Bill Clinton and George Bush made it look easy. Easy, that is, of being the chief executive. Always glib, always with a smile, always looking like they knew what was going on. Hmmm.
Looks can be deceiving. “W” did not know much of what was going on and seemed to care less. Bill knew as much as his subordinates knew and still wanted to know more… as long as it did not interfere with his “intern time”.
Each of these former Presidents was very concerned with combining actual real world intelligence with a political calculus. What worldly action would be most beneficial to their party and what outcomes would not. Both former President’s action were driven by polling results.
Along comes President Obama. He appears far more circumspect than his two predecessors. IMO, President Obama wants more than his predecessors to “do the right thing, long term”. But it seems a President cannot escape political calculus.
So tonight President Obama will give a prime time speech on what to do about ISIS. Obama claims his speech will help Americans understand this extremist threat in the long term perspective. He may also be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
President Obama’s steady, but patient course lead to the finding of Osama ben Laden. Obama did not boast that he was hot on the trail of ben Laden, nor did he puff up his chest before the mission. But the death of ben Laden translated quickly into Democratic political hay. How could the GOP claim Dems were soft on defense when Obama had found the man?
On the contrary, there is virtually nothing to be gained from mounting any type of “feet on the ground” military campaign to eliminate ISIS. ISIS is an organization more akin to weeds in a garden. After ISIS is pulled out, others will grow back.
Don’t tell that to politicians. One party will claim the other is soft on security regardless of whether that same party wants to cut government spending. The other party will say in so many words, “no I’m not”. So what then?
With “W”, we saw “being tough on extremists” expression through disproportionate spending of dollars and lives on misdiagnosed sets of problems. We heard politically tinged rhetoric telling Americans they were at risk and it would be patriotic to send their children into war where these young Americans ( always someone else’s children) could get maimed or killed.
President Obama has clearly seen that our fighting men and women come overwhelmingly from lower income segments of our population. The all volunteer military is not the face of all Americans. Obama has tried (with much success) to reduce the number and occasions where Americans could get injured. During the Arab Spring and its aftermath, Obama has kept American military out of harms way.
So fast forward to today. The President will give a speech where he wants to sound tough and confident. He wants, also to keep away from using American ground troops. So what can he say?
No matter what he says, the GOP can (and will) say Obama’s does not understand. They will add that his proposals do not go far enough. Who can prove either side of this statement?
Consider: ISIS, like al Qaeda, al Shabaab, and boko Haram are political expressions of groups who are not comfortable with income distribution. Their marketing plan, like the Crusades, aims to tip the balance in their favor with the claim that “god (allah) is on my side (regardless of what I do)”.
If President Obama has a chance tonight of not making the current situation politically worse, he must remind Americans that
- He will authorize full military force when ever there is a direct threat to America.
- He will not risk the lives of young Americans when there are other means or when America is not directly threatened.
How we will deal with ISIS, like how we dealt with Osama ben Laden, should not be the subject matter of political campaign speeches. End of statement.
Should the President try to explain, as a good professor, “the ins and outs” of coalitions, strategic partners, and the desire for world peace, the political path necessary to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, will be open.