Obama’s ISIL Speech – First Reaction

The Global War on Terror isn't over after all.


I’ve just finished listening to President Obama’s speech announcing his “strategy” to “degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.”

The first thing I’d note is how much it sounded like any number of foreign policy speeches given by his predecessor.  He declared again and again that, “As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people” and proudly enumerated all the ways that “we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country.” He noted that, “We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia.”

After reminding his countrymen that we’ve ended Bush’s war in Iraq and are “drawing down our forces in Afghanistan,” he declared that, “Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.” The evidence for that was not provided and the notion is rather dubious in the context of a speech explaining why we’ve renewed hostilities in Iraq and why we need to double down. Naturally, without boots on the ground.

The second observation is that it’s still not clear exactly what Obama’s strategy is. His stated political objective is to  “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” but he offered no plan that could plausibly do more than the former.

The president is certainly right that ” ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities.” And it’s not implausible that, “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region – including to the United States.” But his counter-terrorism “strategy” is not a strategy at all. We’re going to be “hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense.” But these are the same Iraqi forces that gave up large swaths of their country to ISIL rather than fight to begin with.

We’re also going to send in another 475 military advisors ”to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.” But we had quite more than 475 American service members doing that for the better part of a decade, with no less than the vaunted General David Petraeus leading the mission at one stretch. Why is this time different?

Third, it’s worth mentioning  that “Iraqi and Kurdish” is an interesting construct at substantial variance with previously announced US policy; the Kurds in question are ostensibly Iraqi. Are we implementing Joe Biden’s “break Iraq into sectarian pieces” strategy now? Maybe: we’re also going to be supporting “Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL control.”

Fourth, the president announced that he’s going to expand the war into Syria and called on Congress to support him. He made it clear that, if they refuse, he’ll do it anyway and that he has “the authority” to do so.

Frankly, this is simply the logical continuation of Obama’s existing ISIL non-strategy and, indeed, his general counter-terrorism 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. That’s rather unsatisfying but it’s not at all obvious what more the United States can or should do to degrade 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.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, National Security, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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.


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    I just did a short post on this over at The Moderate Voice. As I said in that post is it’s “Mission Impossible.” There are no good strategies or answers.

  2. Dave D says:

    To quote one of my senators with whom I don’t always agree: “It’s fear-mongering. It’s what happened after 9/11. ‘Oh my god, they’ve got these planes crashing. Now they’re going to take over America.’ That’s nonsense,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the only lawmaker who unequivocally dismissed the idea that Islamic State militants pose a direct threat to the United States. An indirect threat, yes, he said, but not more.
    “We overreacted to 9/11. Most of the people that did 9/11 were Saudis. Why the hell didn’t we invade Saudi Arabia? There wasn’t one Iraqi involved in 9/11,” Harkin said. “We just keep jumping from one mistake to another. I have a feeling we’re going to do the same thing with [the Islamic State].”

    Where are the doves that swelled the party ranks during the Bush years? If the Sunni states that sponsored ISIS’s beginnings to counter Iranian influence don’t end this “caliphate” America will lose. What more legitimacy could this group gain than whining about a new Crusade against Islam from the nations of “Christendom”? This is a bad idea and bad policy, and a huge disappointment to someone who came of age during the recently “ended” wars. Obama has earned another strongly worded letter from me. And I earn partial vindication for “throwing away” my vote to Dr. Stein in 2012.

  3. Joe says:

    Obama is pandering to a group of voters. That is all.

  4. Stonetools says:

    I can’t think of any better strategy than Whack-a-mole and judging by Twitter, no else can either. But that still isn’t stopping people from attacking such a strategy. When asked for a better plan,


    Sometimes there just aren’t any good options. Such a conclusion isn’t satisfying. But it is at least realistic.

  5. Rondo says:

    The problem of radical Islam is the problem of Islam itself.

    Many are afraid that if Islam is the problem there can be no solution. That terrifies them. So they do all they can to avoid engaging with the evidence that Islam is the problem.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Stonetools: My main issue with the speech is the speech itself. That is, if you don’t have any big announcements, don’t make one. Remember, I’m the guy who defended Obama’s “no strategy” gaffe. It’s a stupid thing to say but, yeah, it’s damned near impossible to have an effective strategy given all the moving parts in the region.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    But these are the same Iraqi forces that gave up large swaths of their country to ISIL rather than fight to begin with.

    While I think this is an item of concern, it’s ultimately a cheap shot and encourages those with a superficial understanding of the issues to treat the foreign policy issues unseriously.

