Listening to the president’s address to the nation regarding the crisis with ISIS or ISIL if you prefer, I was struck by the lack of indignation in the president’s presentation. Where was the visible anger, the fist-pounding oratory that made it clear in no uncertain terms the nation would not tolerate this threat to our interests and, for that matter, humanity?
Even the warning that the vicious psychopaths who slaughter and torture innocents should not believe they can hide from justice was delivered dispassionately — almost as though it were a lecture by a college professor who had given it dozens of time.
There was none of the urgency or fire of a Teddy Roosevelt challenging the Barbary pirates. There was no fist-pounding declaration of “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead” that TR delivered to the Lord of the Berbers over the kidnapping of an American citizen who really wasn’t. It worked.
Granted, that is not Barack Obama’s style, and he seemed almost reluctant to take such a firm stand after years of resisting entreaties at home and abroad to take one in the Syrian civil war. His pledge to interdict the expansion of this most vicious group of fanatics carried with it the promise that it would be limited to air power and to U.S. military advisers to train indigenous forces. There will be no boots on the ground, he said.
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Uh-huh! So what occurs if the air power fails to halt the advancement of those who know nothing about borders except to ignore them, spreading their brand of rule by fear under the guise of religion? Most military experts agree air assaults alone won’t do the job. Will Obama be forced to break his promise, like so many others he has made and has failed to keep, including those about swiftly ending the stress of Iraq and Afghanistan and closing the prison at Guantánamo?
This has been a president who might have been better off not making so many pledges, pledges that seasoned veterans of Washington, D.C., warned were beyond him. It is that history that is now catching up with him as his seeming lack of leadership qualities are reflected in his low public opinion ratings. Americans who saw him as the harbinger of change in the first election and with slightly less renewed support in the second have become increasingly disillusioned and untrusting of his follow through. There is a strong suspicion that his decision to move now was influenced at least in part by the need for his party to stave off Republican Senate challenges in the coming election.
A total GOP congressional majority would euthanize his presidency two years early. It will be tough sledding for him anyway.
At this stage, while there might be questions about whether the maniacs in ISIS are a threat to this nation’s and to the world’s security, as some experts have suggested, there is little doubt that left unchecked they soon would be. Most Americans, no matter how reluctantly, agree with this, the polls show. The beheading of two American journalists and now a British aid worker has punctuated that explicitly.
Can Obama put together the coalition, which necessarily must include stable Middle East governments, or has he waited too long? His then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advised him to step forward on Syria much earlier. He did not do so and the foothold ISIS was able to establish has led to this crisis.
The president’s dithering for weeks, even when it seemed obvious this was not just a minor incursion by a few zealots, made him look indecisive. Meanwhile, ISIS has grown from a force of 10,000 butchers to one estimated at 25,000 to 30,000. Had Obama gone to the public earlier, looked the American people in the eye and through clenched teeth not only denounced these monsters but announced that we would do whatever it takes to eliminate them from the earth, his ratings might have shown a return of public trust.
Basketball coaches and baseball managers challenge the referees and umpires not because they believe they can overturn a call, but to get their attention. As a sportsman, Obama should have learned that lesson. We needed him to get madder than hell.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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