Obama’s Astrategic ISIS Strategy

The plan won't achieve achieve its stated goals.

obama-contemplating

The more considered version of my reaction to President Obama’s ISIS speech, “Whack-a-Mole: Obama’s Real ISIS Strategy,” has posted at The National Interest.

This “new” policy, then, is simply the logical continuation of Obama’s existing ISIL nonstrategy and, indeed, his general counterterrorism strategy of blowing up the bad guys and hoping they get tired of it eventually. We could call it the Global War on Terror, but, alas, that name’s been taken. Furthermore, it’s not at all obvious what more the United States can or should do to destroy ISIL. The threat to the homeland is too tangential at present to warrant the proverbial boots on the ground. So, it’s Whack-a-Mole with no end in sight.

But, ultimately, it’ll at best accomplish the president’s goal of degrading ISIL. As we’ve learned again and again, the only way to “destroy” such a movement is to change the political conditions that created it in the first place. That’s not achievable with airpower. Nor, as we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan, is it achievable even with a substantial American ground presence, unless we’re willing to invest far more time and resources than public opinion has been able to tolerate in the past.

[…]

Given that our policy objectives are at cross purposes, it’s impossible to craft a strategy that will achieve them. And, as much as it may sound like it, that’s not a criticism of this president or even of U.S. foreign policy writ large. We’re a global superpower with overlapping interests that frequently don’t match up well with the geopolitics of the regions in which we have interests. We’re not going to choose between the Sunnis and Shiites any more than we’re going to choose between the Arabs and Israelis. But that means we’re going to continue muddling through from crisis to crisis, forced to “do something” about the worst of them, without resolving any of them.

As frustratingly ineffective as Whack-a-Mole is as a tactic—it ain’t a strategy—it may well be the best course of action available to us.

It occurred to me in bandying the speech around in the comments section of my initial posting on this and then again in class yesterday with a group of field grade military officers, is that my frustration with the speech is much more with the speech itself than the policy. That is, the president is taking prudent moves to contain a legitimate threat to US national interests while minimizing the risks commensurate to the threat to the homeland. At the same time, the moves don’t live up to the rhetoric in the speech about “defeating” ISIL and all the talk about regional partners is just silly. But that’s mostly an unfortunate byproduct of the need to sell the action to an American public divided into its historical Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian, Jacksonian, and Wilsonian strains. The rhetoric almost always exceeds our aims because of that.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Published Elsewhere
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Eric Florack says:

    so, in other words, he’s kicking the can down the road.

  2. steve says:

    I am much more interested in actions than what he says, so I am ok with his plan. I think that this is simply the best we can do given our limits, though I would be happy if we did even less.

    James- From comments I have heard from current AD officers or those who have recently left, there seems to be a common feeling that another large scale troop deployment would be very hard to do.

  3. Todd says:

    I think President Obama’s initially admitting that we have no strategy (because there is no “good” answer) was much more honest. As you point out though, domestically that’s just unacceptable. John McCain and Dick Cheney will go on TV to proclaim that they were “right” all along, and a depressingly large chunk of the American public will nod their head’s yes, and take to Facebook to lament our “weak” President. I suppose now that I’m retired military instead of active duty, I should at least be thankful that I won’t have to directly suffer the consequences of what the ill-informed public wants … there will be plenty more boots on the ground before this is all done. Sadly, I’m almost positive that it’s not what the President wants to do, but since he can’t do nothing, he’ll be forced to do more and more of “something”.

  4. Eric Florack says:

    @steve: perhpas in the short term, youd be happier.
    maybe.
    In the end, decidedly not.

    and, ‘our limits”?
    Are we speaking of genuine limitations, or the ones being imposed on us by a reluctant leadership?

  5. michaelismoe says:

    At the same time, the moves don’t live up to the rhetoric in the speech

    They can carve that in marble above the entrance to the Obama Presidential Library. It’s a salient synopsis of his entire presidency.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    Many months ago Peggy Noonan, or someone like her, wrote that Obama has no guiding doctrine, no fixed principles. That he’s just reacting to events and implementing ad hoc solutions as problems arise. I forget which lefty blogger to credit with responding, ‘That’s all true. But she says it like it’s a bad thing.’