    First, there have been many instances where American troops have gotten their ass-kicked in attacks that have more or less been surprises. I can list some if Joyner wishes, but the ultimate measure of a nation is in its’s response to such events. The real issue though is that the Iraqi response, when it comes, is likely to rely upon sewing religious divisions between Suni and Shi’ite, and thus create the real risk of all-out religious war in the Middle East. American involvement, in some form, frames the conflict as between the forces of civilization and its malcontents, not on religious divides, and tempers the religious conflict.

    I thought the speech, at least the initial parts, was good. ISIS is setting up a proto-state, a/k/a target of convenience, and should be dealt with accordingly. America cannot provide the ultimate resolution, but it can assist in directing it.

  8. @James Joyner:

    I was having the same reaction, but then I remembered the fact that Obama also gave a speech about the Middle East one year ago tonight.

    In fact, you also Insta-Blogged that one.

  9. anjin-san says:

    @ James Joyner

    My main issue with the speech is the speech itself. That is, if you don’t have any big announcements, don’t make one.

    The right wing noise machine was able to create enough pressure on Obama so that he had to “do something” & go on TV to tell everyone he is doing something. Meanwhile, Congress is MIA.

    Is this a good way to run the country? Of course not. But your party has no interest in doing a good job running the country, so here we are.

  10. Eric Florack says:

    Obama’s speech making is well know. he campaigns well… and I suppose this to be little else, tonight. he’s in trouble and knows it.

    But lets get real, here.

    The speech doesnt matter, and changes nothing absent some trust in what hes saying.
    Given what he now says is a complete turnaround from what he was telling us mere days ago, and given his long and well documented history of policy blunders, half truths and poll following, on what basis should we trust what he says this time? On what basis may we see his words tonight as being any more trustworthy than he has consistantly shown himself to be?

  11. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @ James Joiner

    The first thing I’d note is how much it sounded like any number of foreign policy speeches given by his predecessor.

    That’s the point isn’t it?

    The President should be … Presidential.

    The course is set, actions will be taken, a more positive outcome is the expected goal.

  12. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    his long and well documented history of policy blunders

    Here’s a little something for you:

    Obama Outperforms Reagan On Jobs, Growth And Investing

    This is the best private sector jobs creation performance in American history


  13. bill says:

    well, it is difficult to deal with “terror” groups as they have no borders/rules/respect for humans/etc. so there it is. it’s nothing new and it’s not going away so you deal with it on the fly. having a presence in the area can be a deterrent to some extent but it’s no time to monday morning qb this thing. there’s few choices and all have bad consequences- do we allow them to just slaughter anyone in their way and such or do we make ourselves look like bullies and make them hate us even more- if that’s even possible? the “civilized” world expects us to do something, as long as it works out for all- which is impossible.
    @anjin-san: i don’t think the right wing was able to exert that much pressure on the msm- maybe the severed heads of journalists helped that along?!

  14. Tlaloc says:

    When asked for a better plan,


    Better plan: disengage.

    Let the middle east, for the first time in at least a century, figure out it’s own way without us trying not so subtly to control the outcome.

  15. Guarneri says:

    You have to be kidding, anjin-San. You’d have to be comatose to believe your link.


  16. Guarneri says:

    Oh, and this.


    It’s simply proper data analysis……………and a dollop of common sense. Back to MSNBC you go.

  17. anjin-san says:

    @ Guarneri

    Screwing the little guy so the the big boys can have more is your stock in trade dude, I would think a 10% only recovery would have you doing handsprings.

    BTW, I have probably spent a lifetime total of 3 hours watching MSNBC.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Thank you for making that point.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    I was relieved overall. I don’t think Mr. Obama has fallen all the way into the hair-on-fire camp, he seems to understand that this is a problem, but it’s not an “Oh, my God: The Wehrmacht!” level of problem.

    Whack-a-mole? Sure. But you either whack the moles or you set out to do major geopolitical surgery, and I think about 95% of the American population would not support major surgery.

    Also, since this is essentially just more of the same I think a lot of the branches o’ government concerns kind of wither.

    So, yep, on balance, relieved.

    And as an added bonus I know that busy little minds in Langley and at the Pentagon are working hard tonight to find a way to fly a missile right up the ass of that British prick who killed our people, and I’m sorry if this is not liberal p.c., but that thought makes me happy.

