No Strategy for the Cart and Horse
The repercussions of Obama's reckless admission could be severe.
In his now infamous press conference last Thursday, Barack Obama told reporters to slow down with speculation on U.S. actions to counter ISIL. “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” he said. “We don’t have a strategy yet.” It was a reckless admission by the commander in chief, and the repercussions could be severe.
The threat on the home front is acute. ISIL is reportedly eying the U.S.-Mexico border for opportunities to infiltrate and attack the U.S. Astoundingly, however, in its recent national threat assessment for domestic terrorism, the FBI doesn’t mention Islamic terrorist threats.
Specifically, ISIL may be seeking to create and deploy biological weapons. What might be called “BioBombers” are Islamist “martyrs” who, instead of strapping on a bomb and detonating themselves in a crowded urban area, become human hosts for virulent strains of deadly contagions.
A laptop recovered from ISIL jihadis reveals the plan. According to Foreign Policy magazine, “The [ISIL] laptop contains a 19-page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons and how to weaponize the bubonic plague from infected animals. ‘The advantage of biological weapons is that they do not cost a lot of money, while the human casualties can be huge,’ the document states.” Furthermore, the document instructs, “Use small grenades with the virus, and throw them in closed areas like metros, soccer stadiums, or entertainment centers. Best to do it next to the air-conditioning. It also can be used during suicide operations.”
So long as the supposed “caliphate” exists, they will control the land and resources (including oil fields for financing) necessary to develop such horrific weapons. That’s a good reason to consider ISIL a serious threat and to have a strategy for defeating it.
In the week before Obama’s “no strategy” remarks, several officials within his administration had been giving warnings and laying out possible action. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that ISIL is “beyond just a terrorist group” and “beyond anything that we’ve seen.” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sounded a similar note, saying ISIL “is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.” He said that will almost certainly entail countering them in Syria as well as Iraq – “both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border.”
Of course, ahead of his 2012 reelection bid Obama assured the nation that “al-Qa'ida was on the run,” that Syria was under control and that Iraq was in good shape: “Indeed, everything Americans have done in Iraq, all the fighting, all the dying, the bleeding, the building and the training and the partnering, all of it has led to this moment of success. … We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.”
Meanwhile, however, the State and Justice Departments were downplaying the threat. As we have already noted, this incoherence is dangerous. And then Obama managed to make it worse.
Even Obama’s Leftmedia water carriers see the problem. NBC’s Richard Engel called ISIL’s rise “incredibly predictable” because “[w]e reported about it. Reporters risked their lives going into Syria to talk about this buildup of extremists in the country, yet nothing seems to have been done. And now we have a very serious situation.” Furthermore, he said, “I speak to military commanders, I speak to former officials, and they are apoplectic. They think that this is a clear and present danger. They think something needs to be done.”
Even a president who finds out about current events by watching the news has no excuse. Indeed, he has been briefed on ISIL for more than a year.
Obama says not to “put the cart before the horse,” but it’s he who has done so, ordering seemingly half-hearted airstrikes with entirely too limited objectives. He doesn’t seem to be mindful of the internal strife in Iraq between Shiites and Sunnis, or how to avoid creating more of it. The New York Times reports, “The militants from [ISIL] were able to storm into Iraq in recent months in part because Sunnis felt so disenfranchised by the Shiite-led government of former Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. If the United States is seen to be strengthening the hand of militias that terrorized Sunnis during the sectarian war of 2006 and 2007, the minority Sunnis might balk at participating in America’s long-term goal of a unity government. Or, in a worst-case scenario, more Sunnis could align with [ISIL] fighters.”
As for Syria, Iran supports Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Any action the U.S. takes there against ISIL could have the undesired effect of strengthening Assad, and therefore Iran.
That said, ISIL’s defeat is the primary objective. American air power is key against an enemy that more brazenly gathers its fighters than previous iterations. According to retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, “ISIL’s penchant for operating openly – as well as for seizing, occupying and trying to administer territory instead of hiding quietly among the civilian populace – presents targeting opportunities that other terrorists assiduously avoid.”
Air strikes must be done in conjunction with other efforts to stabilize the region. In terms of U.S. interests, stability and security are paramount. Achieving that will require the cooperation of Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, as well as that of other nations in the region – all while, if possible, marginalizing Iran.
It’s one thing to be cautious or to mask our strategy – both of which are advisable. It’s another thing entirely to be willfully blind and unprepared. And when even Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says Obama is “too cautious,” it puts the problem into stark relief.