- - Monday, November 23, 2015


When a president goes abroad to defend his strategy for defeating an enemy — and the right word here is “enemy,” not “rival” or “adversary” — it’s a concession that whether he says it explicitly or not, his strategy has failed. Even members of his own party have at last put partisan loyalty aside and openly challenged the president’s failed “leadership from behind.”

Worse, the president gives every indication that he will continue his present “strategy.” The strategy, such as it may be, is counter-insurgency, which prescribes low-level engagement of the forces of the Islamic State, or ISIS or ISIL, on the assumption that ISIS terrorism is a local blow-up limited to the Middle East.

From abroad, he repeatedly urges Americans not to panic in the face of the brutal Paris massacres of a week earlier, and the subsequent discovery of other such plots in Belgium and France. If he had been here he would have seen there is no panic, nor any signs of panic. What he describes as panic is legitimate concern, rightly expressed. He does rightly caution that the aim of ISIS is to destabilize Europe and America with fear and terror.

Mr. Obama assured the world that his response to ISIS would continue measured and subtle. He pointed with a certain measure of pride to his bombing of oil trucks. He repeated earlier assurances to the enemy that he had alerted operators of the truck fleet that the bombers would be coming.

Mr. Obama said the rumors were wrong that he had sent word to his intelligence officers to send him only good news. But what the president and his advisers won’t face up to is that whatever ISIS was even a few months ago, it no longer is. It has blossomed into a full-fledged ministate, replete not only with a ruling bureaucracy, a partially professional military, with cadre from the old Saddam Hussein regime, with highly professional propaganda. Furthermore, with the help of black market operations through Turkey, ISIS has considerable revenues from oil fields under its control.

Most threatening is that ISIS has demonstrated an ability to deliver terrorist acts in one of the world’s most sophisticated cities and gain followers and “soldiers” from Muslim countries in Africa and Asia as well as the Middle East. This growing prestige, with an appeal to the young, will pose an enormous burden on Western security forces when they return to their native countries.

Mr. Obama’s reference to the bombing of the oil trucks begs the question of why this limited operation had not been carried out in the year when the administration undertook its half-hearted conflict with ISIS. In fact, with only about five bombing strikes a day — compared to 1,200 daily raids during Operation Iraqi Freedom — the president’s aerial war defines anemic.

The Obama administration has settled for a long, tedious and inconclusive conflict with ISIS, and time is on the side of ISIS. With a sanctuary for its military, a remarkably competent Internet propaganda offensive and a lot of money, the terrorists will only broaden their appeal to those who aspire to evil throughout worldwide Islam. President Obama won’t easily admit the error of his judgment and adopt a real strategy, but he must, or else the future looks dark and grim.

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