President Obama Wednesday night made a very short speech to the nation announcing his strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. (Full text here.) I doubt he convinced very many Americans of anything. Judging by his calm, weary, almost diffident tone, it didn’t seem like he aspired to any big act of persuasion.
He had taken enormous grief from the perpetual Obama-bashers for having said that he hadn’t yet developed a strategy for dealing with ISIS (aka ISIL). Now he has. He was merely announcing it. So much for the famed “bully pulpit.”
What’s the strategy? The United States will use its air power to hit ISIS. U.S. ground troops will not play a role. Washington will provide arms to various anti-ISIS elements in Iraq and Syria who will do the front-line fighting. It will provide intelligence. It will build a coalition of partners.
There wasn’t much effort to hype the direct threat that ISIS represents to the United States. In fact, Obama said, “we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland.” He didn’t talk about what would happen if the strategy doesn’t work. He asserted that the strategy requires no new specific authorization from Congress, although he would welcome a vote of support.
The Fox view
Most of the instant reaction I caught was on Fox, where Obama derangement syndrome was on full display, especially from Sean Hannity and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
On Fox’s Megyn Kelly program, Cruz called Obama’s new policy “fundamentally unserious,” described Obama’s overall policy as “withdrawing from leadership in the world,” and reserved special mockery for Obama’s insistence that further U.S. involvement in Iraq would depend on the creation of a more inclusive government in Iraq, which Cruz considered a ridiculous goal because “the Sunni and Shiites have been engaged in a sectarian civil war since 632 a.d.”
Hannity basically pushed the line that none of this would have happened if Obama had not persisted in withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
The Rand Paul view
Appearing on Hannity, Sen. Rand Paul took a much more interesting line (as, in my opinion, he often does). Rather than blaming the U.S. troop withdrawal, he went back a step further, saying that the rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups like ISIS was caused by U.S. decisions to overthrow various secular dictators, including Saddam Hussein. (His full list also included Gaddafi in Libya, Mubarak in Egypt and Assad in Syria — acknowledging that Assad is not yet overthrown. “As bad as Assad is, he is an enemy of ISIS,” Paul said.)
Hannity shared the outrage of various Obama derangement syndrome sufferers that Obama had said last that “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.”
Hannity invited Sen. Paul to share his outrage, but Paul threw him a curve, asserting that what ISIS represents is “not a true form of Islam. This is an aberrant form that should not represent most of the civilized Islamic world.”
Obama, Paul said, “was trying to make the case to the Islamic world that this is not a true or accurate depiction of Islam. Because ultimately we do need — and most of the allies that are around and that also are offended by ISIS, are also Muslim nations. And I think they will rise up and ultimately the victory … is going to require allies who are part of the civilized portion of the Islamic world, which is the majority of the Islamic world, but they have to step up.”