Let me say first that I support military action against ISIS (or ISIL or the Islamic State, if you prefer). But I think that whatever we do ought to be serious and have a good chance of success. Otherwise, it looks like the president is just pretending to action because he’s suffering in the polls.
That exactly how President Obama’s ISIS speech looks. It’s so full of idiocy and mendacity, we have to go through it line-by-line:
My fellow Americans, tonight I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.
First line, first lie. He doesn’t want to do anything of the sort; he’s being forced to do it by the weight of public opinion.
As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Oh, that again. By now, boasting about Bin Laden, Obama sounds like a middle-aged man bragging about how he scored the touchdown that won the big game in high school.
We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. . .
Actually, the situation in Yemen looks very bad. But I guess it’s true that we’ve targeted them.
Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents.
ISIL’s interpretation of Islam is incorrect, according to the President of the United States. A presidential fatwa, as it were.
President Bush started this line in 2001, when he tried to assure the Muslim world that the war on terror was not a war on Muslims. That was probably the right thing to do in 2001, and it worked to some extent. But 13 years later, opinions in the Muslim world are made up, and aren’t going to be changed by a line in a speech. And anyway, this speech is directed to the domestic audience, not to the Muslim world.
For years we’ve been told that Islam is peaceful, and the Islamic doctrine of jihad — “holy war” — doesn’t refer to war at all, but to a peaceful inner struggle. Mohammed certainly did not see it that way, but since I’m personally uninterested in fidelity to Mohammed, I would love it if Muslims everywhere adopted the peaceful interpretation. But as an outsider, the peacefulness of Islam is primarily an empirical question. I think Jonah Goldberg is right that it’s time they started convincing us, rather than the other way around.
No religion condones the killing of innocents.
Yes, I had to repeat this line, because it’s so breathtakingly stupid. Let’s agree, arguendo, that this is true in regard to Islam. No religion at all condones the killing of innocents? Various cultures have been practicing human sacrifice for millenia. The Aztecs were famous for it. Parts of India still practiced suttee in the 1980s. ISIS absolutely is religious, even if their religion is not true Islam.
And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. . .
This is true in exactly the same way as it is true that the vast majority of Stalin’s victims were Russian or Ukrainian. That’s who he was able to lay his hands on.
Last month, I ordered our military to take targeted action against ISIL to stop its advances. . . These strikes have protected American personnel and facilities, killed ISIL fighters, destroyed weapons, and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory. . .
Yeah, the Kurds are great. Our airstrikes might have helped them somewhat. You know what really helps them? Letting them buy weapons! I’m glad we finally seem to be doing that. We should have done it years ago.
But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. . .
Fair enough, but let’s remember it wasn’t so long ago that the official Democratic position was that we should never, ever outsource our security to the locals.
In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces. Now that those teams have completed their work –- and Iraq has formed a government –- we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission –- we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.
We’ll see about that. Indeed, by ruling out the possibility of that we might go in there and crush them, we may well embolden them, making a full ground war all the more necessary. These people have never learned the virtue of being coy about how far you might go.
But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. . .
Two words here, “Kurdish” and “equipment”, are far more important than everything else in this speech. At least he mentioned them.
Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. . .
Years ago, this likely would have made a difference. Today, all of Assad’s enemies who were friendly to us are dead. In the unlikely event that the Syrian opposition manages to overthrow Assad, we’re just going to see a replay of the Libya debacle. (Interesting tidbit: the word “Libya” appears nowhere in this speech.)
Who’s left fighting Assad? People like this: “Syrian rebels and jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have agreed a non-aggression pact for the first time. . .”
Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. . . And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.
I’m sure ISIS is shaking in fear of UN action.
Fourth, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization. This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.
What? Humanitarian assistance is well and good, but it won’t get those refugees back in their homes.
So this is our strategy.
Here’s the tl;dr version: (1) airstrikes, (2) ground forces who will absolutely not have a combat mission, (3) counterterrorism, (4) humanitarian aid.
And in each of these four parts of our strategy, America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners.
