The No-Strategy Strategy

President Obama — having built his political career on his ability to deliver a well-crafted speech — should be well aware of the power of words.  Does he regret his statement last Thursday that the United States doesn’t “have a strategy yet” for how to deal with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria?  Or could it possibly be that he was telling the truth, and our country has, up to now, failed to develop a strategy to deal with a murderous group of Islamic fanatics who are attempting to establish a full-fledged terrorist state and who believe they can behead Americans with impunity and did so, again, yesterday?

We live in weird time right now, when America seems to be more self-absorbed than a teenager posting countless selfies on a Facebook page.  After President Obama made his “we don’t have a strategy yet” statement, some commentators focused on the tan suit he was wearing and talked about whether it projected a sufficiently powerful image.  Others saw the statement as a “gaffe” and immediately began to speculate about the potential political repercussions.  Still others were quick to declare the comment as President Obama’s “malaise” moment, recalling President Carter’s ill-fated “malaise” speech, when many people believe he finally lost the trust and support of many Americans.  And such statements can come back to bite, politically — as the devastating front page photo and headline of today’s New York Daily News demonstrates.

Of course, terrorists don’t care what kind of clothes our President is wearing when he makes a statement, and foreign leaders in faraway lands aren’t obsessed with figuring out whether a President’s comment will affect how Republicans and Democrats are going to perform in midterm elections.  Their analysis is a lot more straightforward:  what is the President saying, and will he back it up?  From that perspective, compare President Obama’s statement to Teddy Roosevelt’s famous threat after a tribal leader in Morocco took a U.S. resident hostage:  “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.”  You might call that statement saber-rattling, but you can’t mistake the message or the resolution behind it.

Things aren’t going well for America in the world right now.  From Asia to Africa, in Ukraine, in the Middle East, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, we are seeing a resurgence of terrorism and adventurism that obviously is contrary to core American interests.  If a foreign leader is trying to decide whether to work with America, secretly or openly, to try to address these problems, how is that leader likely to react to a dithering statement to the effect that the world’s most powerful country doesn’t know how to respond to barbarism and terrorism?  Even if the United States in fact doesn’t have a strategy — and we can all hope that is not true — there is absolutely no value in announcing that to the world.

President Obama has made a bad misstep here, not because of its potential impact on internal American politics but because of its potential impact on broader American interests in the world.

To Those Who Behead Innocent People

U.S. officials have confirmed that U.S. journalist James Foley was beheaded by the Islamic State In Syria (“ISIS”).  ISIS posted a video of the beheading on-line, but I’m not going to link to it because it would just serve their evil, depraved purposes.

I often think that there is a complete lack of understanding between the terrorist groups in the Middle East and the citizens of the United States.  The murderous thugs who make up ISIS might well have the misapprehension that beheading people like James Foley is going to make us cower.  They’re wrong, of course, so I want to correct the record with this short message: 

“Dear ISIS:

Just so you understand, your willingness to behead innocent people doesn’t scare us, it just infuriates us.  Because killing helpless people in cold blood is so abhorrent, it also tells us that your organization is so utterly lacking in basic values and human decency that you don’t deserve to be part of the community of civilized people.  We regret your act of callous murder, we cannot understand how anyone could rationalize such brutality, and we grieve for the Foley family in this time of terrible and completely unnecessary loss — but we also understand that your act exposes the true nature of ISIS.  We now know that your group is comprised of soulless butchers, and that knowledge will help to guide our decision-making in the future.

Make no mistake:  you are evil, and you will be punished for what you have done.  We will get you.  You deserve it, and it will happen.  And when it does, and your organization is scourged from the face of the planet, you can realize that it is your own fanatical bloodthirstiness that led to your downfall.”