War on Clarity

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on September 22, 2014

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal.com’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.

boots-on-the-groundWar on Clarity
“Rift Widens Between Obama, U.S. Military Over Strategy to Fight Islamic State” reads the Web headline of the Washington Post’s lead story today. In print, it’s “In Military, Skepticism of Obama’s Plan: Generals Dissent on Ground Option.” The article doesn’t break much ground but has been drawing considerable attention for its prominent placement.

The New York Times has a more scathing piece, albeit softened by its placement on page A8. “Far from clarifying the war plan,” writes, the paper’s Mark Landler, “the White House’s public-relations blitz . . . has muddied several key issues, not least whether the offensive will require American ground forces.” To wit:

Mr. Obama, in his White House speech and again to troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., ruled it out. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that if airstrikes failed to vanquish the militants, he would recommend it to the president.

The White House has tried to square these two statements by offering an extremely narrow definition of combat: American advisers could be sent to the front lines alongside Iraqi and Kurdish troops, and could even call in airstrikes, without directly engaging the enemy. It is a definition rejected by virtually every military expert.

The progressive worldview is one that places a premium–sometimes, we’d argue, an inordinate one–on expertise. But military expertise is an exception.

The Washington Times reports that “President Obama expects U.S. troops to return fire if Islamic State militants shoot at them”:

“Iraq is a very dangerous place, and U.S. military personnel will have the equipment to defend themselves,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “Certainly the commander in chief would expect that the American troops do what is necessary to defend themselves.”

That’s a relief. But if American troops on the ground return fire, will Obama still claim they’re not engaged in combat?

These definitional games are too much even for New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who tweets: “Instead of Obama basing the war on redefining the word ‘combat,’ maybe he should just redefine ‘victory.’ ”

Of course, he all but did that in December 2011, when he declared at the delightfully named Fort Bragg: “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq. . . . And we are ending a war.” He didn’t use the word “victory”…, but he pretty much redefined the concept–not to mention, as it turns out, the word “ending.”

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”