Borodin: Captain, I would never disagree with you in front of the men, you know that. But in this case, Viktor is right: it would have been better if you had *not* informed Moscow.
Ramius: Oh, Vasili, Moscow is not the worry, nor the entire Soviet Navy. I know their tactics. I have the advantage. No, the worry is the Americans. We meet the right sort, this will work. We meet some “buckaroo”. . .
—Sam Neill as First Officer Vasili Borodin, and Sean Connery as Captain Marko Ramius in The Hunt For Red October
I have complained many times in this space about this President’s lack of visibility and more-than-curious refusal to address the nation on serious crises. I’m beginning to re-think that, and maybe it’s better sometimes if he’d just keep his mouth shut.
On Thursday Obama broke from his usual pattern and actually gave a press conference to address the situation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. During those remarks, the President said, “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet.”
This is troubling on a number of different levels. First, if you don’t yet have a strategy, why on earth are you holding a presser to announce that fact to the world, including ISIS? As we’ll discuss in a moment, this is not an isolated incident for this, er, Commander-in-Chief.
Second, how is it that the President has no strategy for dealing with ISIS? The group has been part of the anti-Assad uprising in Syria for years. Although he cavalierly dismissed them as the “JV” back in January of this year, the intelligence community has been warning about them since about that same time. And it’s been all over mainstream Western news for months that ISIS was taking vast territories from a badly overmatched Iraqi army. On June 9, ISIS captured the key Iraqi city of Mosul. Yet nearly three months later, the Obama administration still doesn’t have a plan for dealing with them?
This comes on the heels of Obama in effect announcing that he doesn’t yet have a plan for dealing with increased Russian aggression in Ukraine. There he went a step further by announcing what his plans would not be, explicitly taking any military response off the table. I am not suggesting that military intervention necessarily is the appropriate response to the situation in Ukraine, but why on earth would you say out loud that it’s not an option? By doing that, Vladimir Putin now knows the worst risk he faces is economic sanctions, and with winter approaching a Europe that depends on Russian gas he knows the U.S. is not likely to get significant European support for much beyond what is already in place.
And this is not new for the Obama administration.
Recall March 2012, when Obama—thinking he was off-mic—told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that after the election he would have “more flexibility” regarding U.S. missile defense systems in Europe. Translation: he told the Russians that if they would just be patient, he would be able and willing to give them what they want.
If publicly telling your adversaries that you’re taking options off the table is bad, the reverse—publicly making threats you are not willing to carry out—may be worse. Rewind to August 2012, when the President told the world that the use of chemical or biological weapons in the Syrian conflict would be a “red line” for the U.S. as far as military intervention. Fast-forward to August 2013, when alleged evidence that the Assad regime was using such weapons against civilians prompted calls for action, and Obama denied he said what he said, and then he did nothing.
As not quite an aside, this is essentially the same thing he did with respect to Benghazi, when he promised to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice, and has done basically nothing since. He is now in the process of doing precisely the same thing with respect to the murder of journalist James Foley. Yet while on his recent vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, he found time to work in eight rounds of golf, raising his total to 35 rounds this year, and 192 rounds since he took office. It is also worth noting that while ISIS and the Russians have been on the march and the administration did not have a plan, the Commander-in-Chief had time to attend over 40 fundraisers this year; that’s over eighty in his second term, nearly three times Bush 43’s second term tally. Obama’s total of nearly 400 is second only to Bill Clinton.
Time and again, the President has publicly shot off his mouth about strategies and plans—or the lack thereof—with respect to foreign policy matters. He has absolutely no grasp of the concept of playing it close to the vest when dealing with adversaries. Sun Tzu, writing some 2,500 years ago, emphasized the importance of information, particularly about the capabilities and intentions of your opponent, in deciding conflicts; Obama seems to have missed that one.
This administration lives in a state of total denial regarding the threat from our enemies. In point of fact, the administration has expressly denied that ISIS is at war with the U.S., despite the fact that ISIS has expressly and repeatedly said that it is. Instead of acknowledging the reality and dealing with it for what it is, the Obama administration steadfastly refuses to take them at their word, and has consistently attempted to deal with ISIS and other Islamists as civilian criminals, rather than soldiers at war. Further, FreeBeacon.com reports that the latest FBI domestic threat assessment refuses to include Islamist jihadis among those threats, focusing instead on things like anti-government militia groups, black separatists, and both sides of the abortion debate. The FreeBeacon piece notes that the FBI is advised on domestic terror threats by operatives of al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
This childish game of insisting it won’t be so as long as we refuse to name it is dangerous. You may choose not to defend yourself, but you have no choice about being in a fight if the other guy wants to fight. When you broadcast your every move to the world, ignore what your adversaries tell you are their intentions, and on top of that allow those same adversaries to advise you on how to respond to threats, your ability to defend yourself even if you wanted to is reduced to nil.
Perhaps we could do with a little less talking, and a little more doing.