  20. Dave D says:

    @michael reynolds: Idk if it is a generational thing but you seem far too invested in the idea that if we just kill certain/enough people America can win. I look at this issue as a hydra we’ve been killing a lot of people over there for a long time and a lot more people seem to appear to do the same if not worse stuff. But maybe if we kill more of these people America can finally be safe again and not have another hornets nest spring up. Hey, I have a great idea, why don’t we encourage another Sunni awakening in the region, the end game worked out so well for us last time. I’m glad you’re happy one asshole will get his, because as our recent history in the region has shown killing one asshole can’t possibly lead to worse things down the road.

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave D:

    Our problems don’t flow from killing one aszhole, they flow from a botched attempt at major surgery, a wholesale remaking of the middle east. Let’s get that straight. Nothing Mr. Obama is proposing is anything close to that kind of transformative effort.

    It’s whack-a-mole. You know who we’ve been playing whack-a-mole with since the dawn of the human race? Murderers. We have never solved the problem of murder or rape or even burglary, we just play whack-a-mole — because that’s the way the game is structured.

    We’re not going to get some cathartic moment when we can declare final victory over terrorism, we’re just going to understand that this is a part of the dynamic on earth at this moment in history. The world has discovered asymmetrical warfare. It’s out there. It’s not going to disappear. So we are going to be playing whack-a-mole for quite some time.

  22. Stonetools says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think Obama would have preferred not to make a speech but with Republicans in the Congress and the right wing BS machine stirring up the public and demanding that he personally put on his cape, fly over there and solve the problem, he had to say SOMETHING.
    Remember , he is not just a policy analyst. He is the President. For me, I would have preferred that he lower expectations and talk about containment , not destruction. But it’s an election year , the American public doesn’t do nuance, and the right wing would be braying on about “appeasement “, “no substitute for victory”, etc. so he had to ramp up the rhetoric.

  23. Stonetools says:


    We disengaged from Afghanistan in the 90s. How did that work out for us? Ignoring threats don’t mean that the threateners disappear. It just gives them time, space and opportunity to make good on their threats. And of course, oil.
    Until the world stops depending on oil, we unfortunately are going to have to engage in the Middle East.. You might hate that, but that is how it is. (Insert paean about the benefits of a strategy to move to renewable energy here).

  24. Pharoah Narim says:

    Didn’t even watch because I knew a lot of nothing would be said. The Electorate is so brainwashed or disinterested that they don’t even bother communicating anything of substantive value. Where is the Press to ask how this group plans to project power to realize their goal? No, they’re complicit in painting a portrait that this band of camel farmers and mercenaries actually has the intellectual capital, technology, and logistics capacity to establish a global theocracy. They can’t even defend the objectives they have captured from so far from. Kurds and Iraqis. Same ole Banana in the same tailpipe….AGAIN.

  25. Stan says:

    @Eric Florack: The president changes his mind when the facts change. What do you do?

  26. Eric Florack says:

    @Tlaloc: we did that.
    the result is ISIS.

    next question.

  27. Eric Florack says:

    if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.
    if you like your health plan you can keep it.
    the war on terror is over.
    Iraq is self sufficient, we dont need to be there.
    Last months economic downturn was unexpected.
    theres no corruption in our government, (Re: IRS)
    Fast and Furious? whats that?
    transparency will be the hallmark of this administartion.

    parhrased pf course, but thats just a sample.
    so, again, we are to trust him now, why, exactly?

  28. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @James Joyner: I’m in agreement with you that it’s probably not possible to have a strategy as such. About the only “strategy” I could think of is to impose a total quarantine on that part of the world (Syria, Iraq, the Gulf states as a minimum) and let them fight it out. That would lead to no good results, but I can’t think of anything else that would.

  29. Stonetools says:


    Eric likes the GWB approach, which is to do the same thing on Wednesday that he did on Monday, even if the facts change on Tuesday.

  30. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san: what this comment of yours has to do with the topic at hand seems an open question.

    But perhaps you can explain the 92 million folks who have given up looking for work. I doubt itm but maybe.

  31. Eric Florack says:

    @Stonetools: actually, youve got that a little sideways.
    first, I predicted back in January of 2009 Obama would take this course.

    second, the facts dont change. our perception does. The facts that Obama finds himself facing (finally!) have always been there. they just didnt fit his political agenda.

  32. gVOR08 says:

    So, it’s Whack-a-Mole with no end in sight.

    In other words, it will be policing. We can’t destroy crime. We can’t eliminate crime. We can, and generally do, keep it down to a level we can live with. We’ve had police forces doing that for going on 200 years, and will for another 200.