  7. michaelismoe says:

    @gVOR08:

    Well, if you wanted a guy with no fixed principles, a guy who’s reactive rather than proactive, Obama’s your man!

  8. stonetools says:

    You know, overnight my mind has changed on this. It seems plain now that a lot of people (including NATO allies like Turkey and Germany) still do not consider ISIL a serious threat. So I am going to concede that I am wrong and now that now is is not the time to intervene.This does not change my mind about whether we WILL eventually intervene. I think ISIL shows every sign of becoming bigger, tougher and meaner over time and that unchecked, it will become a danger to US interests both here and abroad. But some good people think the time is not yet. Others think the USA is so incompetent at intervention that it should never intervene abroad ever.( They don’t say that exactly but set the bar for intervention at conditions that can’t be met in the real world).
    Bottom line: I think we are going to have to wait till ISIL is at the gates of Riyadh or another US city goes up in flames before the non-interventionists conclude that we should do anything about ISIL.
    Now that’s fine by me, but if that happpens, we will then have to intervene big time. We’ll be sending in the 82nd Airborne, not just F-15s. And the debate will then be whether we should have done something earlier. Oh well, let’s revisit the issue in another couple of Friedman units (about a year) and see how it turns out.

  9. Moosebreath says:

    ” That is, the president is taking prudent moves to contain a legitimate threat to US national interests while minimizing the risks commensurate to the threat to the homeland. At the same time, the moves don’t live up to the rhetoric in the speech about “defeating” ISIL and all the talk about regional partners is just silly.”

    Unfortunately, the Washington consensus is already looking for ways to make the actions greater to follow the rhetoric. This morning on NPR, they interviewed several think-tank types about the next steps, and all were advocating adding boots on the ground (starting in the single digits of thousands) as advisors attached to Iraqi combat groups as well as special forces. I sincerely hope Obama will resist this.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @michaelismoe: The word you’re looking for is “pragmatic”, and yes, that is what I want.

    Especially in contrast to some idiot cowboy stomping around the world trying to show he’s macho. Which is what caused this mess.

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    @stonetools: My objection as well – Obama seems to have put together a coalition of those unwilling to actually do anything and those members are all more threatened by ISIL than the US. Turkey’s position is especially concerning. This notion of training and arming the so called “moderate Syrian opposition” is a fools errand – a Don Quixote moment. The only group in Syria that has any chance of defeating ISIL is the army of the Assad government. Many of the victories in Iraq have been the result of Shiite militias supported by Iran. My thinking is we should continue to support the Kurds but to hell with the rest.

  12. Mu says:

    As long as the US refuses to go after the people who actually finance AQ, ISIS and all their local affiliates nothing will change. But as those financiers sit in Qatar and Saudi Arabia nothing will happen, again.

  13. Scott says:

    @stonetools: This is what I’ve been saying. If the Turks and the Saudi don’t feel the threat enough to actually commit to fighting, I see no reason to go out of our way to help them. They have hundreds of modern tanks, jets, and other military equipment but won’t use them.

    I firmly believe we need to pivot to Iran in the region.

  14. Barry says:

    James: “That is, the president is taking prudent moves to contain a legitimate threat to US national interests while minimizing the risks commensurate to the threat to the homeland. At the same time, the moves don’t live up to the rhetoric in the speech about “defeating” ISIL and all the talk about regional partners is just silly. But that’s mostly an unfortunate byproduct of the need to sell the action to an American public divided into its historical Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian, Jacksonian, and Wilsonian strains. The rhetoric almost always exceeds our aims because of that.”

    Screw that ‘ Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian, Jacksonian, and Wilsonian strains’ sh*t:

    There wasn’t a g-d right-winger who had a problem with Bush botching the war – ask those officers you work with about that, and see how many zip their lips before criticizing a Republican President.

    In addition, if you notice, 90% of the sh*t is precisely that, coming from the same crew of liars, wh*res, hacks, warmongers and Israeli agents who talked the US into Iraq over 10 years ago.

