President Obama was so upset by the terrorist beheading of an American journalist that it took him almost 20 minutes to get back on the golf course at Martha’s Vineyard, where he was enjoying a multi-million-dollar vacation with his family. If this seems like a harsh judgment, it is, but it also happens to be true.
President Obama interrupted his vacation to offer condolences to the family of freelance journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by an English-speaking Islamic State (also known as ISIS) terrorist. ISIS then posted a horrifying videotape of the brutal murder on the Internet. A few minutes after his national TV appearance the president was seen laughing and joking with his golfing buddies. As we say in the media business, the optics were all wrong.
But that’s par for the course (no pun intended) with this president and this White House. More important than the president’s frequent golf outings and his expensive vacations is the fact that ISIS now represents a serious threat to U.S. national security.
“I do think they (ISIS) present the greatest threat we’ve seen since 9/11,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. “It (the beheading) has sort of opened our eyes to what ISIS really is . . . how savage they really are (and) their intent to harm Americans,” McCaul added.
Although President Obama has authorized limited airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, many national security experts have urged the president to take stronger action to defeat the Islamic terrorist army. Limited U.S. airstrikes have helped Kurdish and Iraqi forces to retake a strategic dam near Mosul in Northern Iraq, but much more must be done to defeat ISIS.
Retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff, wrote President Obama should take the lead to create an international coalition that would conduct a military, economic and political campaign against the well-armed terrorist organization. “A military campaign is needed to defeat ISIS,” Keane wrote. “Political and military leaders must recognize that Iraq and Syria are indivisible in this conflict. ISIS must be defeated in both places.” This doesn’t mean American boots on the ground, Keane added, but it does mean more U.S. firepower including drone strikes to kill ISIS fighters.
Instead of taking a leadership role, however, President Obama seems to be “leading from behind” yet again by talking vaguely about the “international community” while projecting an image of weakness and vacillation. In fact, his lack of leadership has been noted by commentators from across the political spectrum including liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who condemned the president’s “bored bird-in-a-gilded cage attitude.” “His inner circle keeps getting smaller,” she wrote.
“He plays golf with aides and jocks . . . frittering away precious time on the links. . . . The president who was elected because he was a hot commodity is now a wet blanket.” Ouch!
Writing in U.S. News & World Report, Mideast scholar Sarwar Kashmeri urged Obama to spearhead formation of an international coalition to defeat ISIS. Prof. Kashmeri wrote the president “should leverage the killing of Foley to swiftly create an Arab, American and European alliance to go after the Islamic State. . . . This is a defining moment for American relations with the Middle East and for American credibility in the world.”
It certainly is and the question is whether President Obama is up to the challenge. His critics don’t think he is. I hope he proves us wrong, but I fear he won’t because he’d rather make speeches than make tough decisions to confront ISIS and international terrorism head-on.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a retired diplomat.