  33. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    second, the facts dont change. our perception does.

    Ah. So we never forcibly deposed Saddam Hussien? Never created a power vacuum in Iraq, a nation that was held together by little more than the naked use of force by said strongman? Never failed to think about what would happen after the military victory we were obviously able to achieve?

    No, the facts on the ground never change, only our perception of them does.

    In reality, it is YOUR perception that shifts constantly, as you struggle to reconcile reality with the expedience of the moment, which is really the only thing you recognize as your ideology has left you unable to engage in flexible thinking.

  34. Rob in CT says:


    I get that there are no great options. However, I think that it follows that no matter what we do, the ME will be a mess and, therefore, we might as well stay out of said mess. Intervening doesn’t help (often hurts). Staying out probably won’t help either. Both options kinda suck. Ok, let’s choose the sucky option that doesn’t involve putting US personel in harms way, doesn’t cost a boatload of money, and doesn’t involve raining down more death and destruction.

    Obama, unfortunately, went along with the prevailing conventional wisdom in DC: we must Do Something. This rests on the belief that events in the world are ours to control (e.g. “who lost China” who lost China? That’s a f*cking nonsensical question, unless you’re talking about Chiang Kai Shek). That is the core fallacy. I had hoped Obama would do more to challenge it. He has, at times, challenged it. But only a little, and intermittantly. So here we are. Sigh.

    p.s. Obama has admitted that there is no actual direct threat to the US from ISIL. Just as there was no danger to the US from Saddam. Iraq, The Sequel! was a stupid war (as Obama would say). I think it follows that this, whatever you want to call it, is likewise stupid.

  35. Rob in CT says:

    Kevin Drum:

    Above all, we won’t allow a small band of medieval theocrats to manipulate us. We need to stop giving them exactly what they want. We need to stop doing stupid stuff.

    This too.

    OBL and his merry band of lunatics baited us into a war (and got a bonus one thrown in by the Bush Administration! How sweet that must’ve been) that hasn’t accomplished much of anything (at great expense). To do that, they did kill 3k Americans. ISIL has killed, what, 2? Granted, the scale of the response is also smaller (so far). Ok, but I’m sick and tired of dancing to these assh*les’ tune. The world’s great Superpower apparently can’t muster up “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Oh no. Our motto appears to be “Freak Out and Bomb Something.” This goes well beyond Obama, or Bush for that matter. It’s a public mood thing. And it sucks.

  36. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    But perhaps you can explain the 92 million folks who have given up looking for work.

    I can explain it pretty easily. It’s not true. 92 million Americans are out of the workforce, which is not the same thing. You are repeating a GOP talking point that has been debunked. Do you actually not understand the difference between “given up looking for work” and “not in the labor force”?


  37. C. Clavin says:

    My biggest fear about all of this…is not ISIS.
    It is that the right-wing noise machine has worn on the man…and is now forcing piss-poor decisions.
    A major consideration when we elect our next President must now be…how will he/she bear up under years of torture at the hands of the Republican Entertainment Complex. Are they up for psychological warfare?
    Imagine being the only sane person in a room full of delusional psychopaths for 8 years straight. Give me water-boarding over listening to their incessant nonsense, any day.

  38. Bob@youngstown says:

    Remind me, How long did the Crusades last, how many died, is there video?

  39. President Camacho says:

    Could this be just a 6 week campaign to help the Dems? This would keep the Repubs from bashing him about not being tough enough against the evil terrorists thus helping the Dems in the mid-terms. Then he can stop the campaign after Nov. It’s not like left-wing pacifists are going to say, “i’m pissed and am going to vote Repub now”.

    I would hope no one would base a military campaign on this but after the debacle in Iraq, I believe politicians will come up with any excuse for military action.

  40. Jack says:

    Apparently “decimated” and “on the run” mean knocking on the door of Baghdad. It’s so nice when the definition of a word is based upon ones agenda.

  41. “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

  42. Stan says:

    @Eric Florack:
    if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.
    I like my doctor and I’ve kept him. My wife likes her doctor and she’s kept her.

    if you like your health plan you can keep it.
    We like our health plan and we’ve kept it.

    the war on terror is over.
    Iraq is self sufficient, we don’t need to be there.
    True when stated. He changed his mind when the facts changed.

    Last months economic downturn was unexpected.
    Economic forecasting is tough.

    theres no corruption in our government, (Re: IRS)
    Do you mean ruling that Karl Rove’s political operation isn’t charitable?

