No Strategy, No Leadership

On Thursday August 29th, President Obama held a foreign policy press conference primarily regarding the threat from IS in Iraq and Syria and the deepening conflict in the Ukraine. The biggest take away for social media and mainstream news was that Obama wore a taupe colored suit and not the absolute lack of substance he offered which is shocking. Especially with the threat of IS growing daily and having known about it since last year this administration concedes “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with them. Where is the leadership at the helm of this country and where are the advisors and consultants who should be working on a strategy?

In a recent post I spoke about how this administration has underplayed the threat from IS despite abundant warning signs. Underplaying a threat is one thing; not formulating a strategy to deal with the threat is another. This is plain reckless. Over the past year as extremists in Iraq took more and more territory we didn't develop a plan? I feel that Obama believed that this would all work itself out on its own and everyone would have a happy ending or that we could just ignore the problem and let others solve it. If I can be offered another explanation for the indifference by the president and his complacency I'm all ears.

I'm not the only one who feels this way about Obama's handling of foreign affairs. Now over a majority of Americans believe he isn't tough enough on foreign policy while the percent who believe he is doing good foreign policy wise is still less than his overall job approval ratings. Mind you with these numbers continuously falling, one can only imagine what they will be later in the year after presumably more inaction. It's just not the situation in Iraq and Syria that is spiraling out of control but with the Ukraine as well where it seems that Russia has invaded the Ukraine. Never mind dealing with Putin, he knows he has the upper hand over Obama.

Now yes I concede that the president and the American people are wary of interventionism after over a decade of war overseas. But cautiousness is not synonymous with indifference and a lack of concern. In Libya I refused to take up the stance that Obama leading from behind was a bad thing. Our European partners who dealt with Gaddafi more than we did, stepped up and did what needed to be done. There is no reason why the U.S. must take the lead in every international action. The same though isn't true now. In the case of Iraq, we are partly to blame and we should take some of the responsibility. Ignoring pleas for help from a foreign allied sovereign is disgusting. The fact is we not only did that, we also failed to think the situation could get worse and plan for it.

Obama doesn't lead from behind, he barely leads at all. What's just as shocking is that he has surrounded himself with likeminded advisors who seem to share his lack of concern for everything. Where did Obama think it was a good idea to come out and publicly state that the U.S. has no plan for dealing with IS? I already know this administration is incompetent but when they acknowledge it themselves I grow even more worried.

Posted by SPBrooker at September 3, 2014 3:28 PM
Comment #382746

We refused to help the Maliki government for very good reason. Maliki was a sectarian fool who fomented the problem with Sunni extremists. His Shiite government reneged on all promises to create an inclusive government respectful of Sunni interests. His government drove the Sunni “Awakening” back into the arms of the extremists.

US assistance to that government would have only hardened Sunni resistance. We should remember the great difficulties in managing the “insurgency” in the Sunni Triangle during our occupation. That problem turned around when we agreed to intercede with the “Surge” in Baghdad to stop the genocide of the Shiites on the Sunnis. Obama correctly declined to turned back time.

The Obama administration’s requirement for political change in Iraq before any assistance was hard ball politics that worked. It was a bit of brinkmanship but necessary. There was no hope with a pure Shiite government. There is now some hope and the US is now providing direct assistance to Iraqi army and irregular units in their fight with ISIL.

The Obama administration has taken a somewhat nuanced position on ISIL. Military action per se will not be sufficient and any successful effort will require a political predicate to be effective in the long run. In other words, without support of the people and the governments in this region, ISIL cannot be defeated. The problem of course is that much of the region is in political turmoil and there are no clear allies, excepting the Kurds. Hopefully, the new Iraqi government will prove to be such an ally in rolling back ISIL in Iraq.

Criticizing Obama for admitting the obvious in Syria may make for some political hay but doesn’t contribute to a solution. The truth of the matter is that short of a full US occupation of the entire region, there is no simple solution. The FSA is riddled with extremist brigades. There is no obvious ally in Syria to take the fight to ISIL.

I also think that we should be very careful in addressing this problem. Indeed, the consequences of the Iraq invasion should be a clear lesson of unintended consequences.

Posted by: Rich at September 3, 2014 5:13 PM
Comment #382747

In addition to the specific Iraqi governance problems, Thomas Friedman has pointed out the regional contextual disputes within which the ISIL threat must be addressed. It is a veritable minefield.

“Second, the context. To defeat ISIS you have to address the context out of which it emerged. And that is the three civil wars raging in the Arab world today: the civil war within Sunni Islam between radical jihadists and moderate mainstream Sunni Muslims and regimes; the civil war across the region between Sunnis funded by Saudi Arabia and Shiites funded by Iran; and the civil war between Sunni jihadists and all other minorities in the region — Yazidis, Turkmen, Kurds, Christians, Jews and Alawites.

“When you have a region beset by that many civil wars at once, it means there is no center, only sides. And when you intervene in the middle of a region with no center, you very quickly become a side.”

Posted by: Rich at September 3, 2014 6:58 PM
Comment #382748

Perhaps if obama had surrounded himself with competent advisers he would have a workable strategy presented to him. For now his strategy seems to be simple-minded…don’t do anything stupid.

