I majored in biology, not psychology, in college, but I think you can tell a lot about this president by analyzing his body language during this very momentous week.
Let me say right off the bat that I support President Obama’s decision — finally — to step up to the plate and admit we are still in a global war on terrorism. It took far too long for the president to come around, a delay that allowed our enemies to build up their strength, to attract new recruits, to seize territory and hardware to pursue their war against America and the West. But the president was right to authorize airstrikes against the Islamic State, and it appears that events have forced him at last to recognize the stakes of a conflict we can’t avoid.
(It hardly needs to be said that the U.S. military has so far carried out magnificently the mission they have been given. Whatever one’s views of the politics of the conflict, the professionalism and precision with which our armed men and women do their jobs is always a source of amazement for me and should be a source of pride for all Americans.)
The administration also deserved kudos for assembling a coalition of regional Arab states to participate in the military strikes. That was a major diplomatic coup, and the sight of Sunni Arab governments finally going after Sunni Arab terrorists could mark a real breakthrough in the dynamics of the region.
But I couldn’t help but watch the president’s address to the nation Monday night with concern. The president was informing us we were at war, but there was little passion or enthusiasm in his rhetoric or his manner. His heart, to this observer, simply wasn’t in it.
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It’s a strange state of affairs: We have an anti-war president, an anti-war secretary of state in John F. Kerry, even an anti-war defense secretary in Chuck Hagel. The reluctance to fight this war, the clear desire to be dealing with anything else but a direct threat to our national security, are obvious in virtually every public statement they make. We have had presidents who understood in their bones the nature of the threats we face, who brought passion and energy to the task of leading a nation at war. The same can’t be said of the team now in charge.
By contrast, check out the energy and enthusiasm Mr. Obama gave to his first major public address after taking us to war. After ordering American forces into battle, the president traveled to New York to give a talk on — global warming. Here the president’s level of animation and body language told a very different story — this was clearly an issue (however bogus) that the president would much rather be talking about.
The speech itself was the usual mix of bad facts and bad policy ideas. (At one point, the president linked China and the United States as the globe’s “two biggest polluters” — has he stepped outside to compare the quality of the air and water in an American city with a typical Chinese city these days?) He pledged money to other countries to help them fight global warming. He threatened — once again — to go around Congress to impose new regulations and restrictions, trying in effect to impose on our government a treaty that would have no chance of passing the Senate.
It is almost poetic justice that Mr. Obama gave his full-throated cry to fight global warming just as a major new research study conducted in part by NOAA came out, concluding that rising water temperatures in the Pacific Northwest over the past century can all be explained shifting wind patterns. Man-made carbon emissions had nothing to do with it.
That study, and so many others like it, have done nothing to dampen Mr. Obama’s obvious enthusiasm to fight this phantom threat, an enthusiasm that would be better placed fighting terrorists who mean to do us harm.
The war speech and the global warming speech show why it is more important than ever that Congress weigh in on this war, either right away or after the midterm elections. The president does not have the authority to order these airstrikes (and whatever follow-up military action we may face), and our national interest and the plain language of the Constitution demand that the Congress vote.
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When the man leading us into war does so with so much obvious hesitation and second thoughts, it is up to the American people and their elected representatives to show the world our resolve and willingness to lead.
• Tom DeLay, a former congressman from Texas and House majority leader from 2003 to 2005, writes a weekly column for The Washington Times and WashingtonTimes.com.