    Fast and Furious? whats that?
    Yeah, what’s that?

    We’ll be welcomed in Baghdad with open arms.
    For some reason you didn’t use this one.

    The Iraq War will pay for itself.

    Reagan taught us that deficits don’t matter.
    Ditto bis.

  43. Tillman says:

    We could call it the Global War on Terror but, alas, that name’s been taken.

    Yes, now we’re engaging in an “overseas contingency operation.”

    Pardon me if I’m not excited or even indifferent to getting engaged in a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Middle Eastern states funded ISIL to its ascendance; let them take care of it.

    Give the Kurds weapons and training. We like the Kurds, and have turned our backs on them too often. If we’re going to meddle in the Middle East, we might as well advocate redrawing some borders and piss everyone else off for creating such a damn mess.

  44. C. Clavin says:

    @Eric Florack:
    There’s nothing in that that even relates to today. Talk about self-aggrandizement.

  45. PogueMahone says:


    [@Bithead:] Do you actually not understand the difference between “given up looking for work” and “not in the labor force”?

    No, I see his point.
    Why, just the other day I heard my three-year-old niece lament the fact that the local gumdrop factory is not hiring a quality control expert.
    She said it would likely take her 15-20 years of re-education to become attractive to employers in this shrinking global marketplace, as distinguishing between a good gumdrop and a bad gumdrop is now her only marketable skill.

  46. Neil Hudelson says:

    It is that the right-wing noise machine has worn on the man…and is now forcing piss-poor decisions.
    A major consideration when we elect our next President must now be…how will he/she bear up under years of torture at the hands of the Republican Entertainment Complex. Are they up for psychological warfare?

    I’m sorry, but this and all other accusations that somehow the Republican establishment/right wing media/tea party/whatever forced Obama to make bad decisions is complete horsesh*t. It is exactly the same as when a conservative claims that Republicans would win elections in a landslide if it weren’t for the treatment of the MSM.

    Obama is the Commander in Chief, has been doing it for 6 years, and has dealt with crises far greater than this–all the while right wing media has been attacking him. In his speech he specifically lays out his plan, and specifically says that he has the authority without Congressional (i.e. Republican) authorization.

    Some of the things Obama outlined I agree with. Other tactics he wants to pursue I think are wrongheaded. All of these ideas, however, are his and his administration’s.

    I’ve had enough of this Fox News Derangement Syndrome.

  47. C. Clavin says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    Yeah…failed effort to be funny.
    Frankly I haven’t seen much new out of that speech.
    More a case of saying something just to say something.

  48. @Tillman:

    I’m sure once the Kurds have enough arms to make difference, it’ll turn out they’re just as extreme as everyone else in the area.

  49. Neil Hudelson says:

    @C. Clavin:


    Sorry I didn’t realize it was a joke. To be fair, I have others state something similar in earnest, but you do have my apologies.


  50. michael reynolds says:

    Maybe I’m over-reading into this but I think we are in effect accepting the existence of a state in the deserts of Syria and Iraq. I think we’re going for containment. Which, in my opinion, is what we should be doing.

    I’m not really sure what all the kvetching is about beyond people complaining that their earlier expectations were in some way not fulfilled. The actual approach as outlined by the actual Obama is sound and prudent.

  51. Tillman says:

    @michael reynolds: If he had come out and said the word containment, as well as something about borders in the region being liable to move due to the Syrian civil war and its spillover into neighboring countries, I think I’d feel better. Knowing (or at least having the educated guess) that this is the idea behind the scenes doesn’t really help.

    It comes off essentially as playing the Washington game – affirming the consensus to the people too ignorant to realize there is another, higher level around – instead of, to use a well-worn and quite possibly cliché phrase, elevating the discourse. I would think the example of the last few years, with the rise of a fervent movement of voters who swallow what they’re told hook, line, and sinker, and how this movement has completely destabilized the two-party system with gridlock politics, would call for something idiosyncratic. This would have played to Obama’s idiom of being the smarter guy in the room.

    Symbolically, like I said in another thread, this comes off like we’re “going to war” (and I appreciate that it’s not a full-scale Bush episode) over the production values of two snuff films. The media establishment went nuts because it was two of their own, and this rankled the politicians who are, if not in bed with the media, completely reliant on them for perspective about the nation. I also don’t think sending more advisers to retrain an army that abandoned its posts is that prudent, but PD Shaw had a good rebuttal to that.

