by Rich Lowry • Politico Magazine
President Barack Obama’s stated goal in the fight against the Islamic State, aka ISIL, is to reduce it to a “manageable problem.”
What this means, he hasn’t spelled out in great specificity. Presumably fewer beheadings. A slower pace of Western recruiting. Fewer genocidal threats against embattled minorities. A downgrading of the caliphate to a mini-state, or merely a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.
The evil of ISIL has stirred nearly everyone around President Obama to ringing statements of resolve. Vice President Joe Biden says, “We will follow them to the gates of hell.” Secretary of State John Kerry tweets, “ISIL must be destroyed/will be crushed.”
The president himself? He says it will be “degraded to the point where it is no longer the kind of factor that we’ve seen it being over the last several months.”
Put to the rhythms of Winston Churchill’s famous call to arms in Parliament in June 1940, the Obama posture is, “We shall degrade you, we shall lessen you as a factor, we shall make you manageable, we shall hope that the attention of this great continental nation … turns to something else soon.”
What we have been witnessing the past few weeks, in real time, is the intellectual collapse of Obama’s foreign policy, accompanied by its rapid political unraveling. When Al Franken is ripping you for lacking a strategy against ISIL in Syria, you have a problem.
Obama’s view was that Al Qaeda was holed up in the badlands of Pakistan and you could drone it into submission. Then, if you stopped stirring up hornets’ nests in the Middle East, and demonstrated your good intentions, and pulled entirely out of Iraq and stayed out of Syria, you could focus on “nation building at home” and not worry about places like Mosul and Aleppo.
This, in a nutshell, was the theory of the “don’t do stupid stuff” doctrine.
Every particular was wrong.
Al Qaeda is part of a worldwide ideological movement. You could decimate its “core” in Pakistan, but it would roll on elsewhere.
Whatever we do, the hornets in the Middle East are plentiful and nasty, and hate us just as much.
Our good intentions, as Obama defines them, got us nothing. We elected a president with the middle name of Hussein who did all he could to liquidate George W. Bush’s foreign policy and made outreach to the Muslim world one of his top priorities — yet the terror threat has grown.
We pulled out of Iraq and assiduously stayed out of Syria, and now there is a caliphate stretching across the border that, in the words of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, represents “an imminent threat to every interest we have.”
The hoary hawkish clichés about the stakes in Iraq — repeated over and over again by Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham over the years — proved correct.
In a 2007 interview on “Meet the Press,” McCain argued that “the consequences of failure, in my view, are unlike the Vietnam War where we could leave and come home and it was over.”
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Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.