Watching our President give his uber-important speech on the evils of ISIS left me indifferent. I happen to despise ISIS and all that they stand for, but the President’s speech felt strikingly flat – like used boilerplate one of the President’s lackeys found in a desk drawer somewhere in the White House. Wasn’t the President supposed to motivate us to action? Wasn’t he supposed to inspire us against the evil that is ISIS? Wasn’t he supposed to remind Americans that ISIS was slaughtering scores of innocents and without our intervention… the minorities of the Islamic World have no hope?
Sadly, our brilliant orator of a President couldn’t muster up enough energy to motivate even the people who support him… let alone the 60-some% of us who have grown Obama-weary.
To get a sense of just how bad things really are, listen to MSNBC’s Richard Engel, who is in Iraq now, give his scathing opinion of the Obama speech.
MADDOW: Let’s put that to Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent is in northern Iraq, is in Erbil. Richard, the President talked about – that “the United States is not being able to take the place of Arab partners in securing their region.” He also said that “this strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us while supporting partners on the front lines is a strategy that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” Essentially saying he wants to do to ISIS what the United States has been doing to Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Yemen and Somalia. What do you make of that analogy?
ENGEL: I think it is wildly off base, frankly. It’s an oversimplification of the problem. In Yemen, there is a partnered government that doesn’t have the force to reach some parts in the desert where Al Qaeda is hiding out, so it relies on the United States to lend a hand, to do some observation missions over Yemen and generally what happens is the U.S. will tell the Yemenis, hey, there are some terrorists hiding in this particular village or in this particular oasis, go and find them and if the Yemeni forces can’t get there, the U.S. strikes by air. In Somalia, you have a similar group to Al Qaeda, the same mentality that’s operating in a remote corner of Africa that is generally ignored except when the U.S. special operations forces see an opportunity and target them. That’s not at all the situation we are seeing in Iraq and Syria. Here, we have a large group, tens of thousands of fighters. They control an area the size of Maryland. They control an area that has 8 million people living inside of it. It’s much more akin to regime change than it is to waiting back, picking targets with allied forces. They are not comparable at all.
MADDOW: Richard, when the President talked about not taking the place of Arab partners and securing their region he said “American power can make a decisive difference but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves.” Does that strike you as congruent with what he’s describing in terms of actual kinetic activity toward ISIS? Does that make sense to use strategically?
ENGEL: In principle, of course. The U.S. can’t secure Iraq unless it wants to send back several hundred thousand troops to this country and start over again and push the reset button, which I don’t think anyone is talking about right now, but he’s talking about having the Iraqi army reconstituted and using that Iraqi army to secure this country. The problem is the Iraqi army, over the last several months, has collapsed. It has been reconstituted already by many Iranian advisers and sometimes regular Iranian ground forces that have been witnessed on many occasions and these Sunni villages that are now with ISIS are afraid of the Iraqi army. They don’t want the Iraqi army to come into their villages. So, we talk about a partner on the ground that we are going to link up with to rid Iraq of ISIS. Well, that partner on the ground, in many cases, is a reason that people support ISIS in this country.
Engel didn’t stop his critique of the ISIS speech there – later he took to Twitter to elaborate even more.
The real fireworks from last night happened after the President’s speech, when Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and former Obama mouthpiece, Jay Carney, had it out on CNN. Carney, of course, defending the President’s lackluster speech, and McCain pointing out that all of our current problems were both foreseeable and avoidable.
(I’m personally not a John McCain fan, but it sure was fun to watch him beat up on Jay Carney with facts…)
ANDERSON COOPER: Arizona senator John McCain is joining us now. Senator, you and I spoke just last week, you said President Obama had no goal, no strategy when it came to destroying ISIS. What did you think of what you heard tonight?
MCCAIN: Well, I think it was a very weak argument. By the way, I’m astounded that Mr. Carney should say that – that the Free Syrian army is now stronger. In fact, they’ve been badly, badly damaged.
CARNEY: Well, that’s not what I said, Senator. If I could – if I could, sir, what I said is that we know a great deal more now about the opposition.
MCCAIN: Oh, come on, Jay, we knew all about them then. You just didn’t choose to know. I was there in Syria. We knew them. Come on, you guys are the ones – it’s your boss was the one when the entire national security team wanted to arm and train them that he turned them down, Mr. Carney after a –
CARNEY: Well, Senator – I’m not –
CARNEY: – I think we have to agree to disagree on this.
MCCAIN: No, no – Facts are stubborn things, Mr. Carney and that is, the entire national security team, including the Secretary of State, said we want to arm and train and equip these people and he made the unilateral decision to turn them down and the fact that they didn’t lead a residual force in Iraq, overruling all of his military advisers, is the reason why we’re facing ISIS today. So the facts are stubborn things in history and people ought to know them and now the President is saying, basically, that we are going to take certain actions, which I would favor, but to say that America is safer, and that the situation is very much like Yemen and Somalia shows me that the President really doesn’t have a grasp for how serious the threat of ISIS is.
The whole conversation is well worth watching – if only to watch the slow deterioration of Jay Carney.
Look, the fact is, what is happening in Iraq is a perfect bludgeon for the foreign policy hawks to use on the rest of us. (I will admit to being one of the many Americans who felt like it was time to leave Iraq and the Middle East for good.) They were right, by leaving Iraq too soon, we left a power vacuum that ISIS rushed to fill-in. Perhaps I should be arguing that we don’t need to involve ourselves against ISIS there now… but I cannot help but feel that we need to do something to limit the enormous suffering that is currently taking place in Iraq and Syria. My concern is that getting involved may lead to more suffering.
Whichever answer proves to one day have been the correct one… at least we can know for sure that President Obama’s speech was completely unsuccessful. We still don’t know the how, when, why or what our government intends to do, and there are still more questions than answers when it comes to President Obama’s ISIS “strategy.”
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