The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal.com’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.
News of the Tautological
“US Police Detain Giant Tortoise After Brief Chase”–headline, BBC website, Aug. 3
ISIS and the ‘Bitter Clingers’
Here’s a headline from The Wall Street Journal: “Obama Says U.S. Aims to Shrink Islamic State’s ‘Sphere of Influence.’ ” And here’s one from New York’s Daily News: ” ‘Their Horrific Acts Only Unite Us’: Obama Vows to ‘Degrade, Destroy’ ISIS Following Steven Sotloff’s Execution.” These reports are on the same press conference,,which Obama held in Estonia this morning along with that country’s president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
In case you’re thinking that the two vows aren’t actually contradictory–a destroyed organization’s sphere of influence by definition has shrunk to zero–consider the two quotes in context.
No. 1: “We know 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.”
And No. 2: “So the bottom line is this: Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so that it’s no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States.”
If ISIS remains a problem, even a manageable one, it hasn’t been destroyed. (And even if one assumes ISIS could be reduced to a “manageable problem,” this administration has not been noted for superior managerial skills.)
A reporter asked him to clarify: “Did you just say that the strategy is to destroy ISIS, or to simply contain them or push them back?” Answer: “Our objective is to make sure that ISIL is not an ongoing threat to the region.”
The president wasn’t kidding when he denied having a strategy.
The quotes we’ve discussed were extemporaneous answers to reporters’ questions–not this president’s strong suit. But there were logical problems even with his prepared statement on Soltoff’s murder. The killers, Obama asserted, “make the absurd claim that they kill in the name of religion, but it was Steven, his friends say, who deeply loved the Islamic world.”
It takes nothing away from Soltoff’s admirable qualities to observe that they in no way support Obama’s assertion that ISIS’ motives are not religious–a claim that seems preposterous on its face and, as we have noted, rests on nothing but circular logic.
Later, during the Q&A, he described ISIS as representing a “barbaric and ultimately empty vision.” We’d say “barbarous,” in the sense of “mercilessly harsh or cruel,” would be a better word than “barbaric,” but that’s a quibble. But as for “ultimately empty,” consider this assertion from the open statement:
Whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed. They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists. And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.
That conclusion is good, though it would be better if the message were consistent and if one could have confidence it will be backed with action. But the claim that “whatever [they think they’ll achieve . . ., they have already failed” is shockingly incoherent.
They have failed, Obama asserts, for three reasons: because “Americans are repulsed by their barbarism,” because “we will not be intimidated,” and because the murders “only unite us . . . and stiffen our resolve.” It follows that the president has considered only three possible objectives the murderers may be seeking to accomplish: to attract Americans, to intimidate Americans and to divide Americans.
We hope Obama is correct about the effect of the beheadings on the American psyche. Let’s stipulate that he is. What makes him think that ISIS’ ultimate objectives have anything at all to do with the American psyche?
Perhaps they reckon (accurately or not) that drawing America into war will serve some other goal. That argument has certainly been made before: “I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda,” Barack Obama said in 2002.
Amid all this incoherence, there is one point on which Obama has been remarkably consistent. In that 2002 speech, he said: “Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.”
Last Friday, he struck the same theme, though without bad-mouthing our so-called allies: “We have seen, frankly, in this region, economies that don’t work. So you’ve got tons of young people who see no prospect and no hope for the future and are attracted to some of these ideologies.”
Compare these quotes with candidate Obama’s notorious 2008 remark: “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Reader Lavonne Kuykendall, who astutely spotted the similarity, observes:
It is crystal clear to any Christian that Obama is a nonbeliever, regardless of what he claims to be, and that is his business. But these comments make it clear that he sees all religious feeling to be essentially equivalent: an opiate for the masses to assuage their seething bitterness and anger.
Which, come to think of it, would also explain Jeremiah Wright.
It bears emphasis that the problem here is not Obama’s conjectural lack of faith or insincerity. It is his, rather, his utter incomprehension of religious sentiment. How does one develop a strategy against an enemy one cannot understand?
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