  52. Tillman says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Look, we’re giving weapons to everybody, making lots of scratch. We might as well let the Kurds in on the game, see if they’re as brutal as the rest. I mean, the only surprise possible is they turn out to be even-handed, good rulers!

  53. Eric Florack says:

    @C. Clavin: it goes *directly* to the question of Obama’s character, and history. Given what’s been seen, nobody trusts the man… (again, read the polls)
    Our once-allies don’t trust him, our enemies don’t take him seriously. With all that going for him, explain why he should be trusted now.


    We’re waiting, Claven. Can’t you tell us?

  54. C. Clavin says:

    @Eric Florack:
    That’s just your ODS speaking…the polling on him is flat…and he hasn’t declined precipitously like the guy that caused this mess.
    Our once-allies? Exactly who was our ally and isn’t any longer?
    Our enemies don’t take him seriously? You mean like Syria who has destroyed their chemical weapons and Iran who is toeing the line? Or do you mean OBL? Or Ghadaffi?
    I trust him because he has an extremely productive presidency…our homeland hasn’t been attacked like it was on Republican watch…and we haven’t wasted the lives of 4000 troops and over $2Trillion in an effort to make Iran stronger.
    Tell us why you don’t trust him without making up lies and spinning BS.

  55. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    again, read the polls

    It’s seem like just yesterday you listed being “poll driven” among Obama’s faults.

    Ah ha! It was just yesterday.

  56. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    America continues to pay the steep price for flinging empire around the world: no reasonable options today, tomorrow, or ever. Obama is caving to the absolute worst advice imaginable.

  57. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m not really sure what all the kvetching is about beyond people complaining that their earlier expectations were in some way not fulfilled. The actual approach as outlined by the actual Obama is sound and prudent.

    People are kvetching because all sane people know that there are no good options. The non-interventionists like Rob and Doug would like to stay out of it entirely, but in their hearts they know that’s not a wise move, so they bitch about slipppery slopes and pandering to the public. Conservatives bitch about the President not willing to go all WW2 on ISIL, although sane people understand that’s a ridiculous overreaction.
    No one has a better plan than the President outlined, but since the President isn’t promising unicorns and rainbows-they b!tch.

  58. stonetools says:

    To a certain extent, a problem here is that the President is too honest. If he were say, a Republican, he would wrap himself in the flag, ramp up the John Wayne rhetoric, promise “victory above all”, recite stories about fictional pilots landing on fictional carriers, and enjoy an easy bounce in the polls from the “rally around the flag” effect.
    He didn’t do any of that because he knows there are no clear, easy solutions. He needs to be more political, I guess.

  59. humanoid.panda says:

    @Eric Florack: As a matter of fact, it seems our *major* allies, i.e the UK, Germany, France, Canada, are all more or less on board with what Obama is doing in the Middle East. The “former allies” that are pissed at the US are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and to lesser extent Egypt, who are angry for not going to war with Iran on their behalf, and Israel, who is led by a de-facto Republican, who is also furious that the US is not figthing Iran.

    Should we really change our policy to assuage the House of Saud and its allies? I think not.

  60. humanoid.panda says:

    @humanoid.panda: And of course, if the US went to war with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Qatar would all denounce it, refuse to pay for it, and divert the rage of their citizenry over the war by throwing more money at radical islamists, because that’s how the ME works.

  61. Rob in CT says:


    Objection! I do not “know in my heart” that staying out isn’t a wise move, at least in a relative sense (i.e., it may be a kinda sucky option, but it also may be the best kinda sucky option). I think I was pretty clear about this. Since all options suck and our track record of acheiving our aims is godawful, I would go with my default preference: non-intervention.

    From this you impute that I secretly know that we must intervene? You fail at mindreading (heartreading?).

    Also, too: that was obnoxious. We disagree on these things. I think we’ve managed to do so in the past without being assholes to each other. How about we keep that up?

  62. Rob in CT says:

    One more thought.

    Notice that my objection to the plan is “bitching” – a handy way of dismissing someone’s concerns. They’re not real concerns of a serious person. I’m just bitching. Like a girl, and we all know how emotional they can be, amirite? So unserious.

    Stonetools, meanwhile, is a serious person who has a serious opinion that we really have to bomb some more people in the Middle East to get things right. A shrill person might characterize this as classic stupidity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results), but that would be unfair! No, it is the sober judgment of the serious person. Totally unlike the bitching of those opposed.

