On Thursday Obama took a short break from his vacation to tell the world that after sending a military mission to talk about the desperate plight of Yazidis who fled murdering ISIS hordes but were left stranded on Mount Sinjar. He said: "we broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar; we helped vulnerable people reach safety; and we helped save many innocent lives." Other than some vague promise to "continue air strikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq," he offered no larger strategy or vision on how to address the problem.
As if to show just how empty Obama's words are ISIS massacred 100 men and boys in the small village of Kawju (Kojo) and kidnapped girls and women to be sold as sex slaves. The only U.S. response was a drone strike which destroyed only two vehicles in the ISIS convoy.
Dismay at Obama's weak and feckless response to this unfolding tragedy comes from both sides of the political aisle. First, Hillary Clinton said that Obama's guiding principle to "not do stupid shit" wasn't a strategy. On Friday, in the Wall Street Journal, retired Marine Corps Commandant General James Jones, Obama's first National Security Adviser (2009-2010)writes: "Iraq must promptly implement, with U.S. and international support, a robust and coherent battle strategy to destroy ISIS. " Gen. Jones continues:
While we should act multilaterally, we must expand American efforts or risk the continued existence of a terrorist Islamic State and a permanently Balkanized Iraq. Further action might include an Operation Provide Comfort-like mission to rescue Iraq's threatened refugees, an acceleration of aid and arms provision to Baghdad and Erbil, close air support to Iraqi and Kurdish operations, and an aggressive diplomatic initiative to unify the region against ISIS.It's that "opt out" which appears to be Obama's first go to response to world troubles. In the New York Times Peter Baker titles his latest column "As World Boils, Fingers Point Obama’s Way." Baker points out that Obama argues he can only do so much:
The crisis in Iraq is several orders of magnitude worse than those we faced in 1991 or at any time since the 2003 invasion. The U.S.—and our allies in Europe and the Middle East—must help Prime Minister-designate Abadi save Iraq. The consequences of failure are too great to opt out.
Americans often think of their president as an all-powerful figure who can command the tides of history — and presidents have encouraged this image over the years because the perception itself can be a form of power. But as his critics have made the case that Mr. Obama’s mistakes have fueled the turmoil in places like Syria, Iraq and Ukraine, the president has increasingly argued that his power to shape these seismic forces is actually limited.Baker fails to remind us that in 2008 Obama and his supporters promised he could change the world and heal the planet. Whining now about how little power Obama actually has seems rather silly. To many it seems that he's not even trying. Baker continues:
“Apparently,” he said in frustration the other day, “people have forgotten that America, as the most powerful country on earth, still does not control everything around the world.”
While as a statement of fact Mr. Obama’s assertion may be self-evident, it was seen by adversaries as a cop-out and even by more sympathetic analysts as a revealing moment for a president whiplashed by international instability
The risk, naturally, is that the president looks as if he is simply trying to excuse his own actions, or inactions, as the case may be.It's important to note that immediately after making Thursday's statement on the Yazidi crisis Obama didn't head back for meetings with his staff to work out a strategy or build a coalition of world leaders. Instead he went directly to the golf course!
“It’s become a refrain to the point where I think people are becoming quite critical that that’s his response to everything,” said Daniel L. Byman, a former member of the Sept. 11 commission staff now teaching at Georgetown University. “He’s not differentiating between things he can influence and those that he can’t.”
“I certainly do not think President Obama is responsible for all of the world crises that have taken place during his time in office,” said William C. Inboden, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush and executive director of the William P. Clements Jr. Center on History, Strategy and Statecraft at the University of Texas. “But he is responsible for actions and attitudes he took that have contributed to some of those crises — and he is also responsible for how he responds, or fails to respond.”