- - Monday, February 9, 2015


Denial is an effective way for dreamers and incompetents to deal with reality. Left to themselves to dream, incompetents are harmless enough, but they become instruments of debacle and disaster when they’re put in charge of anything more complicated than making the coffee or taking out the trash.

President Obama only a fortnight ago promised to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, or the Islamic State, so called. That has turned out to be an undertaking too far. So he changed the order of battle. Now the goal is merely to “defeat” the most determined and most gruesome enemy America and the West have faced on a battlefield that knows no bounds.

The enemy burns captives alive, and according to new findings by the United Nations, crucifies children, buries children alive and uses retarded children as human bombs. “This,” says Secretary of State John F. Kerry, “is what we’re up against.”

But maybe not. Susan Rice, the president’s full-time national security adviser and sometime alter ego, does not agree. “What’s missing here,” she told a Washington audience last week, “is a sense of perspective. Yes, there is a lot going on. Still, while the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they are not of the essential nature we confronted during World War II or during the Cold War. We cannot afford to be buffeted by alarmism and a nearly instantaneous news cycle.”

It’s never clear whether Miss Rice is speaking as the president’s adviser or as his alter ego, but such a remarkable disconnect from reality is frustrating and frightening. She’s entitled to dream, but not on company time. Her remarks are frightening, even terrifying, because they appear to reflect the president’s own thinking.

The president’s vow to “degrade and ultimately destroy” an enemy that deserves to be “destroyed” and no enemy has deserved it more, sounded at the time as too big for the president’s ambition, like a little boy trying to put on his daddy’s long pants. He revised his verbs on reflection, to “degrade and ultimately defeat” the enemy, lest the enemy get the wrong idea about the president’s resolve. There’s a distinction with a big difference.

“Destroying the enemy,” as the military analyst Robert Maginnis explained in these pages, “means we kill all combatants and their means to continue the fight — factories, transportation networks, economy. Defeat could mean a political solution that leaves enemy combatants alive and ready to fight another day.”

In her remarks to a national security conference at the Brookings Institution, Miss Rice put in stark relief the naive and dreamlike incompetence that has guided the administration’s conduct of its “war” on “workplace violence,” or the “distortion of Islam,” or whatever the fashionable definition of terrorism may be this week. She’s waiting for something “existential,” like Pearl Harbor. For anyone guilty of the “alarmism” that worries the White House, Miss Rice offered reassurance. The Obama administration, she says, is moving forward on the great issues of the day. “We believe that all human beings are created equal and worthy of the same love and respect, including our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters.” They’re determined to fix the weather, too.

All worthy goals, no doubt, but surely the survival of the nation and all its people, including those who love and respect the opposite “gender,” deserve consideration, too. The president could begin with the goal of security, and that begins with recognizing an enemy that must be, not merely rebuked and scolded and left to fight again, but destroyed, and left graveyard dead. Nothing else will work.

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