- - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Aha, President Obama, how do you now like “leading from behind”?

When the president first enunciated this hocus-pocus in 2011, political commentator Charles Krauthammer called it neither a theory nor a doctrine. He called it “dithering,” a style devoid of ideas. Instead of the implementation of a doctrine, we have seen indecision, hesitancy, delay. In the aftermath of that delay, it is too late to prevent the carnage, a carnage that did not have to take place. Iraq was stable and relatively peaceful before we led from behind. Now the country is quite possibly lost. Cartographers will be presenting the world with a new map of the area once it has been carved up.

One would think that Mr. Obama has been sweating profusely of late. Possibly he is, in his meetings with the National Security Council, assuming he meets with the group. We know he is flying off to Indian reservations to focus Americans on the plight of Native Americans. He did this on Friday, and he is attending fundraisers. Perhaps he will attempt to focus our attention on the plight of American Gypsies next. How about a fundraiser for American Gypsies? There, he could present his sleek and cool image. No sweat, all is well. Yet back in Baghdad, American diplomats are looking skyward for the helicopters. It might be Saigon circa 1975 all over again.

Why when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) pounced last week were there no American troops in Iraq? In 2011, we were supposedly hammering out a Status of Forces Agreement to keep a residual force of 23,000 troops there. We have done this after World War II, the Korean War and other conflicts. Unfortunately, the hammering out of the agreement ended in bickering and foot-stomping. For one thing, the stupendously disagreeable Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, insisted on having criminal jurisdiction over American forces in Iraq. Rather than negotiate, Mr. Obama did what he had already promised to do. He called American forces home. Now we see the outcome. After a decade of American involvement in Iraq and 4,500 Americans dead, a handful of terrorists — ISIS numbers only in the thousands — are acting like a conquering army and taking whole provinces. The Iraqi army is stripping off its uniforms, to reveal casual dress and trying to blend in with the local citizenry. Not surprisingly, those who are captured in their casual dress are being slaughtered.

Two men are responsible for this disaster, Mr. Obama and Mr. Maliki. Standing together in the White House in a December 2011 ceremony, the president made good on his promise. We were leaving Iraq. Mr. Maliki was triumphal. He had no worries. Iraq was a happy sovereign state under his leadership. Of course, in the months ahead he reneged on all his promises to share power with the Sunnis and the Kurds. The result of these two foolish men’s dithering and, in Mr. Maliki’s case, evading his responsibilities to the Kurds and the Sunnis, we are seeing today.

Retired Gen. John M. Keane explained brilliantly to The Washington Times on Monday what has allowed a small force of well-equipped terrorists to infest Iraq this week: Up until late in 2011, “We had all our intelligence capability there. We knew where the enemy was. We were flying drones. We’re tracking them. We have signals intelligence pouring in, eavesdropping on phone conversations and the rest of it. We’re using our counterterrorism forces to bang against these guys. We’re passing that information to the Iraqis so their commandos can do the same . On a given day that screen went blank.” Mr. Obama led from behind.

Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, Gen. Keane spoke out again. It is not too late to stop ISIS from becoming a conquering army. He counsels bringing in “intelligence architecture” to turn on the intelligence screens that, of a sudden, went blank in Iraq in 2011. Send in “planners and advisers” who will advise “down to division level where units are still viable.” Strike with “counterterrorism” because “special-operations forces should be employed clandestinely to attack high-value ISIS targets.” Finally, Gen. Keane advises using “air power,” which “alone cannot win a war,” but can make it nigh unto impossible for ISIS members to stick their heads out of the sand.

Gen. Keane is my kind of general. He is full of fight and has a strategic plan. Our problem is the guy in the White House.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of the American Spectator, a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author of “The Death of Liberalism” (Thomas Nelson, 2012).