man whose inaction allowed ISIS to take over parts of Iraq and Syria and who early this year was dismissing it as a JV team.
The scoundrel who lied and claimed that he had defeated Al Qaeda has been reborn again as a patriot who is promising to… defeat Al Qaeda. Even his usual boast of defeating Al Qaeda has been carefully walked back to a claim of having defeated “much of al-Qaida’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.
That brief moment of near honesty is diminished only by the fact that the war on Al Qaeda had moved on to the Middle East long before Obama even took office. It was Obama who decided to divert away from fighting Al Qaeda in the Middle East on a failed attempt to defeat the Taliban and an even more failed attempt to negotiate peace with the “moderate” Taliban.
Obama’s strategy is a kitchen sink approach that promises air strikes for the patriots and multilateral coalitions for the appeasers. There will be coalitions with Sunni Arabs and with a new “inclusive” Iraqi government. There will be coalitions with everyone. A UN session will be chaired. Syria will be bombed and “terrorists who threaten our country” will be hunted down.
And all of it will happen without a single American soldier being put at risk.
It’s an utterly incoherent and calculatedly unobjectionable speech by a failing politician that fails to address why we’re in this mess and what past policies we have to rethink to get out of it.
In a telling sign, Obama’s giant goodie bag of ISIS proposals also includes … arming ISIS.
“Across the border in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I again call on Congress, again, to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters,” Obama said. “We must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”
It was the Syrian crisis that turned ISIS into an army. Some of the groups now loyal to ISIS once fought alongside the Syrian opposition that he would like to arm. Some still do.
Not only does Obama know this, but he refrained from fully committing to arming the Syrian rebels precisely because there was no way to do so without risking the weapons falling into the hands of ISIS.
Hillary Clinton wrote in “Hard Choices” that he had refused to arm the rebels. Last year Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had testified that Obama had vetoed a proposal to provide weapons to them.
At a press conference Obama had said, “We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition, and you know, one of the things that we have to be on guard about — particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures — is that we are not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks that would do Americans harm.”
Reports in the New York Times suggested that the administration had not been able to find any “moderates” who could safely be armed with heavy weapons because the actual fighters on the ground are all Islamic Jihadists.
Now Obama is not only reversing one of the few sensible things he did and championing a policy that he knows quite well is wrong, but is also attempting to make Congress complicit in his destructive folly.
Obama was willing to give F-16 jets to the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. If he was holding off on heavy weapons transfers to the Jihadists in Syria, it was because he knew that there was a very high risk that those weapons would end up being used against Americans. And that he would pay a political price.
ISIS became much more lethal when it acquired American equipment that had been provided to the Iraqi military. ISIS allies in Syria had already been photographed with American humanitarian aid and when the Jihadists of the Islamic Front turned on the Free Syrian Army that is the typical vector for US aid, it easily seized their supplies and warehouses.
While the FSA isn’t ISIS, parts of it are aligned with ISIS and the other parts are jockeying for power.
Some Jihadist commanders with the FSA and other non-ISIS groups fight ISIS and its allies. Others are its allies. Telling them apart is hard even with a map and a room full of charts. Fighters drift back and forth. The “moderate” Syrian rebel that we arm and train today will be the “extreme” terrorist tomorrow and there is absolutely no way to tell where a weapon that we provide will end up.
Arming the Syrian opposition is the same thing as arming ISIS. The Syrian Jihadists fighting it don’t “reject its extreme ideology” as much as they’re angling for their piece of the Caliphate. The Al Nusra Front was fighting ISIS before it pledged allegiance to ISIS. The Sunni opposition consists of a lot of wannabe Caliphs trying to collect enough bakeries and oil wells to cash in for a Caliphate.
Obama insisted once again in his speech that ISIS is not Islamic. “No religion condones the killing of innocents… ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”
The vision of Islam, past and present, has been the slaughter of all who stand in the way of the religion’s supremacy. But the attempt to portray ISIS as a unique entity that is detached from all other Islamic terrorist groups is a misleading effort to justify an incoherent policy.
“These terrorists are unique in their brutality,” Obama claimed. “They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide.”
There isn’t anything unique about these things. Wahhabi Jihadists have been doing all of them for centuries. And these tactics date back to Mohammed.
ISIS isn’t unique in its brutality. It’s unique in its successes. And its successes can be credited to Obama’s Arab Spring and his refusal to admit that his policy of ignoring Iraq had failed.
“America is safer,” Obama claims. But that’s a lie.
America is less safe than ever. Not just because of ISIS, but because of a leadership that allows such crises to become severe threats because it refuses to address what they really are.
Obama’s speech promises action against ISIS while denying what it is. If Obama follows through on his policy, instead of defeating ISIS, he will arm it. It’s an old mistake being repeated all over again.
We can’t defeat terrorists by arming terrorists.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.