Barack Obama’s response to the ISIS attacks in Paris beginning at his Monday press conference in Turkey as well as all subsequent press opportunity during his trip to Asia reflect both a lack of substantive understanding of what is transpiring as well as a persistent defensive tone to his remarks. First, he has repeatedly declared that the Administration understands what it is doing and is successfully containing the Islamic State. He suggests that those who question his leadership in dealing with the current crisis with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, in Europe, and all over the world, do not recognize how effective the strategy has been.
As he did when he tested those who opposed his policy on the Iran Agreement, Obama now challenged others to step forward with a better strategy against ISIS. As a result, it must have been upsetting for Obama when his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in her address on Thursday before Council of Foreign Relations began to separate herself from Obama’s strategy and to present some expanded, responsible policy recommendations.
In fact there is much to criticize in Obama’s approach to ISIS. Among other observers and critics, The Washington Post, in a major editorial on Tuesday not only attacked the President’s strategy but his petulant style as well. While his entire cautious style and academic approach is light years ahead of any of the rants being presented at the moment by many of the Republican presidential aspirants, it is his behavior in dealing with a major international crisis that is not only faulty but dangerous.
On the substantive level there are serious objective analysts as well as military observers who question the President’s approach. Obama is correct that at a political level all he is getting is negative criticism; yet he has gotten his back up and argued that the proposals he is receiving are only ad hominem based attacks on him, not alternative strategies. On the other hand, listening to the shout-outs from Republican leaders, some of their irresponsible, half-baked ideas are absolutely scary and show an approach to foreign policy which would be invalid even in the glory days of the Gunfight at the O.K Corral. They are at one and the same time making a transparent appeal to right-wing Republican primary voters while at the same time embarrassing the American public to say nothing of U.S. allies.
It is on the issue of refugees that the President must quickly assert leadership if he is prepared to step forward. There is a dramatically increased panic setting in among the American people, within Congress, and throughout Europe; closing borders, restricting immigration, and sending them back. There is no simple quick solution, but unless one is found very quickly Europe soon will be dealing with thousands of sick, hungry, freezing and dead refugees.