That’s not good enough for a CIC. He is not proactive, he is inactive. And, that is the shame.

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 3, 2014 7:11 PM
Comment #382751

Royal Flush,

What “proactive” strategy would you have recommended? Would you have supported a coup against Maliki? ISIS was a progeny of al-Qaeda in Iraq. It survived and flourished due to the suppression of the Sunnis in Iraq by the Shiite Maliki government. When push came to shove, the Shiite dominated Iraqi army dissolved in the Sunni Triangle under ISIS pressure. They were literally an army trapped in a foreign hostile land.

In Syria, would you have supported a resistance containing many fundamentalist brigades (the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front just took part of the Golan Heights).

Its clear that the US has had few good choices in that region. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 unleashed the dogs of sectarian war in that region. Its clear that we never understood the magnitude of the animosities in that region. The sectarian divisions are deep. Its not something that we as a western nation can easily control.

Obama’s principal of don’t something stupid is really not as stupid as it seems. Its an admonish that when you don’t fully comprehend the situation and can’t fully control the actors, it is wise to proceed cautiously.

Posted by: Rich at September 3, 2014 8:14 PM
Comment #382753

“That’s not good enough for a CIC. He is not proactive, he is inactive. And, that is the shame.”

I would remind you Royal, that the Obama administration has been relentless in its pursuit of al-Qaeda across the globe including killing Bin-Laden. It has not been reluctant to use drone or special operation strikes anywhere in the world with or without the support of the country within which the individuals reside or are operational.

Yesterday, it was announced that a US special operations strike likely killed the leader of al-Shabaab in Somalia. That is the fundamentalist al-Qaeda affiliate responsible for the attack on the Nairobi mall attack and numerous other terrorist acts.

Posted by: Rich at September 3, 2014 8:26 PM
Comment #382766

Remember how Bush administration critics said the invasion of Iraq would make the problem with terrorism worse?


Here we are.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Islamic State!

Posted by: phx8 at September 3, 2014 10:01 PM
Comment #382767

Remember how the Bush administration and Ambassador Paul Bremer thought it would be a good idea after the invasion to disband the Iraqi military?

Over a decade later, the reconstituted Iraqi military in northwestern Iraq- a force of 30,000- when faced with an invading Islamic State force of seven thousand, deserted, or joined IS.

Ladies and gentlemen! Introducing…

An Islamic caliphate armed with American weaponry!

Posted by: phx8 at September 3, 2014 10:06 PM
Comment #382768

“Ignoring pleas for help from a foreign allied sovereign [Iraq] is disgusting.”

Lets be clear about who we should be disgusted at. It is not the US. We left Iraq with a well equipped and trained army which vastly outnumbered ISIS forces. It collapsed without a fight. After all the blood and treasure that we spent for Iraq, they couldn’t even defend one of their major cities. But, you say it is our fault?

Posted by: Rich at September 3, 2014 11:01 PM
Comment #382772

phx8 & Rich,

Also, we should never forget the close ties between Maliki and Iran. Today Baghdad is Shia controlled for the first time in centuries. Khamenei will not let IS expand outside of the Sunni regions of Iraq. Kurdistan is a different matter, which is why Obama has directed American support to them. Also relevant is IS’s role in Syria where it currently poses the biggest threat to Assad’s government. Wiping out IS will virtually guarantee the continuation of Assad’s despotism for decades.

Posted by: Warren Porter at September 3, 2014 11:30 PM
Comment #382774

President Obama is trying to build a coalition to combat both ISIL and handle the Ukrainian problem without our military involvement in any great capacity. It’s about time someone in a position of power in the United States is trying to get across to other countries that policing the bad people in your area of the world is your job. We will help if we can but it is your job to initiate the action and find solutions eventually. NATO (Ukraine), UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and even Iran (ISIL). I like this approach and hope it succeeds but if it doesn’t they will have themselves to blame and not us.

Posted by: Speak4all at September 4, 2014 2:08 PM
Comment #382794

The US is adrift without a competent leader who is capable of devising a strategy. He merely reacts…and does that poorly. Does anyone understand the mixed messages he gives our allies and enemies nearly every day. He is confused and our enemies take advantage and our friends shake their heads.

Obama has had six years in office and appears no more knowledgeable regarding foreign affairs than when he took office. A strategy doesn’t begin with a crisis, it anticipates them.

Liberals are fond of asking…”what would you do”? That very question implies that obama is doing everything he can to address the threats we face around the world. Nonsense. He was unprepared to be CIC six years ago and still is.

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 4, 2014 6:23 PM
Comment #382810


The Bush administration and its neocon advisers had a strategic vision and a tactical plan for Iraq.

The tragic consequences of that strategy are now playing out. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before the implementation of that strategy. ISIS is a direct progeny of al-Qaeda. We now must deal with a region awash in sectarian warfare and destabilized by a strategic US plan.

Spare me the naivete and hubris of strategic US visions.

Posted by: Rich at September 4, 2014 9:01 PM
Comment #382811

More successes abroad for the Obama administration, thanks to outstanding leadership.

