As he often does. But what did President Barack Obama really say? I’ll elide his bald claims regarding his having “consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country.” Threats like ISIS; like the terrorists who destroyed our Benghazi consulate and butchered our Ambassador there, along with three of his security detail; like al Qaeda in the Maghreb and al Qaeda in Yemen; like the Taliban in Afghanistan, from which—and whom—we’re retreating; …. Yes, yes, we’ve killed a few key players in some of those gangs, but we’ve not damaged the gangs themselves in any material way. But enough of that.
ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.
But Islam does condone the killing of innocents, when they’re unbelievers, infidels. Oh, wait—Islam doesn’t consider them innocents.
…following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.
America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners.
But who are the members of this broad coalition? Who will lead the surface forces? Who will lead the air forces? Who will lead the economic forces? Oh, wait—
…in the coming days [Secretary of State John Kerry] will travel across the Middle East and Europe to enlist more partners in this fight, especially Arab nations….
There isn’t a coalition, after all. What’s he going to do, then, if the coalition doesn’t materialize? Walk away from the problem? Again?
I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.
I’ll ignore the fact that this is the Bush Doctrine. I do note that he said this in the context of contesting with ISIS. But it’s also a broad, uncaveated statement. Is Obama now saying that he’ll attack al Qaeda in the Maghreb? That he’ll step up his attacks on al Qaeda in Yemen? That he’ll resume attacks on the Taliban in Afghanistan? Or is this just more of Obama’s muddled messaging?
[I]n Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I again call on Congress to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters.
What assistance? He’s been resistant all along to arming those whom he derided as recently as August as being “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists, and so forth.”
He’s also maintained all along that he needs no “authorities” from Congress to deal with the al Assad régime or to work with the Syrian rebels (although having Congressional comity would be nice, he’s also said). What’s changed?
And then there’s this. Obama opened his speech thusly:
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.
What does he mean by “degrade?” We “degraded” ISIS with the limited air strikes we made to help free the Yezidis, to help the Kurds retake the Mosul Dam, to help the Sunnis (!) defend the Haditha Dam.
What is his definition of “destroy?” Rome “destroyed” Carthage, and the Allies “destroyed” NAZI Germany. Within Obama’s penchant for treating terrorists as common criminals, the Federal Courts have, more or less, “destroyed” the lives of a couple of terrorists brought to trial.
What, exactly, are Obama’s victory conditions? He’s always provided his exit conditions, even to the point of announcing in advance when he would exit. He’s always said what he won’t do to achieve “victory,” or an enemy’s “degradation,” or an enemy’s “destruction.” But he’s never said what, in his mind, constitutes winning.
There’s also a subject he chose not to address Wednesday night: funding. In many respects this is the most important: no conflict (Obama still won’t call this a war, and Kerry, the day after this speech, told CNN that we’re not at war with ISIS; it’s a “significant counter-terrorism operation”—so, what, the FBI will be the lead agency?), regardless of the conflict’s national life-or-death importance, can be fought for free. Just ask the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
How will this conflict be funded? What spending will be reallocated, what taxes imposed, what borrowings engaged?
Certainly, most of these questions need not have been answered in Wednesday’s speech, but we’re already two days later without answers. He must answer these questions in the next few days. If answers are not quickly forthcoming, Obama’s claims in his pretty speech will be shown to be of a piece with another of his claims in that speech:
From Europe to Asia…we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity.
Just like his administration has stood for the freedom, justice, and dignity of Russian-occupied Ukraine.
A transcript of Obama’s speech can be read here.