    We must clearly dismiss the bitching and nod our heads sagely at the need to bomb the crap out of ISIS (and anybody else in their general vicinity, of course, but don’t worry your heads about that. Can’t be helped! Never said we wouldn’t get our hair mussed…).

  63. C. Clavin says:

    Pretty interesting…though ultimately self-serving…live-tweet re-enactment of 9/11 from Ari Fleischer.
    Interesting in that he succeeds in transmitting all the bravado…but none of the abject failure.

  64. anjin-san says:

    In other news, conservatives who demanded Obama “do something” may shut the government down because Obama is doing something:

    Obama push to arm rebels throws wrench into bid to keep gov’t running

    President Obama’s push for new authority to arm and train Syrian rebels, while earning him rare bipartisan praise, could also imperil congressional efforts to pass a stopgap spending bill and avoid a partial government shutdown.


  65. Moosebreath says:

    And meanwhile John McCain believes he is due an apology from those who dissed him for saying we needed to stay in Iraq:

    “”Now we know what happens when we left Iraq. Now we know the consequences,” McCain said. “I hope that all those people that called me all of the names that I am not going to repeat here would render an apology because I was right! Because I said if we leave Iraq completely then, we risk the great danger of it deteriorating.””

    Showing the great character of the man who Republicans (who are, after all, the party who believes that character matters) nominated for President.

  66. stonetools says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Well, I misread you, then. I thought you were reluctantly in favor of intervention, although complaining about “dancing to ISIL’s tune.” If you are really in favor of letting ISIL go its merry way, and taking no action at all- OK, I kind of thought we were beyond the idea that ISIL would fade away. But hey, it’s a point of view.
    I”m serious not because I want to bomb anyone. Like Obama, I would love it if we could just forget the whole fugging region , and let them work out their religious and ethnic pathologies among themselves. I also know that this is a pipe dream, because OIL! and because an unchecked ISIL could certainly do another 911, even from all the way in the Middle East.Now its there a non-violent, non-interventionist way of supressing ISIL? Would that there were. I haven’t heard it. Maybe you could suggest something.
    Now sorry if I ruffled your feathers on this. I truly thought that people now understood that ISIL was a growing threat that wasn’t going to just disappear if ignored. I was wrong about that. People sincerely believe that it’s not a threat. Oh, well.

  67. Tyrell says:

    What will be needed will be a clear policy in dealing with the Islamic extremist threat. This must be a joint effort involving the US, Europe, Arab nations, Russia, China, and even Iran (if they want in).
    I thought that Obama’s speech was appropriate, not over done, no detailed plans that would be advantageous to the enemy. He also said that this ISIS must be destroyed. Now this is something that can’t be allowed to fade out .
    CIA says that ISIS numbers much higher than originally thought, around up to 31,000. (CNN)
    See interesting article by Thomas Sowell: “Success or Failure” thomassowell.com/ columns

  68. Guarneri says:


    Right. Investing on behalf of teachers pensions is always the way to screw the little guy.

  69. Stan says:

    @Rob in CT: ISIS operates in northern Iraq, and if it survives and prospers it would control a lot of oil. The money it would get from selling this oil would give it the ability to build its own atomic bomb. It would be foolish not to, if only for defense against Iran, not to mention the US and its allies. Maybe I’m being alarmist in worrying about something so conjectural. The reason I feel this way is that I have a deep distrust of political movements that feel they’re carrying out God’s will. So I reluctantly support President Obama’s approach, not because of what ISIS is now, but because of what I think it would become if successful.

  70. Eric Florack says:

    @humanoid.panda: Interesting.
    And how many of them are actually putting boots on the ground?
    Not the UK. Not France. Indeed, he’s not gotten commitment one on that score.

    Remember the gold standard, here…. nearly 50 countries allied with is, and of those, 5 of every 6 had boots on the ground. When Barry gets to that level, let us know.

  71. bill says:

    @Tlaloc: so when you’re paying $5+/gallon for gas and the warlords of the sand are slaughtering everyone in their way you can just wash your hands ? get real already, we are still the worlds police, despite the current guys ineptness.

  72. anjin-san says:

    @ bill

    We are in the midst of a historic energy boom. Where is all that cheap gas we were promised if we would just drill baby drill?

  73. michael reynolds says:

    I said at the time that the minute that film went up on YouTube the media would roll over for a war.
    And boy have they ever.

    Look, even though ISIL isn’t ten feet tall, we do have to defend Jordan and the Kurds and even those Saudi scum. We can’t let this bunch upset our “friends.” On a one-to-ten scale containment is a four or five and a complete roll-back of ISIL is an 8 or 9, so I think Obama’s clearly going with containment. We can contain with bombs, a roll-back means Marines.

