America will beat ISIS by burning strawmen.
That was President Obama’s much-ballyhooed message on Sunday night. Obama broke into Sunday Night Football to deliver a speech about which he was clearly uneasy – so uneasy that, unlike most of his speeches, he didn’t release a transcript in advance or shortly afterward.
And there was good reason for that unease. The speech was an odd amalgam of defensive self-justification, aggressive anger at Republicans, and leftist policy proposals made irrelevant by the facts on the ground. It began with Obama pretending that San Bernardino wasn’t evidence of his failures, but of his success: he said he’d defeated al Qaeda, but that the terrorist threat had “evolved into a new phase.” He said he’d stood tall against that evolving threat:
For seven years, I’ve confronted this evolving threat each and every morning in my intelligence briefing, and since the day I took this office, I have authorized US forces to take out terrorists abroad precisely because I know how real the danger is.
Obama, of course, does not know how real the danger is – just last week he compared it to climate change. He’s spent most of his tenure slashing the American military in the face of that threat. But he continued by saying that vague words would defeat ISIS:
The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won't depend on tough talk or abandoning our values or giving into fear. That's what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart. Resilient and relentless. And by drawing upon every aspect of American power.
After running through his thesaurus in search of new platitudes to deploy against ISIS, Obama then laid out his new strategy. First, he said, our military would target terrorist plotters, even though he’d held them back from doing so in Syria. Next, he said he’d continue to provide “training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIL on the ground.” Unfortunately, the Free Syrian Army no longer exists as an effective fighting force, so that strategy is toast. Third, he said we would work with friends and allies to cull intelligence. Clearly that intelligence effort has been wildly successful, to the tune of terrorist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and London in the last month. Fourth, Obama said he would pursue a political solution in Syria – a solution that will not be forthcoming, since Bashar Assad has no rationale for pursuing such a solution.
Finally, he made oblique reference to the failure of his immigration system, and said that State and Homeland Security would “review the visa waiver program” under which terrorist Tashfeen Malik entered the United States.
Oh, thanks, Mr. President.
But all of that was prelude to what Obama really wanted to discuss: how Americans are responsible for terrorism. We’re responsible because we won’t vote to remove Second Amendment rights from people without due process of law, and because we won’t give up “assault weapons” when terrorists obviously will obtain them however they must. We’re responsible because we haven’t “put in place stronger screening for those who come to America without a visa” – even though it is Obama who has repeatedly strangled any attempts to strengthen our immigration screening process. We’re responsible because we haven’t declared war on ISIS – an odd request by the man who went to war with Libya by expressly ignoring Congressional disapproval.
Most of all, we’re responsible because we’re warmongering Islamophobes.
Obama said, “We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground in Iraq or Syria. That’s what groups like ISIL want.” Actually, ISIS mostly wants to consolidate its hold in the absence of a powerful ground force. Obama gave them that with his Iraq pullout.
Obama then said that his own strategy was working to contain ISIS. Of course, he said the same thing the day before the Paris attacks.
And then, at last, Obama castigated Americans for “letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam.” Not a single Republican candidate has done this. Everyone has appended the word “radical” to Islam. But Obama said that Muslim communities are fighting radical Islam (not hard enough, obviously), and then equated the duty of Muslim communities to do so with the duty of non-Muslims to “reject discrimination.” What type of discrimination? According to Obama, “It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country.” But that’s asinine. If we can’t determine what strain of Islam you represent, why would we allow you into the country? If you have no history of warmth toward Western ideals, why would we allow you into the country? No one has suggested, as Obama says, that individual “Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently.” But to ignore the links between members of the American Muslim community and Islamic terrorism would be idiotic.
Obama states, however, that “when we travel down that road” – the strawman road, presumably – “we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.”
That’s garbage. ISIS doesn’t sit around waiting for us to be mean to Muslims. France is plenty nice to its massive Muslim immigrant population, and that didn’t stop Paris. The responsibility of the government isn’t to berate Americans about level of interpersonal warmth. It’s to protect us from threats foreign and domestic. End of story.
Finally, Obama concluded with a long stream of his favorite truisms: blather about the “right side of history” and freedom being more powerful than fear, etc., etc. Whatever. None of that mattered. All that mattered on this night was the president lecturing us once more that he hadn’t done anything wrong, but that we had – for not giving him more power, and for failing to be kind enough to Islam.
Barack Obama’s childish presidency comes to an end in January 2017. It can’t come soon enough.