Months ago, the Obama administration kicked the ISIS can down the road claiming a lack of intelligence. We assume they were speaking of intelligence related to ISIS. We are capable of reading car tags from outer space, but we apparently had trouble following an army of thousands.
The President’s national security team now justifies his “JV” comment from January in its usual manner: by clarifying “what he really meant,” and changing the context of the moment so that the straw men remain standing in the full flower of hindsight.
The President stepped to the podium Monday, with some (e.g., me) hopeful that he would announce an expanded effort against ISIS while we had the chance – perhaps a moment of clarity, an epiphany. Perhaps to tell us that he had separated the politics in Baghdad from the crisis in Kurdistan, and that a new set of orders had been sent down the chain of command.
No such luck. He told us exactly what he’d told us on Saturday. But some level of deeper understanding was at least on the horizon.
Appearing on Fox Special Report on Monday, Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane suggested that in the earlier days of ISIS the Obama administration saw an upside to the ISIS advance: it applied pressure on the al-Maliki government in Baghdad. As violence and degradation against Christians and minorities (including Muslims) expanded, the administration, said Lane, saw the undesirable consequences of its earlier hopes.
Monday afternoon, a “senior intelligence official” anonymously pushed back by way of the Wall Street Journal. He or she insisted that they warned Obama and the warnings were essentially ignored, likely in favor of the context Lane reported.
The Pentagon was not far behind, as Lt. Gen. Bill Mayville, speaking for the Pentagon, made it clear that the current policy was “unlikely to affect ISIS’s overall operations.” The Pentagon knows as do many that pinpricks result in a change of tactics, not strategy – and that is exactly what happened. Instead of traditional military formations and movement, ISIS moved into the cities to assume insurgency tactics.
The opportunity to, say, take out every tank, APC, mobile rocket launcher, or artillery piece was now no longer there. After the beat-down we applied to Israel over civilian casualties, we can be assured there will be no airstrikes in those cities. ISIS wins this round as the U.S. confronts a conundrum over the humanitarian crisis ISIS has created, while ISIS goes to ground to protect their heavy armaments. It’s a win-win for ISIS: Christians die, Kurdistan is socked with a refugee crisis and the U.S. looks feckless, once again.
The President’s straw men stand at attention: “no boots on the ground”; “there is not a military solution to every problem”; “we can’t do everything.” Even willing to grant a measure of validity to those opinions does not mean that there are not real threats that do demand some manner of military action.
If you believe that ISIS is not a threat, stand with the straw men. If you believe they are, you know by now we missed the boat. Actions – as well as inaction – send messages in the Middle East. Had we gone after the heavy weapons, that would have been a message that there is a real red line. It would have demonstrated the price to be paid for inflicting medieval interpretations of Islam on the innocent.
No such message was sent.