Friday, September 12, 2014

There is something almost comically ironic about Barack Obama’s new pose as strategist-in-chief, due to preside over deliberations aimed at producing a coordinated response to the threat of an organization he now insists on defining strictly in terms of its terrorist atrocities. Obama claims that the Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state but, strictly speaking, a terrorist entity devoid of any other substantive purpose, meaning or identity. This from the man who hurried to banish all references to war against terrorism from the U.S. government’s handbook of acceptable phrases.
Or is it singularly appropriate that the man who hurried to deny that the war against terrorist entities like ISIS is in fact a war should now be put forward as the global presiding strategist in that war? Of course, the fact that he denied the ongoing reality of the war rather degrades the meaning of the word “strategist,” which refers to the comprehensive thinking characteristic of a general or war leader. In the conceptual absence of war, then, is it accurate to call Obama a strategist? Or does use of the term in this respect encounter the same objection Obama raises against calling ISIS an Islamic state?
Unlike ISIS, however, up to now Obama’s activities as a strategist do not appear to have created any “facts on the ground” that give rise to the temptation to call him by that name. ISIS is in de facto control of certain areas in Syria and Iraq, the sort of control we these days associate with active state power. By contrast, Obama has failed to show or even claim the existence of any strategy for war against ISIS or any other terrorist entity since, officially speaking, no war against terrorism any longer exists.
Indeed, the circumstances of his speech on Wednesday made this embarrassingly clear. People like myself and others have, for instance, called attention to the fact that the failure to secure America’s borders, particularly our southern border, lays us open to infiltration by terrorist entities, acting in cooperation with the cartels that bring illegal drugs into the U.S. On Wednesday Obama’s DHS chose to highlight this possibility, by confirming that the Islamic State “may be thinking about such a move.”
A strategist is someone who thinks through his opponent’s moves well in advance and makes moves that will leave him in a position to counter or nullify probable threats. Do Obama’s moves over the last several years reflect such strategic thinking?
Obama has promoted the view that illegal entrants into the U.S. are only looking for jobs and economic opportunity, not the chance to kill us in our schoolyards and malls.
He has allowed a large influx of illegal entrants, supposedly children but including members of criminal gangs, into the U.S. without careful scrutiny of their health backgrounds, criminal records or possible ties to groups hostile to the United States.
He has, with an unwarranted lack of openness and disclosure, transported such entrants to locations throughout the U.S., including but not limited to U.S. military bases and civilian organizations dependent on U.S. government largesse.
If this be strategy, DHS’ latest public admissions suggest that America’s enemies, including ISIS, have probably been making the most of it. Moreover, even in his Wednesday speech Obama declared strategic limits on America’s actions in a way that hardly seems characteristic of a master strategist. “We will not be dragged into another ground war in Iraq” he obligingly informed the world (including the strategists on the other side). Yet we will send U.S. service members into the region to work with Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
Once upon a time that contradiction between word and deed could sensibly be construed as a cleverly conveyed signal. After all, if we send in personnel, doesn’t the possibility of a serious threat to them make them into a de facto tripwire for further U.S. involvement? However, since the Benghazi debacle (about which ISIS strategists may know more than most Americans), does the Obama administration’s action credibly sustain this implication? Or will U.S. personnel be left to the mercy of our enemies, as they were in Benghazi?
At a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 3, Obama said that the goal was to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. But he also said that “if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem.” [Italics mine]
Here again, semantics rears its inscrutable head. What does Obama mean by “a manageable problem”? That’s a question that can’t be answered without asking who is managing what, and to what end. Also, when the word “strategy” is used in the context of war it has definite parameters that don’t necessarily apply to strategy when the term is used in the managerial sense. In war, problems usually refer to obstacles. In the management context, they can often refer to opportunities.
In this respect, management strategy has something in common with the politics of creative destruction. The latter often involves starting a fire in the basement so you can show up at the front door offering “just the thing” to put it out. It’s a concept that helps to make sense of a situation in which someone cast in the role of president of the United States covertly implements a policy that cooperates in arming fanatical forces, which later stir a firestorm of angry reaction with their brutal and well publicized atrocities. Then, playing the role of presiding global strategist in the very war he purposefully neglected, he embarks on a strategy that is not a strategy, in a war that is not a war, against an enemy that … well, may notsimply be among his enemies.
“What opportunities would that give rise to?” you wonder. As you ponder that question I invite you to consider what I said about Obama’s real enemy in my column last week, and what I say about his semantic quibbling in my most recent blog post. I also can’t help but refer you to George Orwell’s “1984,” a novel alluded to with great frequency in the era when America’s leadership was still largely committed to the defense of liberty.
Under the oppressive regime therein depicted, perpetual war was the pretext for perpetual tyranny. Enemies were simply the renewable pretext for endless war and for maintaining a regime of domestic terrorism by which “Big Brother” maintained domestic control. They were management tools in the administration of fear, which is the heart of despotism.
With this in mind, perhaps the reason so many people think Obama has no strategy is that they’re not yet willing to enlarge their thinking enough to conceive of his real objective. I pray that those who do will be brought to realize that America can’t afford to let him proceed unchallenged toward his goal. If you’re among them, consider joining the Pledge to Impeach mobilization. And then urge everyone one you know to do likewise, before America passes beyond the point when an electoral strategy still offers any chance of stopping the tyranny Obama surely represents.

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