  15. Barry says:

    @stonetools: ” It seems plain now that a lot of people (including NATO allies like Turkey and Germany) still do not consider ISIL a serious threat. So I am going to concede that I am wrong and now that now is is not the time to intervene.This does not change my mind about whether we WILL eventually intervene. I think ISIL shows every sign of becoming bigger, tougher and meaner over time and that unchecked, it will become a danger to US interests both here and abroad. But some good people think the time is not yet.

    The big thing is that the circle of enemies around ISIS is a circle of enemies to each other, and are also happy to use ISIS and suchlike against each other, and to let others do the work and take the hits.

    “Others think the USA is so incompetent at intervention that it should never intervene abroad ever.( They don’t say that exactly but set the bar for intervention at conditions that can’t be met in the real world).”

    Those people are rarer than hens’ teeth. Actually having serious conditions before going to – you know – war, is not a bad thing, and badly needed in a country whose establishment is so clearly devoted to going to war.

  16. Barry says:

    @Ron Beasley: “Obama seems to have put together a coalition of those unwilling to actually do anything and those members are all more threatened by ISIL than the US. Turkey’s position is especially concerning”

    Right now the Coalition of Back-Stabbing B_stards is the only one that we have.

    I’m hoping that Obama understands what he’s working with, and keeps them from using us too much.

  17. Robert C says:

    So let me get this straight. Obama and his R2P crowd push us close to a shooting war with Russia over non-NATO Ukraine…Ukraine!?…yet NATO member Turkey is ambivalent towards ISIS, some would say sympathetic, and we still deal with them. Asinine.

    RC

  18. Rafer Janders says:

    @stonetools:

    Bottom line: I think we are going to have to wait till ISIL is at the gates of Riyadh or another US city goes up in flames before the non-interventionists conclude that we should do anything about ISIL.

    Another US city? A US city hasn’t gone up in flames since Atlanta in 1864 — and that was done by us.

    And I write that from downtown Manhattan, within view of the old WTC site and a day after the memorial services that I attended. It was a horrible but isolated attack against a few buildings, not any kind of existential threat.

  19. J-Dub says:

    Jihadists are flocking to the Middle East to fight, which means they are not flocking to the US. As long as we maintain equilibrium among the groups that are fighting each other over there then they won’t turn their sights on our homeland, at least not at the level of 9/11.

    Bush&Co. started the fire and now President Obama throws a log on once in a while. Could that be the unspoken truth of the situation?

  20. Another Mike says:

    @gVOR08:

    Especially in contrast to some idiot cowboy stomping around the world trying to show he’s macho. Which is what caused this mess.

    Is this the idiot cowboy you are referring to?

    President Bush: Thank you all. I want you all to know — it [bullhorn] can’t go any louder — I want you all to know that American today, American today is on bended knee, in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn. The nation stands with the good people of New York City and New Jersey and Connecticut as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens

    Rescue Worker: I can’t hear you!

    President Bush: I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!

    Rescue Workers: [Chanting] U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

    President Bush: The nation — The nation sends its love and compassion —

    Rescue Worker: God bless America!

    President Bush: — to everybody who is here. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for makin’ the nation proud, and may God bless America.

    Rescue Workers: [Chanting] U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

  21. gVOR08 says:

    @Another Mike: It’s the day after the anniversary of 9/11. It’s understandable that people are emotional. I realize some may find this out of tune with the day. But WTF did that have to do with invading Iraq? And yes, one speech aside, he was an idiot cowboy. You may also remember that he said we weren’t at war with Islam. But we’re at great risk of that being exactly what he unintentionally lit off.

    If I come off as a little bitter about this, it’s because I am.

  22. Robert C says:

    @Another Mike:

    And…we invade Iraq. Brilliant.

    RC

  23. C. Clavin says:

    @Another Mike:
    And then he invaded Iraq.
    And then he failed to get the people who knocked down the buildings.

  24. stonetools says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    And I write that from downtown Manhattan, within view of the old WTC site and a day after the memorial services that I attended. It was a horrible but isolated attack against a few buildings, not any kind of existential threat.

    Well, isn’t that the issue?

