- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Obama foreign policy has long resembled the old Abbott and Costello “who’s on first” routine: a dazed and confused mush of leftist ideology and demonstrable weakness. The left hand hasn’t known what the far-left hand has been doing. Or the far-left hand has had to take the left one out to the woodshed for not being appropriately apologetic or irresolute.

The result? A world aflame, convulsed in violent chaos.

Witness the latest example of the administration’s lack of unit cohesion.

Following last week’s beheading of American photojournalist James Foley by the Islamic State, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a Pentagon briefing about the threat posed by the monstrous terrorist army — a threat once dismissed by their boss, President Obama, as “junior varsity.”

Mr. Hagel rang the clearest possible alarm about the nature of the threat, categorizing the Islamic State as “beyond just a terrorist group.” He went on to say, “They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. Oh, this is beyond anything that we’ve seen. So we must prepare for everything,”

He is, unfortunately, correct.

Given the jihadists’ stunning success in conquering wide swaths of territory across Syria and Iraq, its seizure of U.S.- and Russian-made weapons, including possibly surface-to-air missiles, and its control of oil fields generating an estimated $2 million per day in revenue, the terrorists of the Islamic State are sitting pretty.

It’s a matter of debate as to whether the organization has the capability to strike the U.S. homeland, but it certainly has the intent to do so. Unless it is completely annihilated, it’s just a matter of time before it will be able to carry out an attack here at home. With its sophisticated network of supply lines and support, the Islamic State will continue its forward march, even through setbacks delivered by limited U.S. airstrikes and material support for opposition forces.

Meanwhile, the man sitting next to Mr. Hagel at the briefing, Gen. Dempsey, went even further in his initial comments.

“This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision, which will eventually have to be defeated,” he said. Right on.

Unfortunately, he went on to say, “It is possible to contain them. They can be contained, but not in perpetuity.”

Huh? One thing we know about the most committed jihadis — the networks of which are in almost every corner of the globe — is that they cannot be contained. They will not be contained.

The administration’s current approach is to try to roll back the Islamic State army in Iraq, and although that’s been somewhat successful (in large part owing to the heroism of our Kurdish allies), its limited nature means the organization will be able to adapt and navigate around it.

Further, as Gen. Dempsey indicated, the threat posed by this jihadi army is grave enough to require a more comprehensive strategy, designed not simply to roll it back, but to “defeat” it.

The problem is that almost as soon as Gen. Dempsey made these remarks, he walked them back, referring to the Islamic State as merely a “regional” menace that did not pose an immediate challenge. With a few choice words, he essentially turned the threat he had just called catastrophic and imminent back into a JV squad.

He also slammed the brakes on any sustained bombing campaign in Syria, even after reports surfaced that President Obama was considering it, because, he said, there is no evidence (yet) that the organization is involved in “active plotting against the homeland” or Europe. That doesn’t square with what he had said earlier that the group must be “defeated,” presumably by American military force. It also doesn’t mesh with reports out of Europe this summer, indicating that authorities there have broken up terrorist cells linked to the Islamic State, complete with dozens of arrests, and the seizure of weapons and explosives.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, suggested that a conflicted, antiwar and totally political White House applied pressure on Gen. Dempsey to change his tune.

That’s unclear. What is clear, though, is the tortuous state of confusion of Mr. Obama’s approach to the Islamic State and his foreign policy more broadly.

One day, the terrorist army is a grave threat, the next day it isn’t. One day, the administration is seriously considering cutting off the head of the snake in Syria, but the next day? Not so much.

The sad truth is that Mr. Obama does not want to do anything requiring a sustained and serious strategy to deal with the Islamic State, but he also wants to be able to say, “We warned you.”

Hence, the mixed messages. The Obama team wants its “tough on terrorists” cake and to eat it, too. Unfortunately, we’re not the only ones hearing the muddy messages and seeing the irresolution. The enemy is seeing and hearing them also. So they continue to advance, knowing full well that the only power that can truly stop them — a committed American commander in chief — is knotted up in his own petty politics and destructive ideology.

Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.

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