- - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama still doesn’t have any idea of what to do about the Islamic State — the barbarians usually called ISIS — but a growing number of Democrats and Republicans in Congress do. They’re determined to take the conduct of the war out of the president’s hands. If this is what his administration has come to, Mr. Obama has nobody to blame but himself.

The beheading of a second American by ISIS has finally angered Congress. The first noise from Congress came from a Democrat, Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“The beheading of [Steven] Sotloff really just brings back [the realization] that we are dealing with a dangerous adversary … Congress must play a vital role, and we are determined [to] lead the way. We believe that before the president can continue beyond the 60 days of airstrikes in Iraq or any place else, he would have to come to Congress and present a strategy for defeating ISIS and put it up for a vote by the beginning of next month.”

Rep. Edward R. Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the committee, who represents a district south of Los Angeles, says the committee must see a strategy and hear how the president intends to pursue it. “We cannot dither, we cannot just twiddle our thumbs, or wait and see. We have to act, and we have to act soon.” The hour is late, but getting started late is better than not getting started at all.

The War Powers Act, under which Mr. Obama notified Congress of his airstrikes in early August, gives the president 60 days to wage war before Congress must give final authorization. A growing caucus in Congress is not unhappy that he is waging war against ISIS, but that he is not waging much.

Mr. Obama, whose statement that “we don’t have a strategy yet” was remarkably feckless even for him, continues his passive determination to lead from behind. When he dispatched an additional 350 troops to Baghdad this week, the White House took pains to say they were sent only to protect diplomats and “after an extensive interagency review” the additional forces “will not serve in a combat role.” But why tell the barbarians that?

The president’s cultivated impotence is catching. The administration couldn’t even condemn the beheading of Mr. Sotloff without an asterisk. Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesman, took a question about the beheading but said, “I don’t want to put any labels on this.” Why not? The rest of the civilized world does.

The president never seems to run out of bottom lines that never touch bottom. “The bottom line is this,” he told reporters Wednesday, “Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy [ISIS], so that it is no longer a threat.” Degrade and destroy sounded too much like a promise to “man up,” so he later added still another caveat. “We know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink [ISIS’] sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its military capability to the point where it is a manageable problem.”

The president’s conflicting words were plain enough. He still has no strategy to fight a grave and mortal threat to the United States.

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