In his 2012 re-election campaign, President Obama repeatedly said that al Qaeda’s terrorist forces were “decimated” and we “had them on the run.”
But the events of the past few days demonstrated anew what we’ve known for a long time. Al Qaeda metastasized into larger terrorist groups that have grown stronger and more deadly — striking at the heart of Europe, blowing up a Russian passenger jet in Egypt, and plotting right now to attack America.
Mr. Obama, who won a second term to a large degree on his naive victory claim, had misjudged the powerful reach of the Islamist death squads that have declared war on the civilized world.
Now he is coming under renewed criticism for having underestimated the threat posed by the Islamic State that left a blood-soaked trail of carnage through Paris.
Speaking at a news conference Monday in Antalya, Turkey, where he was attending the Group of 20 summit to deal with the crisis, Mr. Obama was besieged by critical questions that raised doubts about his response to ISIS, and the war in Iraq and Syria.
He had long resisted taking any action in Syria where ISIS and its allies were making gains, gathering strength, and, it was reported, plotted its attack in Paris.
Had he waited too long, when all appeared lost, before approving air attacks against the Islamic State’s supply lines and their encampments? Yet he stood by his go-slow military policies and ISIS grew more menacing than ever.
“Let me try one last time,” a clearly frustrated Mr. Obama told reporters,” adding that it was going to take years and there were going to be setbacks.
“The strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that is ultimately going to work, he said. “But as I said, it is going to take time.”
But his critics are saying that his delayed response was not only flawed from the beginning, he didn’t believe ISIS was as dangerous as they turned out to be.
“The White House has never taken the jihadist threat seriously,” said Eliot Cohen,” a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a foreign policy adviser under President George W. Bush.
“Do they have a comprehensive plan that really leads to the destruction of the Islamic State in a couple of years? I don’t think they can plausibly say yes,” Mr. Cohen told The Washington Post.
In fact, Mr. Obama admitted as much, saying there will be no new changes in his policy. “There will be an intensification of the strategy we put forward, but the strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work,” he told reporters.
No change in our battle strategy? That’s a strange and even reckless admission to tell an enemy bent on killing as many Americans as it can.
Why not keep them guessing? Why not make it clear that if anyone threatens the United States and its people, they will pay a price and be brought to justice?
And then there was this ill-timed decision by Mr. Obama — carried out over the weekend — when five Yemeni men, who were suspected of having ties to al Qaeda, were removed from the U.S. terrorist prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and sent to the United Arab Emirates.
Mr. Obama has long proposed shutting down Guantanamo. He has been blocked by Congress, though he has the authority to transfer prisoners and has taken advantage of it. Nine of them have been transferred to other countries since September.
Meantime, French warplanes late Sunday immediately launched what was described as “a ferocious retaliatory assault” on military targets in Raqqa, Syria, ISIS’s de facto capital.
The French aircraft dropped more than 30 bombs on key military facilities, including a war command center, a training site, and an arms depot. They got the message.
But by now it is painfully clear that the terrorist threat is far more dangerous than ever, despite Mr. Obama’s boasts in the 2012 presidential election. And it’s going to get worse, much worse, top U.S. intelligence officials say.
CIA Director John Brennan said Monday that the attacks in Paris were part of a much broader Islamic State plan to export terrorism throughout the West, especially the United States.
“Not content to limiting its killing fields to Iraq and Syria, ISIL has developed an external operation agenda it is now implementing with lethal effect,” Mr. Brennan said in remarks at a conference in Washington sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The attacks in Paris and on the Russian airliner “bear the hallmarks of terrorism carried out by the so-called Islamic State an organization of murderous sociopaths,” he said.
So far, no one would disagree that Mr. Obama has utterly failed to deal with the threat that terrorism poses for our country and its future safety.
And it isn’t just the Republicans who are condemning the administration’s record on the worst national security threat of our time.
Listen to former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in last week’s debate with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“I think what the president has consistently said — which I agree with — is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS. But this cannot be an American fight .”
Mr. O’Malley disagreed. “This actually is America’s fight . America is best when we are standing up to evil in this world,” he said. But he added that “we are not so very good at anticipating threats .”
That threat is real and we’re its next target. We had better get prepared for it, together with our allies.
Mr. Obama said just a few hours before the Paris attacks that we have “contained” the advance of the Islamic State.
Besides being outrageously wrong, containment is not a war policy to preserve our liberty. It is a plan of surrender and defeat.
• Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.