It was unsurprising, perhaps inevitable, that much of the commentary about the tragedy in Orlando would pass through a prism of preexisting political positions. Republicans tended to view it as a result of the ineffectiveness of the Administration’s responses to ISIS, while Democrats associated it with Republican unwillingness to support any form of gun control legislation. Having our own distinctive prism, we are inclined to believe that there is something to the assertions of each, but perhaps not as much as either appears to claim. […]
The President’s recent address from the Oval Office was clearly intended to reassure the nation. Whether anyone in fact felt reassured is highly questionable. As many observers noted, he offered nothing new to a strategy that has shown little sign of success thus far and gives little reason to believe that it will be more successful going forward. In fairness to the President, however, none of the current candidates for the presidency have offered a particularly persuasive path to a successful outcome for our struggle with ISIS and related elements of radical Islam.
The most detailed and comprehensive proposal for combating ISIS was provided by Hillary Clinton in a speech on November 14. Clinton’s proposal was similar to Obama’s existing policy, notably in prescribing a highly restricted role for American ground troops and hopeful reliance on the “65 country coalition.” It differed principally in a tone of greater urgency and a recognition, even before the San Bernardino shooting, that the past and present levels of effort were insufficient: […]
We continue to promise to provide a critique of the fourth Republican Debate and what it portends for the progress of the campaign. Before getting to that, however, we felt a need to comment on the responses of Democrats, Republicans and the President to the Paris outrage. […]
We were drafting some comments on the most recent GOP debate and the troubling questions as to the direction of the Party. We expect to post those comments in a day or so, but when the news of the terrorist attacks in Paris began to come in, those comments seemed for the moment considerably less urgent.
Whenever a mass killing in this country occurs, and prompts cries for gun control, those demands are met with a reproach not to “politicize” the event. Yet politicizing—a call for political action—is exactly what we believe is called for in response to such tragedies. So […]
If we had our way, the term legacy would be checked at the front door of the White House at the beginning of every administration and left unused until after completion of the inevitable presidential library. But this is a special time. We have not in our lifetime seen a president and a White House so explicitly driven by considerations of the incumbent’s legacy. (As one unscientific measure, a click of “Obama” and “legacy” on Google yielded 63,800,000 hits.) […]
Part I. The Islamic State and the Search for a Strategy
In fairness, it should be acknowledged that President Obama has never, at least publicly, described his policy as “leading from behind.” The phrase originated in a 2011 article by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker and was attributed to an unidentified “adviser” to Obama, later said to be a (still unidentified) “White House official.” The phrase was initially used with respect to American strategy in Libya, but so many found it an apt description of Obama’s approach in the Middle East generally and, indeed, throughout the world that it took hold. (That etymology will remind some of Jimmy Carter’s 1979 address, which came to be widely known as his “malaise speech” although Carter never used that word, speaking rather of a “crisis of confidence.”)
In any case, it does seem to us that the President has been attempting to lead from behind both in confronting the Islamic State and in dealing with Russia’s adventurism in Europe. The essence of the strategy appears to be to limit America’s commitment, militarily and otherwise, while encouraging others to make greater commitments. This approach worked well for Tom Sawyer in getting his friends to whitewash a fence, but its application in foreign policy is far more difficult. This Part I will discuss the Islamic State and Part II will take up the situation in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. […]
Part I. The National Security Strategy and The Islamic State
We believe that the assaults by the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and by Russia and its proxies in Ukraine, represent clear and present dangers to the national security of the United States. The circumstances in each area of conflict are obviously quite different, but they have in common the absence of any clear strategy on the part of the Administration for dealing with them. Indeed, despite routine expressions of disapproval, and sometimes condemnation, the concern of the Administration more often seems to be one of almost studied nonchalance. That is clearly the tone of the National Security Strategy (NSS) issued on February 6. Apart from vague references to coalitions and partnerships, the emphasis seems more on what we will not do than what we will do. The NSS received relatively little attention in the media when it appeared, and the members of the public who have actually read it could probably fit without crowding into a rather small stadium. Yet it is an important document that should be read, if not in its full 28 pages, at least for the 2 page personal Introduction by the President. It is available here. […]
On the day of the President’s State of the Union address, a writer in The Washington Post was moved to wonder “Do we even need a State of the Union address anymore?” It is unlikely that the writer’s doubts were assuaged by the President’s performance that evening. The President assured us on the one hand that everything was really quite splendid both at home and abroad, but also insisted that our domestic tranquility requires a lengthy and expensive set of initiatives. Indeed, listening to the address, one had the feeling that it might have been titled “No Proposal Left Behind.” In fact, however, the President declined to renew many of the proposals that he had presented a year ago and which had been largely ignored by the 113th Congress. (A PBS NewsHour analysis indicated that out of 18 proposals urged in 2014, only 2 rather minor ones had been adopted.) Now that Republicans control the Senate as well as the House, and enjoy an even larger majority in the House, the President’s prospects for legislative achievements are hardly brighter. […]
For several days, the media was awash in stories about the dismissal (half-heartedly disguised as a resignation) of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. In the usual blend of reporting from anonymous sources and outright speculation, various theories were advanced as the reasons for his departure. While such theories commanded a certain amount of gossipy interest, they were largely beside the point. We often see things rather differently from both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, but this time we think they each had it right. […]
On November 13, The New York Times published an article reporting on the hundreds of career Army officers being forced into early retirement as a result of the drastic reduction in the size of the Army:
For the first time since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the Army is shrinking. Faced with declining budgets, the Army, the largest of the services, cut its force this year to 508,000 soldiers from 530,000, with plans to trim an additional 20,000 troops next year. If funding cuts mandated by Congress continue, the Army could have fewer than 450,000 soldiers by 2019 — the smallest force since World War II.
The focus of the article was the personal hardships imposed on the soldiers and their families, hardships especially stinging in light of the many sacrifices made by the soldiers, often including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. A further irony lay in the timing of the article, coming on the heels of Veterans Day on which Vice-President had expounded on our “sacred obligation” to veterans. […]