Tags: obama | iraq | coalition | states

Obama's Words Come Back to Haunt Him as He Rallies US on Iraq

Monday, 22 September 2014 06:18 AM

For criticism of President Barack Obama’s offensive against Islamic State, look no farther than the president’s own words.

In January, he dismissed the Islamic militants as “a jayvee team,” amateurs who posed little threat. In August, he derided the Syrian rebels who now will be key allies as “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists” with less capacity to fight than needed.

On Sept. 3, Obama told reporters his goal was to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State -- then later at the same event said it was to reduce the extremists to “a manageable problem.”

And then, days after Obama said no U.S. ground troops would be used against Islamic State, his top military adviser, Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he might eventually recommend doing so.

Those shifting statements have fed public doubts that the president has a firm grip on what’s needed to defeat the jihadis who now rule over parts of Syria and Iraq and have beheaded two American journalists and a British aid worker.

“The White House is presenting the president as a careful and cautious warrior, but those same moves can make him look like an uncertain and ambivalent warrior,” said Peter Feaver, a former national Security Council staff member for presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

“The most acidic critic of President Obama’s September strategy,” Feaver said, “is July Obama or January Obama or Obama in 2012.”

Public Skeptical

Fifty-five percent of Americans say Obama has no “clear plan” to deal with Islamic State and only 39 percent approve of his handling of the militant group, according to a CBS/New York Times poll taken Sept. 12-15. That was after the president delivered a prime-time television address to describe his plan.

Discontent with Obama’s campaign against the militants is surfacing even as two-thirds or more of Americans polled favor key elements of his strategy, such as air strikes against the jihadists and sending more military advisers to Iraq.

Public skepticism of Obama is compounded by his record of backtracking on Syria. He initially declared that any use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad would be a “red line” and brought the U.S. to the verge of retaliatory air strikes a year ago this month, only to step back.

“He dramatically wrong-footed the public and political leaders last year on Syria,” said Feaver, now a political science professor at Duke University. That erodes his credibility in a crisis involving the same region of the world and many of the same actors, he said.

No Strategy

Obama at an Aug. 28 press conference added to the public sense of drift in the administration, when he said “we don’t have a strategy yet.” Though aides afterward said the president was referring to a plan for a military campaign inside Syria, the comment was widely featured in media coverage as a sign of indecision on Islamic State.

Even after Obama’s Sept. 10 address outlining his strategy, his top foreign policy advisers contributed to the confusion over a point as basic as whether the country is at war.

Both National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry refused to say the day after the speech that the U.S. is at war with Islamic State. “That’s the wrong terminology,” Kerry said in a CNN interview, calling it instead “a very significant counter-terrorism operation.”

The following day, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Defense Department’s top spokesman, said the opposite: “Make no mistake, we know we are at war.”

Unfolding Plan

Administration officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss it, said a complex strategy has been unfolding in deliberate steps since Islamic State seized large swaths of Iraqi territory in June.

The administration first worked for months to help dislodge Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, whom they believe promoted a sectarian agenda that alienated Sunni Muslims and created a fertile recruiting ground for militants.

After air strikes over the summer to contain Islamic State, the administration waited until the formation earlier this month of a new Iraqi government, one more acceptable to Sunnis, before committing to increased military backing.

The White House has been seeking overt commitments from regimes in the region to bolster credibility with Sunni Arabs, who populate the territory under the jihadis’ control. Saudi Arabia agreed to a training base for moderate Syrian rebels, and religious leaders in Saudi Arabia and Egypt have issued edicts condemning Islamic State.

Bad Intelligence

In some cases, Obama’s comments earlier this year may have been driven by bad intelligence.

James Clapper, the U.S. national intelligence director, acknowledged in an interview with the Washington Post that intelligence agencies had underestimated Islamic State’s “will to fight” and overestimated the capability of the Iraqi army.

One outside adviser to Obama, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some of the statements that have come back to haunt the president also stemmed from a wish to ease the pressure to intervene as he put pieces into place, such as the replacement of al-Maliki, and gained a better handle on the situation on the ground.

“He is a reluctant warrior,” said P.J. Crowley, a former Obama State Department official. “I think the administration has a better strategy than it’s been able to communicate.”

Obama, who won the White House on a promise to get U.S. troops out of Iraq, also faces political challenges in the run- up to the midterm congressional elections. His party’s success will depend on the enthusiasm of core Democratic voters.

While 62 percent of Republicans favor using U.S. ground troops to fight Islamic State, that idea is opposed by 65 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of political independents, according to the CBS-New York Times poll.

Even Obama’s request to authorize aid to Syrian rebels ran into opposition in his own party. More than 40 percent of House Democrats voted against it.

© Copyright 2020 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

1Like our page
For criticism of President Barack Obama's offensive against Islamic State, look no farther than the president's own words.In January, he dismissed the Islamic militants as "a jayvee team," amateurs who posed little threat. In August, he derided the Syrian rebels who now...
obama, iraq, coalition, states
Monday, 22 September 2014 06:18 AM
Newsmax Media, Inc.

Newsmax, Moneynews, Newsmax Health, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, and Newsmax World are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

America's News Page
© Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved