Is the Obama administration struggling to define its foreign policy towards the Islamatic State or is President Obama just being pragmatic?
Since Obama delivered ‘ISIL’ speech at a White House news briefing on Aug. 29, the ‘we don’t have a strategy yet’ speech, the president has right to left been harshly derided and criticized for giving America’s allies and enemies the impression his foreign policy is in free fall.
“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse…we don’t have a strategy yet,” the president said. He also said that before he would commit U.S. forces to any further action in Iraq against the Islamic State, his administration would first have to figure out exactly what was needed to fight and destroy the Islamic State.
“We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them. At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard,” Obama said. “But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.”
That same day, Secretary of State John Kerry published an op-ed in the New York Times outlining his view and what ought to be done about the Islamic State, saying much as Obama did in his speech, that the United States will confront this scourge but that it must be done with an international emphasis.
“In a polarized region and a complicated world, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria presents a unifying threat to a broad array of countries, including the United States. What’s needed to confront its nihilistic vision and genocidal agenda is a global coalition using political, humanitarian, economic, law enforcement and intelligence tools to support military force.”
“In this battle, there is a role for almost every country. Some will provide military assistance, direct and indirect. Some will provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance for the millions who have been displaced and victimized across the region. Others will help restore not just shattered economies but broken trust among neighbours,” Kerry added.
Speaking on Sept. 2, the day the Islamic State released its video of Steven Sotloff ’s murder, Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in which he said the U.S. would pursue the Islamic State “to the gates of hell.”
“When people harm Americans, we don’t retreat,” he said. “We take care of those who are grieving, and when that’s finished, they should know, we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice. Because hell is where they will reside!” he said angrily.
“When these barbarians replicated with Steven what they did with Foley…they somehow think that it’s going to lessen US resolve, frighten us, intimidate us,” he said.
“But, if they think the American people will be intimidated, they don’t know us very well. The American people are so much stronger, so much more resolved than any enemy can fully understand.”
Although Biden’s speech was sharper and slightly more bellicose in tone than what Kerry or Obama gave, the speech did not give the impression that American boots would be leaving for Baghdad anytime soon. Perhaps the Obama administration has learned a much-needed lesson in Mideast foreign policy since the U.S. withdrew from Iraq.
That it is extraordinarily unwise to hastily throw your military into a fight without understanding the enemy you’re fighting and the terrain, history and customs of his country. The long years in Iraq and Afghanistan are a painful and bloody reminder of this.
But Obama, Biden and Kerry as well seem to be getting little praise for taking the Islamic State seriously, methodically and carefully.
“The bottom line is this: Our objective is clear and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so it is no longer a threat,” the President said.