    But I can see why he doesn’t want to say that for reasons of politics and also in terms of our little kings who don’t want to admit that their survival depends entirely on us. It’s one thing if we sound all gung-ho to rub out ISIL, it’s a whole different thing if we admit openly that we’re there to defend the medieval pricks in Riyadh and Amman from the medieval pricks in Mosul.

  74. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    And how many of them are actually putting boots on the ground?

    How has the whole “boots on the ground” in the mideast worked out for the west?

  75. Scott O says:

    @C. Clavin: I love this one:

    “Bush said later he stayed 2collect his thoughts and send a signal of calm. He said he didn’t want 2bolt from his chair and alarm the nation.”

    I’ll never understand how he could have sat there for another 8(?) minutes. Curiosity alone should have been enough to get him out of that chair. Bolt? Didn’t it occur to him that he could have stood up and said “excuse me kids, something important has come up”? He didn’t think the nation was already alarmed? I just don’t get it. The only thing I can figure was that he was waiting for someone to tell him what to do.

  76. anjin-san says:

    @ Scott O

    All he had to do was say “hey kids, I have to go do President stuff. Learn to read & make me proud of you.” How fricking hard is that? A deer in the headlights moment for sure.

  77. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    Not the UK. Not France

    You mean the socialized Euro-sissies? Why do you want allies who have the socialized medicine?

  78. dazedandconfused says:

    What I got from it, assuming it was in part crafted for the people in the vicinity of ISIL:

    “We aren’t going to occupy anything in the ME for awhile boys, but if y’all are feeling froggy, we’ll give ya a hell of a set of wings. You may wish to consider the possibility that if the lot of you can’t get your stuff together well enough to take these clowns out, even with serious US air support, the US may well conclude it just plain wasn’t meant to be. Don’t laugh, I’m not kidding. Ghawar excepted, the American public may be a decade away from supporting another occupation in the region, and even that is iffy at best.”

    For domestic consumption:

    “I understand, Congress Critters, the risk to your political careers by voting to support me in this. An act of treason in some parts to support me on anything, and I get that. Therefore, I am making it real easy, I say I have the authority so all you have to do is not vote on this if you support it, leaving you free to go on the news shows and bitch about how concerned you are about the power I am grabbing. You’re welcome.”

  79. Humanoid.panda says:

    @Eric Florack: Is the US putting boots on ground?

  80. Rob in CT says:


    Fair enough. And I understand your point – that disengagement isn’t really an option b/c oil and so on and so forth. And ISIS/ISIL/whateverthefuck has actually taken territory and therefore something must be done…

    I understand it, but I just disagree at this point. There’s always going to be some shit like this going down over there. We can continue our quasi-Imperial stance and get sucked in time and again, or we can refuse. There is real downside risk in refusal – I accept this. I think it’s the best play nonetheless, for reasons already stated.

  81. Rob in CT says:


    I do think you’re falling into an alarmist mode there. ISIL might come apart at the seams 6 months from now without us lifting a finger (one unknown is what Iran might do. They’re already taking steps. How far will they go?). They might not. Neither of us knows. What we do know is that the region is unstable, and a lingering ~1500-year-old grudge match underlies the whole shebang, and our track record is awful (not speaking morally here, I mean strictly in terms of “did we get what we wanted?”). AWFUL.

  82. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: James, at this point, doing what you can in the short term while trying not to f*ck up the long term and not sticking our d*cks in the sausage grinder is the best that can be done.

    As another commenter said, nobody has come up with something better, and that includes those who should know (I exclude neo-cons).

  83. James Joyner says:

    @Barry: I concur. I’ve been making that argument for weeks now.

  84. Barry says:

    @michael reynolds: “…and I’m sorry if this is not liberal p.c.,…”

    I must have missed the liberals screaming ‘oh, no, don’t kill him!’.

  85. michael reynolds says:

    First, I am a liberal. Second, of course a significant number of liberals will lecture me that we shouldn’t blow people up, that it makes more enemies than it’s worth. In fact, if you scroll up-thread you’ll see that Dave D. says:

    I’m glad you’re happy one asshole will get his, because as our recent history in the region has shown killing one asshole can’t possibly lead to worse things down the road.

  86. gVOR08 says:

    @Barry: A boss of mine once taught me that if you can’t come up with a good plan, start pushing in the right direction and see what develops.