I can’t let this go. Who, exactly, is part of the “broad coalition”? Forty nations deployed troops to Iraq, and that coalition was proclaimed a sham because it didn’t include France and Germany. We don’t know who will be in this coalition, because it doesn’t exist yet. The Obama administration is working frantically to assemble it.
My administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home.
Indeed he has. And Obama is unfortunate that he is a Democrat. Were he a Republican, not only would his bipartisan support evaporate at the first sign of difficulty, they would actually pretend that they never supported it in the first place.
I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL . . .
Wow. Exactly where that authority derives from is left unsaid, and for good reason. The 2001 AUMF directed at Al Qaeda doesn’t seem to apply, since ISIS did not collaborate in 9/11 and is not affiliated with Al Qaeda.
The 2002 Iraq War Resolution may provide authority. It gives the president the power to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq”, which won’t do, even if you set aside “continuing”, since ISIS is not Iraq. But it also authorizes the president to “enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq”. There are so many UN resolutions concerning Iraq that some of them arguably apply. Of course, this slender reed relies on ignoring the fact that the Iraq War was over. (The White House said in June that the Iraq War resolution “is no longer used for any U.S. government activities.”)
But at the time at which he said this, the White House had not yet figured out where that authority would come from. The New York Times reports “public and background briefings for reporters this week mentioned only the 9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or A.U.M.F., and not the Iraq authorization, as did a statement the White House released after Mr. Obama’s speech,” but within days they were citing the Iraq War resolution as well.
Ironically, the White House called for the repeal of both resolutions just a few months ago. In May, the president announced “So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the [9/11] AUMF’s mandate.” And in July, the National Security Adviser wrote the House Speaker “we believe a more appropriate and timely action for Congress to take is the repeal of the outdated 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. . . With American combat troops having completed their withdrawal from Iraq on December 18, 2011, the Iraq AUMF is no longer used for any U.S. government activities [Scofflaw: there’s that phrase again] and the Administration fully supports its repeal. Such a repeal would go much further in giving the American people confidence that ground forces will not be sent into combat in Iraq.”
Now, the president certainly has the innate Constitutional power to deal with ISIS. That power is statutorily limited by the War Powers Act, but after Obama ran his Libya campaign in flagrant violation of the War Powers Act, it has to be considered a dead letter. But it’s awfully hard for them to make that case after all the Democratic caterwauling over the unitary executive theory, and Joe Biden’s threats to impeach President Bush if he dealt with Iran without Congressional authorization.
but I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger. . .
That’s a reversal of his pledge in May, “I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate [the AUMF] further.” Obviously, positions must change when situations change. But ISIS was certainly already active in May; they captured Fallujah in January. (Days before Obama derided ISIS as a “JV squad.”) The only change is public opinion forced Obama to start paying attention.
It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. . .
Yeah, we get it. We’re ruling out any possibility that we just might launch an effective campaign.
Next week marks six years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression. . .
This again. He always goes back there whenever he’s in trouble.
Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades. . .
Thanks to fracking. And it could be even closer if Obama doesn’t succeed in forcing Canada to send their oil overseas.
It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. . .
What?! We did nothing of the sort! I wish we had.
It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so that they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again.
This is a great lawyerly statement. Yes, we helped destroy the weapons that Syria declared. Of course, the ones that Syria didn’t declare, those they still have.
And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, and tolerance, and a more hopeful future. . .
How exactly? I saw America stand back and watch the Arab Spring turn sour. A once-in-history opportunity, and we blew it.
When we helped prevent the massacre of civilians trapped on a distant mountain, here’s what one of them said: “We owe our American friends our lives. Our children will always remember that there was someone who felt our struggle and made a long journey to protect innocent people.”
Good for us. But how did those civilians get trapped on the distant mountain in the first place? We did nothing as, month after month, ISIS steadily gained territory. We did nothing as ISIS drove those civilians from their homes. We did nothing as those civilians fled to that mountain. Then, when those people faced massacre, the public finally noticed, which forced Obama to take notice. Even now, have those people been able to return home? The media has moved on, but I doubt it.