    If the bar for intervention is existential threat(aka Pearl Harbor/911/aliens landing), then you’re essentially saying no foreign intervention absent a major attack on US soil. From what you are hinting, even 911 might not meet the bar since its not an existential threat.
    Now if that’s your position, then that’s your position and you should defend that. Be aware most Americans would prefer we take action against an enemy before thousands of Americans get slaughtered on US soil.

  25. C. Clavin says:
  26. Barry says:

    @Moosebreath: “Unfortunately, the Washington consensus is already looking for ways to make the actions greater to follow the rhetoric. This morning on NPR, they interviewed several think-tank types about the next steps, and all were advocating adding boots on the ground (starting in the single digits of thousands) as advisors attached to Iraqi combat groups as well as special forces. I sincerely hope Obama will resist this.”

    This is rather important – you don’t even have to look hard to see the Permanent State gearing up for a war, with the ‘Liberal Media’ doing its best to sell it.

    At this point, not sticking your d*ck into the sausage grinder is a step above all of the ‘wise men’.

  27. Rafer Janders says:

    @stonetools:

    Well, isn’t that the issue?

    No, that isn’t the issue. The issue is that you said “before…another US city has gone up in flames” when in fact that has never happened since the Civil War. The September 11th attacks, bad as they were (and I work down here) were essentially small-scale given our size and power. It was our reaction to them that was over-sized.

    If the bar for intervention is existential threat(aka Pearl Harbor/911/aliens landing), then you’re essentially saying no foreign intervention absent a major attack on US soil.

    That’s not the bar, and that’s not what I’m essentially saying. I am saying, though, that the bar for intervention should be pretty damn high and should involve (a) some direct national interest and/or threat and (b) a real chance that intervention will make things better and not worse (and given our track record, that’s not likely).

    From what you are hinting, even 911 might not meet the bar since its not an existential threat.

    Well, 9/11 certainly did not meet the bar for an attack on Iraq, which is what we used it for.

    Now if that’s your position, then that’s your position and you should defend that.

    Not my position.

    Be aware most Americans would prefer we take action against an enemy before thousands of Americans get slaughtered on US soil.

    False dichotomy. Those are not the choices here. Those are certainly not the only two choices here.

  28. Rafer Janders says:

    @Another Mike:

    And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!

    And yet a mere six months after the September 11th attacks, Bush said this:

    “Who knows if [Osama bin Laden’s] hiding in some cave or not. We haven’t heard from him in a long time. The idea of focusing on one person really indicates to me people don’t understand the scope of the mission. Terror is bigger than one person. He’s just a person who’s been marginalized. … I don’t know where he is. I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.”

    And then he never did catch him. We had to wait for Barack Obama to get the job done.

  29. anjin-san says:

    @michaelismoe:

    a guy who’s reactive rather than proactive

    “Proactive” action by the last president led to the existence of ISIS in the first place. And all it cost us was thousands KIA, many, many thousands more wounded, and a few trillion dollars.

  30. michael reynolds says:

    James:

    Yeah, I see it basically the same way.

    People yelling “Strategy!” don’t seem to grasp the fact that not every event fits into a neat structure. The notion that we could have sat down five years ago and crafted a strategy that somehow encompassed all of this is absurd. We have a situation where we have countries (Iran and Syria) which now must be both allies and foes; where our allies (Jordan and the KSA) are only marginally less atrocious than our enemies; where the people we’ve trained (Iraq) are essentially useless; where we have a moral obligation to an autonomous region (Kurdistan) that wants to break free of our alleged ally (Iraq) and our long established policy is that Iraq’s territorial integrity must remain inviolate.

    We are all the way into Crazy Town and no strategy was ever going to encompass this. So I know it sounds terribly sophisticated and deep to cry “Strategy!” but in fact it only reveals ignorance of the complexities.

  31. michael reynolds says:

    As I said in the other thread, this is containment without using the word, which would be politically poisonous and damaging to the amour propre of our pathetic client states.

    But basically it’s either contain or obliterate, and obliterate = Marines not just airpower. Not 5% of Americans are up for the kind of major surgery required to impose some overall “strategic” solution, so we’re containing and playing whack-a-mole, and that’s exactly what we should be doing. Mr. Obama played the hand about as well as it can be played.