The leader of the Al Qaeda organization in Somalia, the group that launched that horrendous attack in a mall, was killed.

Obama coordinated NATO’s response to both ISIS and the Russian/Ukranian issue. Giving a speech from Estonia was especially effective. Putin got the message, by the way, and blinked.

My comment demonstrates the difference between liberals and conservatives. With this and other issues, as a liberal I can point to specific facts, statistics, and things that have actually happened in reality to show Obama has done a great job as president. Conservatives, however, have no facts or statistics to work with. Their hatred of Obama is real, but when asked why, they resort to vague assertions with nothing to back it up… Obama is ‘weak’ or ‘not showing leadership.’ They cannot point to anything to support that. It is just a feeling. Last month he was a ‘tyrant’ and ‘despot’ ‘dictator’ and ‘king.’

The dislike of Obama is seated in a deep and irrational hatred. What causes such an irrational response? What is its basis?

Posted by: phx8 at September 5, 2014 3:26 PM
Comment #382813

Spare me the naivete and hubris of strategic US visions.
Posted by: Rich at September 4, 2014 9:01 PM

Such a short memory. So sad.

phx8 wrote; “They cannot point to anything to support that.”

How many times and in how many ways have we explained. I will point to public opinion this time…he is dropping like a rock in public confidence. What doesn’t phx8 know, that the majority of Americans do know?

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 5, 2014 7:01 PM
Comment #382815

Correction: “do NOT know”

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 5, 2014 7:03 PM
Comment #382816

Forget the correction…lol…bad day I guess.

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 5, 2014 7:04 PM
Comment #382836
Remember how the Bush administration and Ambassador Paul Bremer thought it would be a good idea after the invasion to disband the Iraqi military?

Over a decade later, the reconstituted Iraqi military in northwestern Iraq- a force of 30,000- when faced with an invading Islamic State force of seven thousand, deserted, or joined IS.

Ladies and gentlemen! Introducing…

An Islamic caliphate armed with American weaponry!

Funny, you attribute this to Bush but aren’t willing to attribute Arab Spring to Bush even thought that is precisely what he predicted?

Can’t really have it both ways, can you?

Of course, I don’t think either are directly a result as it were.

Oh, and of course I think this silly notion that ISIL is somehow worse than al Qaeda and somehow a threat to the US is preposterous…

The civil war in Iraq needs to happen and should have been allowed to happen in 2003. Rumsfeld was an idiot for fighting this for so many years.

Iraq, as a country, was cobbled together and forced to stay as a single state by western interests for their benefit. It has needed a huge amount of force and bloodshed for decades, from English rule through Saddam and then US rule.

The fact is that it should be three distinct countries. If one of those countries wants to be a Sunni Caliphate, let it be. What does that have to do with the US?

And for those that aren’t aware, in the Caliphate, you don’t have to be Muslim. You just have to pay a tax if you choose not to be. And if you don’t (or can’t) pay that tax, you are then killed… Much like the US does with our tax code, though perhaps not as directly, but with the same effect.

Posted by: Rhinehold at September 6, 2014 6:55 PM
Comment #382837
There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before the implementation of that strategy

Lol, you still buy that fairy tale?

Posted by: Rhinehold at September 6, 2014 6:57 PM
Comment #383008

There are some Factual news Articles that inform us as what is really going on with America and its Secret Full Ally, which America Created and Funded, and how and why ISIS or ISIL Pretends to be America’s Enemy at , and .

There is a Video on ISIS or ISIL, and it is Titled: The Truth About ISIS and Obama’s War Speech, at .

Syria held a Free and Fair Election, and the Syrian Government was reelected with 88 % of the Vote, and these Foreign Mercenaries, who are Funded and Armed by America, want to Impose Sharia Law on the People of Syria, and Many of them are Not even Eligible to Vote, because they are not Syrian Citizens, but Foreign Mercenaries, who are Murdering Syrian Civilians, along with damaging Syrian Property, and yet America and Israel say that these Foreign Criminals are a Pro Democracy and a Pro Freedom Movement.

There are no Peaceful People among the Syrian Armed Militants, or among ISIS or ISIL in Iraq or Syria, nor are there any Law Abiding People among ISIS or ISIL in Iraq or Syria, with regards to Iraqi and Syrian Law.

We know that just over a year ago America and Israel wanted to attack Syria, using their Usual Slanders and Lies that the Syrian Government had used chemical weapons.

It was discovered that America had Maliciously Slandered the Innocent and Legitimate Syrian Government of using chemical weapons,because the Foreign Mercenaries known as the Syrian Rebels were the ones that used chemical weapons, but America had to come up with a new Scheme, and that was to Create and Fund ISIS, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and who pretend to be America’s Enemy, even as America Created and Funds Al-Qaeda, who pretends to be America’s Enemy at .

America gave Libya to its Secret Ally of Al-Qaeda, who were said to be a Pro Democracy, and Pro Freedom Movement, but they have Imposed Sharia Law on Libya, and that is what America has promised its Secret Ally ISIS that ISIS will be the Government of Syria.

Posted by: Journalist at September 11, 2014 5:32 AM
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