- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2014

Barack Obama spent Thursday in Wales, surrounded by NATO allies, and he borrowed a little courage from David Cameron, the prime minister of Britain, who is fed up with the barbarism of rogue Muslims who have established a thriving nest in his country, incubating terrorists.

In the safety of the shadow of Mr. Cameron, the president was moved to speak in more than mere adjectives about how bad the rogues really are. Words are cheap, and the West is running out of adjectives.

Writing together on the editorial page of The Times of London, they vowed never to be cowed in the face of intimidation. “If terrorists think we will weaken in the face of their threats, they could not be more wrong,” they wrote. “Countries like Britain and America will not be cowed by barbaric killers. We will be more forthright in the defense of our values, not least because a world of greater freedom is a fundamental part of how we keep our own people safe.”

That’s good to hear, though mere words are not likely to be given value by barbaric killers. The venomous murderers of ISIS understand that there are no other “countries like Britain and America,” or, more to the point, no other countries like Britain and America used to be. On the eve of World War II, Winston Churchill, Mr. Cameron’s predecessor in the long ago, described America as “like a giant boiler, once the fire is lighted under it, there is no limit to the power it can generate.” The boiler is still there, but with no fire under it, the steam subsided and the boiler has cooled since Jan. 20, 2009. Mr. Obama arrived at the White House on that day with wet matches, if he has matches at all. Mr. Cameron is no Churchill, but he seems to understand what is at stake for the West and the world. That’s a start, and if President Obama wants to stand next to him, that’s all to the good. Courage, even borrowed courage, can be catching.

Mr. Cameron’s rhetoric was even tougher when he told a somber House of Commons of his “shock and anger” on learning that the executioner of James Foley and Steven Sotloff appeared to be British, identified by his distinctive accent. The British promise to eventually run him down so he can “assist the authorities in their investigation.” The prime minister said ISIS (as the Islamic State is usually known) would be “squeezed out of existence.”

This vow, meant to soothe the disgust and anger of his constituents, is similar to the earlier rhetoric of Mr. Obama, who said his latest “bottom line” is that his “clear objective” is to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. But he was so shocked and awed by the implications of what he had said that he withdrew his promise to “degrade and destroy” and told Ann Compton of ABC News that he only wanted to “shrink” the barbarians into “a manageable problem,” as if reducing an Ebola infection to an outbreak of sniffles.

Mr. Obama’s misfortune is that his constituents have finally got his number, and he can only return to their good graces by transforming himself into something he never was and doesn’t know how to be. The new Gallup Poll finds that only 38 percent of the American voters think he is performing an effective job, the lowest number of his presidency, and a close look at the poll demonstrates that events in the Middle East are largely responsible.

Gallup asked 88,000 voters about their religious faith to see whether there was a connection. At a time when Mr. Obama had on average an approval rating of 43 percent, only Muslims (by 72 percent), atheists (by 59 percent) and Jews (by 55 percent) thought the president was doing an OK job. Only 44 percent of Catholics thought so, 37 percent of Protestants approved — and only 18 percent of Mormons gave him a passing grade. Fair or not, Mr. Obama continues to be dogged by the widespread belief that he is, for whatever reason, soft on Islam.

Hundreds of Muslims have left Britain, France and Germany to join ISIS, and Mr. Cameron wants Parliament to give police authority to seize passports from Islamist suspects and to require airlines to submit passenger lists or their planes won’t be allowed to land in Britain. Since Mr. Obama concedes he doesn’t have a strategy to fight ISIS, he could pick up a few pointers from the prime minister. Presidents and prime ministers who write together fight together.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.