  32. Ron Beasley says:

    A good article on why we can’t count on or trust the Saudis.

  33. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I think that a lot of pundits and commenters secretly wish for the return of the Cold War world, where there was structure, hierarchy , and everyone knew their place.Learned people could stroke their chin and pontificate as to what Brezhnev or Mao thought, there could be philosophical discussions about the systemic differences between late capitalism and Marxism, there could be whole disciplines dedicated the study of some aspect of the Cold War. You can’t do any of that with the Calvinball now happening in the Middle East.

    Mr. Obama played the hand about as well as it can be played.

    I’ve asked several people now, including at least one academic, if they could come up with a better plan than Obama’s strategy. So far I’ve not gotten a straight answer from anyone.

  34. Steve V says:

    I’m old enough to remember when Clinton’s critics characterized him as being reactive in foreign policy and not having a grand vision or doctrine. Weird how that criticism pops up when a Dem is president.

  35. dazedandconfused says:

    @Steve V:

    Thinkers frequently display wishy washy behavior . Always looking for other options, always suspecting they might be on the wrong track, sometimes deciding they are, even. All their tough decisions are provisional, as the very fact they are tough means the best course isn’t readily apparent.

    I would beg to differ with Todd, I believe Obama has deliberately painted himself on a corner on more boots. There may be a few more boots on the ground, but, barring a spectacular attack on the US or our vital interests, he’s prepared to accept a reality that there is an Islamic State if the nations surrounding them do not take and hold ground and effectively wipe them out while they have our air cover.

    The statements made by Turkey and the rebels should be taken with a grain of salt. They would not wish to be targeted by ISIL until that is unavoidable. Expect some disinformation. Hell, expect a lot.

  36. Another Mike says:

    @Robert C: And…we invade Iraq. Brilliant.

    One of those who thought it was brilliant could be our next president.

  37. Rafer Janders says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    The statements made by Turkey and the rebels should be taken with a grain of salt. They would not wish to be targeted by ISIL until that is unavoidable.

    ISIS holds about three dozen Turkish citizens as hostages; they were mainly Turkish consulate workers who were captured when ISIS overran Mosul. So Turkey is conducting its own, behind-the-scenes game to get those people back and keep them alive, and anything they do publicly should be seen in that context.

  38. Another Mike says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    It was a horrible but isolated attack against a few buildings, not any kind of existential threat.

    I suppose the argument could be made that even if it had been the whole city, it would not be an existential threat.

    Too bad about the people in those buildings though. I guess they don’t fit into the existential picture.

  39. michael reynolds says:

    When people blow up your buildings and your planes, yes, you do have to hit back. In retrospect we should have thought more in terms of punitive retaliation, less in terms of re-making Afghanistan.

    But in order to have the desired educational effect, that retaliation would have had to be so brutal that the Taliban could not shake it off. Something like using nukes to permanently close mountain passes in Pashtun areas. Probably would have ended up killing fewer Afghans and sure would have been cheaper in terms of US lives and treasure, but the world would have called any sufficient reaction an overreaction.

    So we did what we did instead. I think it’s facile to suggest that any choice we made would have been free of blowback and free of criticism. It’s one of the weaknesses of democracy and of a world system of democracies that they are vulnerable to public perception. The winning move was to say to hell with those perceptions, the only perception that matters is that of the Taliban which sheltered Al Qaeda. A genuinely devastating attack would have caused much tut-tutting in the civilized world but would likely have convinced the Taliban that hosting Arab lunatics was not a good idea, and would have made other countries think long and hard as well.

  40. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    Exactly. They have no better plan because this is the best that can be managed under the circumstances.

  41. Rafer Janders says:

    @Another Mike:

    Too bad about the people in those buildings though. I guess they don’t fit into the existential picture.

    Between you and me, one of us works in downtown Manhattan extremely close to the former towers, volunteered downtown for weeks after the attack, has many friends, family members and colleagues who had loved ones in the towers that day, and spent much of yesterday before and after work wandering around the memorial site and remembering those days.

