Why the shock at President Obama’s confession that he doesn’t have a strategy to deal with Syria and ISIS?
Here’s the deal: a strategy—be it diplomatic or military or a combination of the two—can only be developed after a president decides what the policy objective is to be. His job is to decide what the desired result of a strategy is supposed to be, and our military leaders and diplomats are supposed to craft strategies to achieve that result. Unless and until Obama decides what result he wants to reach in Syria and Iraq—or in Ukraine, the South China Sea, or anywhere else for that matter—no one can create a strategy to produce that result.
It may be that Obama is afraid of making such policy decisions. Or it may be what it appears: that Obama’s most fundamental policy decision is not to make the decisions essential to defending our interests or the freedom of our allies. Regardless, you can’t have a strategy without the predicate policy decision.
The military is a heavily armed problem solver. You want to destroy ISIS’s ability to fight? Yeah, we can do that. It’ll take x amount of actionable intelligence to guide y days of bombing and take Z weeks to do. You want to help Assad fight ISIS? Well, we can do that, too, but it’s a really bad idea, boss. That’s because the idea that the so-called Free Syrian forces could topple Assad is a bad joke. Russia and Iran both have a heavy presence in Syria. Iran has troops fighting for Assad against ISIS. Those nations will control the outcome. Let’s let ’em kill each other to their hearts’ content.
You want to block the Russian invasion of Ukraine instead? We can do that, but let’s help the Ukes in a manner that makes it easier for their forces get the arms and training that they desperately need. Or maybe it’s too late for that. Sending American troops is a bad idea, but doing nothing is worse. Wanna do both ISIS and Ukraine? Okay, let’s plan it out and do it.
During the same appearance at which Obama declared his lack of a strategy, he also showed us that he prefers to avoid making decisions. Russian troops have entered eastern Ukraine. Tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, and troops are engaged in fighting on the side of the Russian-backed insurgents against the free Ukrainian forces, who are badly out-gunned. Yet, when asked whether he would state the obvious—that the Russian invasion was an invasion—he’d only say, “I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now.” As if the two ideas were mutually exclusive.
There is never a mention of all of the diplomatic treaties and agreements—such as the UN charter and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum—that supposedly bar Russia from violating Ukraine’s borders. That’s because the mere mention of them would imply that diplomacy has already failed and that military action might be necessary to protect freedom in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, back in the Kremlin, Putin has taken to labeling eastern Ukraine “Novorossiya,” or “New Russia,” and the Russian-backed insurgents as the “militia” of that “nation.” On Sunday, he called for “talks” concerning the statehood of this newly invented nation, which is entirely of his creation. Putin’s intentions couldn’t be clearer.
Given Obama’s policy—to avoid, at any cost, making the decisions that are necessary to defend America, its vital national security interests, and its allies—there can’t be any strategies and consequently no efforts to defend those interests and allies. Our enemies won’t wait for those decisions, and neither will some of our allies.
We are, as politicians and the media constantly tell us, a war-weary nation. But not in the way or for the reasons they cite. We’ve been through almost thirteen years of war, lost almost 4,500 lives in Iraq and more than 2,300 in Afghanistan, in futile efforts to turn both of those nations into democracies. And while we’ve done so, none— repeat none—of the terrorist groups have been defeated. The Islamofascist ideology that propels them is intact because we haven’t attacked it. And none—again, none—of the nations that sponsor terrorists have been forced to stop doing so.
In short, our wars since 9/11—for all the sacrifices our military has made and for all the money we’ve spent on them—have failed to do what is necessary. Americans do not reject the idea of using military force. As one recent poll said, over 60 percent of Americans favor military action against ISIS. We are weary of endless wars that aren’t fought decisively in a manner calculated to produce victory. We are sick and tired of bad policy decisions, pointless strategies, and tactics that don’t achieve a safer, more prosperous world for our children.
If a president had the desire to win, and made the effort to convince Americans of the need to do so, there would be an outpouring of support, resolution, and willingness to fight. War weariness is the inevitable result of having leaders who don’t see the need to win and a media culture that is more supportive of political correctness than national security.
Later this week, NATO will hold a summit meeting at which Obama will try to gain support for some sort of action against ISIS. John Kerry, in a recentop-ed in the New York Times, said that he and Chuck Hagel will seek to enlist “the broadest possible assistance” to act against ISIS. One of his main points in the article is that America won’t act alone. He says that after the coalition-building attempt at the summit, he and Hagel will go to the Middle East to try to enlist nations in the region to help deal with ISIS.
The coalition Obama and Kerry seek is already formed, but not for the purpose they desire. David Cameron is expected to announce at the NATO summit that Britain and six other nations—a group from which the United States’ absence is conspicuous—have formed a “joint expeditionary force” to bolster the response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. An “expeditionary force” is one that is planned to be deployed abroad. It’s aimed at Ukraine, not Iraq and Syria.
NATO can’t do more. It lacks the military and economic strength to walk in Ukraine and chew gum at the same time in Syria and Iraq.
Kerry ended his article by writing that “Extremists are defeated only when responsible nations and their peoples unite to oppose them.” True enough. But in the context of the NATO expeditionary force being formed without our participation, it boils down to Kerry saying that someone else will have to make the hard decisions and craft the strategies to follow through with them—and that we’ll be glad to hold their coats while they do so.
Obama is succeeding in one thing: he is delaying and dithering long enough to render the hard decisions moot. At least until our enemies make their next moves.