The problem is not that Barack Obama didn’t go participate in a feel-good march in Paris.
The problem is that when he pauses to talk about what he considers to be important, the rest of the world hardly gets a mention.
Dana Milbank went into this at some length in his column yesterday, headlined, “On terrorism, the State of the Union is strangely quiet.” An excerpt:
Not since before the 2001 terrorist attacks has there been such a disconnect between the nation’s focus and the condition of the world. As threats multiply in the Middle East and Europe, President Obama delivered on Tuesday night an annual message to Congress that was determinedly domestic. And his inward-looking gaze is shared by lawmakers and the public.
Thousands of foreign fighters have joined with Muslim extremists in Syria and Iraq, and their fanatical cause has inspired sympathizers across the globe: 17 killed by terrorists in Paris; terrorism raids and a shootout in Belgium; a hunt for sleeper cells across Europe; a gunman attacking the Canadian Parliament; an Ohio man arrested after buying guns and ammunition, allegedly with plans to attack the Capitol. Even Australia has raised its terrorist threat level.
And yet, when it comes to countering the terror threat in America, the State of the Union is nonchalant. “We are 15 years into this new century, 15 years that dawned with terror touching our shores,” Obama said at the start of his speech. “It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. But tonight, we turn the page.”
Obama, full of swagger, turned the page — several pages — from the start of his address, when he assured Americans that “the shadow of crisis has passed,” before arriving at his discussion of national security.
He went 32 minutes, more than halfway through his speech, before mentioning the “challenges beyond our shores.” He said that “we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists, from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.” But he dwelled on the topic only long enough to say he’d “continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks” and “keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.”…
Essentially, the president paused in his lengthy examination of domestic policy to say, “And oh, yeah, the rest of the world, yadda-yadda…”
Of course, we’ve been hearing plenty of criticism along those lines from some of the president’s rivals, but the truth is the the GOP on the whole (with the exceptions of Lindsey Graham, John McCain and a few others) is offering no alternative vision for how we should conduct the affairs that are the primary reason for having a federal government. As Milbank noted, “The response to Obama’s address, delivered by new Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), gave terrorism no more prominence than Obama did. Indeed, the new Republican Congress has been just as domestic in its emphasis.”
Daniel Henninger wrote in The Wall Street Journal this morning about how jarring it was to see “American Sniper” Tuesday night, then return home to watch the president’s lack of concern about the world on display:
Opinions will differ, often bitterly, on the war in Iraq and the reasons for it. In the movie, a painful funeral scene captures that ambivalence. But what is just not possible to choke down is President Obama’s decision in 2011 to reduce the U.S.’s residual military presence to virtually zero. It was a decision to waste what the Marines and Army had done.
Announcing the decision at the White House on Oct. 21, Mr. Obama said, “After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and removeall of our troops by the end of 2011.” (Emphasis added.)
Military analysts at the time, in government and on the outside, warned Mr. Obama that a zero U.S. presence could put the war’s gains and achievements at risk. He did it anyway and ever since Mr. Obama has repeatedly bragged about this decision in public speeches, notably to the graduating cadets of West Point last May.
In January, months before that West Point speech, the terrorist army of Islamic State, or ISIS, seized back control of both Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province. The month after the West Point speech, the city of Mosul and its population of one million fell to Islamic State, and here we are with the barbarians on the loose there, in Yemen, in Nigeria and in France.
Watching “American Sniper,” it is impossible to separate these catastrophes from seeing what the Marines did and endured to secure northern Iraq. Again, anyone is entitled to hate the Iraq war. But no serious person would want a president to make a decision that would allow so much personal sacrifice to simply evaporate. Which, in his serene self-confidence, is what Barack Obama did. That absolute drawdown was a decision of fantastic foolishness….
But we expect that from Henninger and the WSJ, right?
So let’s consider what the editorial board of The Washington Post had to say last week in an editorial headlined, “The U.S. fight against jihadism has lost its momentum:”
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S neglect of the anti-terrorism march in Paris seemed reflective of a broader loss of momentum by his administration in combating Islamic jihadism. Five months after the president launched military operations against the Islamic State, fighting in Iraq and Syria appears stalemated. The training of Iraqi army units for a hoped-for counteroffensive is proceeding slowly and, according to a report by The Post’s Loveday Morris, looks under-resourced. Weapons and ammunition are in such short supply that trainees are yelling “bang, bang” in place of shooting.
Iraq, moreover, is the theater where U.S. engagement is most aggressive; elsewhere, the Obama administration appears to be passively standing by as jihadists expand their territory, recruitment and training. In Libya, the job of stemming an incipient civil war has been left to a feckless U.N. mediator, even though the Islamic State is known to be operating at least one training camp with hundreds of recruits. In Nigeria, where a new offensive by the Boko Haram movement has overrun much of one northeastern state, a U.S. military training program was recently canceled by the government following a dispute over arms sales.
The bankruptcy of U.S. policy toward the Syrian civil war was underlined again on Wednesday, when Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressed hope for a patently cynical and one-sided diplomatic initiative by Russia, which has been working to preserve the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It’s been nearly a year since the last U.S. diplomatic effort to end the war collapsed, and the administration continues to offer no strategy for how to stop the regime’s assaults on moderate Syrian forces it is counting on to fight the Islamic State. It has ignored widespread assessments that its program for training Syrian forces is too small and too slow….
This is a bad situation for our country and our allies. And I worry that it won’t get any better as the 2016 presidential campaign gets under way. No wonder Lindsey Graham is thinking of running — it may be the only way most of the world gets talked about.