    It’s not you, so smarmy, unctuous, and creepy gloating about the value of those lives and what their sacrifice means aren’t really needed.

  42. Another Mike says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    It’s not you, so smarmy, unctuous, and creepy gloating about the value of those lives and what their sacrifice means aren’t really needed.

    Right. Climb on that moral high horse of righteousness. Those of us not in NYC and on the East Coast have no business claiming any loss in this attack on our country. And who was it that was talking about just a few building and not an existential threat?

  43. gVOR08 says:

    @Another Mike: One, you had a chance to be gracious.

    Two, “existential – Of, or relating to existence.” – Wiktionary.

    Al Qaeda has never been a threat to the existence of the US. Not even to the prosperity, independence, or freedom of the US. Only our over-reaction to it has been a threat to our freedom.

  44. Another Mike says:

    @gVOR08:

    Al Qaeda has never been a threat to the existence of the US. Not even to the prosperity, independence, or freedom of the US.

    So your premise is that it was not an existential threat, so we had no business retaliating because it was not an existential threat? It was just a matter of a few buildings after all, and not that big of a deal in the scheme of things?

  45. Another Mike says:

    @michael reynolds:

    In retrospect we should have thought more in terms of punitive retaliation, less in terms of re-making Afghanistan.

    Isn’t that the way it started out? Then we decided that since we were settling scores, we might as well include Hussein in Iraq. He was a very bad actor and had been causing us and the UN problems for a decade defying UN resolutions, etc. Then we decided to rebuild the countries and hold elections and create democratic governments and got ourselves in deeper and deeper.

    We never understood much about Islam and Islamic societies then, and that holds true even today.

  46. anjin-san says:

    @ Another Mike

    Those of us not in NYC and on the East Coast have no business claiming any loss in this attack on our country.

    Really dude, stop digging. No one said anything even close to that.

    Then we decided that since we were settling scores, we might as well include Hussein in Iraq. He was a very bad actor and had been causing us and the UN problems for a decade defying UN resolutions,

    Ummm. No. We were told there was an imminent threat to the US from Iraq’s WMD. Turned out to be total BS. As far as I can tell, the war was fought so that Halliburton could make money.

  47. Slugger says:

    The policy will not achieve its stated goals because the stated goals are not the real goals. This is all about our internal politics which is the reason the rest of the world is not rushing to join the party.

  48. DrDaveT says:

    @stonetools:

    From what you are hinting, even 911 might not meet the bar since its not an existential threat.

    Of course it wasn’t an existential threat, nor even a major threat.

    In the US, ten times as many people as were killed in the 9/11 attacks die every year in car accidents.
    A similar number die of accidental poisoning or exposure to noxious substances.
    Slightly fewer die in accidental falls.

    That’s a total of about 25 times as many people PER YEAR (not just once 13 years ago) dying from causes that are so far down our priority list we don’t even think about them very often. I could make that number much larger by adding in even more causes we don’t care enough about to try to mitigate more than we currently do. How long do you think it’s going be before ISIL poses that kind of threat to the US, even if we do absolutely nothing?

  49. DrDaveT says:

    @stonetools:

    I’ve asked several people now, including at least one academic, if they could come up with a better plan than Obama’s strategy. So far I’ve not gotten a straight answer from anyone.

    This is the key. I keep waiting for an actual concrete suggestions from SOMEONE that would be better than the plan on the table. Nobody has one.

    McKeon gave a speech somewhere last week that he billed as his alternative for what we ought to be doing in addition to the President’s plan, which he thought didn’t go far enough. I read the speech — minutes of my life that I will never get back — and found that it did not contain a single actual proposed action. What it contained were goals, mostly unachievable in the real world. “We should accomplish this, and involve those people, and achieve this over here, and get X and Y to work together, and…” Total crap. If we knew how to do those things, we would be doing it.

    Florack knows everything, and he thinks we should be doing more. Let’s hear what more he thinks we should be doing…

  50. DrDaveT says:

    @Another Mike:

    So your premise is that it was not an existential threat, so we had no business retaliating because it was not an existential threat?

