- - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

One of the critical rules of warfare is to never let the enemy know your plans of how, when and where you will respond.

In what is seen as the worst strategic national-security blunder in the long and bloody struggle against terrorism, President Obama broke that rule when he willingly told the Islamist extremist insurgency last week that he didn’t have a long-term plan to repel their advances in the Middle East.

He gave no sign when he would decide on one to deal with the Islamic State’s terrorist armies in their war in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” he told the world in a news conference last week.

That unbelievable remark made front-page headlines around the world, and drew bloodthirsty cheers from terrorist leaders who have rampaged nearly nonstop across much of Syria, seizing territory and slaughtering thousands, as they continued their war in Iraq right up to the gates of Baghdad — threatening Lebanon, Jordan and other neighboring countries on their list.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Mr. Obama said, adding that any suggestions that “we’re about to go full scale on an elaborate strategy for defeating [the terrorists there or] that we’ll start moving forward imminently that’s not going to happen.”

The Islamic State’s heavily armed forces, who are attracting hordes of young, fiercely Islamist fighters from the West and the Middle East, have been waging a new and more aggressive war, leaving mass graves in their wake. Meantime, Mr. Obama has been worrying about his sinking job-approval polls, raising big bucks for his party and hoping this terrorism thing would go away.

It has interfered with his total-withdrawal policy in Iraq, his dismissal of Syria’s war as something that needed to be addressed diplomatically, and his focus on the midterm elections, which are expected to deliver a damaging blow to his party in November.

Wise and prudent presidents know you must be ready with well-thought-out contingency plans to handle a wide range of potential national-security threats. The threat to our allies in the Middle East has been building for many months.

Yet, incredibly, Mr. Obama admitted at his news conference that he had just asked the Pentagon to prepare a list of possible military options and that he has begun working on broader military, diplomatic and economic plans to work with our allies in the Middle East.

No wonder our allies in the West and the Middle East no longer look to America for leadership in an increasingly dangerous world.

His decision in August to send in fighter planes to help halt the Islamic State’s advancing armies has temporarily helped the Iraqis military in some engagements. Mr. Obama made it clear, though, that such airstrikes were limited and will end at some future date — another signal to the terrorists to hang in there, the air campaign will end soon.

As for Mr. Obama’s statement that the United States doesn’t have any plans to deal with a more radical terrorist menace in Iraq, even that delaying tactic was quickly shot down by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers:

“There have been plans on the table,” the Michigan Republican on “Fox News Sunday” said, “The president just did not want to get engaged in any way.”

Whatever plans the White House comes up with — and they still remain a mystery — Mr. Obama says, “We’re going to have to do that with other partners.” That could require many weeks or months of negotiations and preparations.

Mr. Obama’s delay and dithering over many months has not only angered our allies abroad, but his own party here at home, which is now openly critical of his handling of U.S. foreign policy, including with respect to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I think I’ve learned one thing about this president, and that is he’s very cautious — maybe in this instance, too cautious,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday.

Mrs. Feinstein all but said the White House was asleep at the switch when the Islamic State’s terrorist blitzkrieg sped into Iraq. “I mean, they crossed the border into Iraq before we even knew it happened,” she said.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin brazenly sent still more troops into eastern Ukraine, some of Mr. Obama’s most loyal Democratic allies signaled they were losing patience with his refusal to characterize the war for what it was.

“This is a direct invasion by Russia, and we must recognize it as that,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The New Jersey Democrat, in his toughest remarks yet about Mr. Obama’s handling to the Ukraine crisis, said Mr. Putin had “sized up the West and figured that the most difficult sanctions against Russia and the weapons Ukrainians need to defend themselves [are] not coming from the West.”

Mr. Obama has been twiddling his thumbs and playing politics while Mr. Putin is sending thousands of well-trained troops into eastern Ukraine — in a war of attrition to seize pieces of an independent, neighboring country a little at a time.

It’s certainly clear the White House’s timid sanctions have not and will not deter Mr. Putin from his lunatic dream of restoring a Greater Russia. This is a time for a lot tougher action, the kind that Mr. Obama and the West have not had the courage to take.

The Ukraine military must be given whatever arms and intelligence assistance it needs to drive the Russians back behind their borders. NATO must offer its full support in that offensive.

This is no time to go “wobbly,” the late, great Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, would say. Mr. Obama has “wobbly” written all over his presidency.

Make no mistake about it, if Mr. Putin succeeds in Ukraine, his next takeover targets will be the Baltic states with large Russian minorities. The time to stop him is now.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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