    I know you can read better than that, so this must be a deliberate bait-and-switch. Stop it. He said no such thing, and you know it.

    What he also didn’t say, but I will, is that because it was not an existential threat, nor even a significant threat, to our prosperity and way of life, we should not have set about shifting our entire polity toward being a wannabe police state, and spending trillions of dollars that we don’t have and desperately need for more important things, in an effort to make sure it never happens again.

    As a nation, we would be far better off today if we had endured another five 9/11-scale attacks and avoided the Iraq war and the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act. That’s scary.

  51. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @DrDaveT: This is the key. I keep waiting for an actual concrete suggestions from SOMEONE that would be better than the plan on the table. Nobody has one.

    One problem is that we have a natural ally who would be very helpful in getting rid of ISIS. Unfortunately, that particular ally is 1) someone Obama was threatening to kill recently, and 2) very mindful of what happened to Kadaffy, who trusted the US and rehabilitated himself on the world stage. So we can’t exactly coordinate with Bashar Assad in getting rid of ISIS.

    Obama, like in Libya, saw that the leader was a bad guy, and there was a move to oust him, so he threw the US behind the rebels. And in neither case did he think it through enough to even ask “are we sure these guys are gonna be any better than the leader we don’t like, or are they likely to be even worse?”

  52. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    So we can’t exactly coordinate with Bashar Assad in getting rid of ISIS.

    …and so you, too, choose to whine about what someone might have tried to do in the past (without any concrete specific actions named or reason to think they would have succeeded), rather than propose something we could actually do now.

    I know the problem is hard. If you don’t have anything to suggest NOW, though, stop whining. The game of “Things would be better if he hadn’t…” leads inexorably back to Bush and Cheney, but that’s not going to help us figure out what to do NOW either.

  53. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @DrDaveT: A LOT of us said, at the time, that attacking Kadaffy was a bad idea, that it very likely could make things worse in the future. We were right.

    A lot of us also said, at the time, that attacking Assad was a bad idea, that it could make things worse in the future. Obama didn’t actually attack Assad, despite his “red line” and threats to do so, but in this case, it was the thought that counted. Oh, and we were right about that, too.

    This isn’t a case of hindsight, Dave. This is a case of “we told you so.” And considering how many times I’ve been told, essentially, that unless I’m willing to concede that Bush was totally wrong and lied us into a pointless war in Iraq and should be tried as a war criminal and hanged, I have no business saying anything, I’m going to enjoy reminding people that this is pretty much what a lot of us said would happen.

    And it lets me challenge those who might support Obama’s next bad idea, as they were all gung-ho about bombing Libya and Syria.

    Plus, maybe someone has an idea about how to get Assad to agree to cooperate with us against ISIS. God knows simply telling him Obama promises to be nice in the future won’t do a damned thing.

  54. dazedandconfused says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But in order to have the desired educational effect, that retaliation would have had to be so brutal that the Taliban could not shake it off. Something like using nukes to permanently close mountain passes in Pashtun areas. Probably would have ended up killing fewer Afghans and sure would have been cheaper in terms of US lives and treasure, but the world would have called any sufficient reaction an overreaction.

    I agree with the sentiment, but I am very much in doubt that Bin Laden let his Taliban hosts in on the plot before he did it, and may have only sort of confessed it in his broadcast of deep apology at Tora Bora. The Pashtun are bound by their honor code of Pashtunwali to defend guests, and many reports have surfaced of them working to swing an honorable way to hand him over.

    A great many of our own experts felt conflating AQ and the Taliban was a mistake, and indeed never did so. McChystal and Petraeus didn’t make it. The reason many of those folks thought an effort should be made to transform Afghanistan was that a strong central government can be
    an important factor in preventing the place from being used as a “safe haven” again. Not entirely wrong about that, even though it can backfire.

  55. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Obama didn’t actually attack Assad, despite his “red line” and threats to do so, but in this case, it was the thought that counted. Oh, and we were right about that, too.

    It was the red-line and saber rattling that convinced Assad to dismantle (at least mostly) his chemical weapons stockpiles and cease using them on his own people. Did you mean something else by this? Because that doesn’t seem to support your point.