To paraphrase an old song, “It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it.” I thought of that song last Monday as I listened to President Obama’s surprisingly tepid and unemotional response to the coordinated ISIS terror attacks that killed more than 120 innocent people in Paris last weekend.
The president was calm, cool and collected when the occasion called for a minimal display of anger and outrage from the Leader of the Free World. We all know Obama is a cool dude, but his muted reaction to the barbaric terror attack by radical Islamic jihadists disappointed almost everyone including the mainstream media.
Michael Shear and Peter Baker of the liberal New York Times wrote for the mainstream media: “In moments of crisis, when the public feels afraid, presidents often find ways of tapping into popular emotion and channeling it, or at least trying to satisfy it with expressions of resolve and determination — but Churchillian statements are not Mr. Obama’s style,” even though he’s a gifted orator. Obama’s style was far from Churchillian. In fact, it sounded as if he was delivering an academic lecture about terrorism as he defended his ill-defined anti-terror policies.
During my career in public diplomacy — some call it propaganda in the best sense of that word — I learned that tone is important in delivering public or foreign policy statements. In my opinion, President Obama’s tone in last Monday’s news conference in Turkey was all wrong; he was tone-deaf, which we don’t expect from our politically savvy president.
Although I don’t belong to the “bomb the hell out of ‘em and turn Syria into a parking lot” school of foreign policy, I do believe there are times to talk tough and carry a big stick. Think President Reagan at the Berlin Wall or President George W. Bush at Ground Zero in New York. Last Monday was one of those moments for President Obama, but he failed to deliver the defiant and inspiring words we needed and wanted to hear. Instead, he chose yet again to lead from behind.
And somehow, the president couldn’t bring himself to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism,” and neither could any of the Democrats’ presidential candidates. As some of our most experienced generals have noted, It’s difficult to defeat an enemy you can’t name. Obama also claimed his anti-terror strategy, whatever it is, is succeeding. “We have the right strategy and we’re going to see it through,” he said.
Republicans and other critics of the president’s approach to international terrorism charged Obama is out of touch with the violent reality of life in the Middle East and beyond. “Never before have I seen an American president project such weakness on the global stage,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. Other critics lambasted the president for calling ISIS “the JV team” and for saying the deadly terrorist organization was “contained” two days before the Paris attacks.
The only time President Obama showed emotion was when he criticized Republicans for opposing his plan to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. Even though most Americans are compassionate and understanding toward refugees from war-torn areas, more than 30 governors are objecting to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states before thorough background checks are conducted, which seems reasonable to me. I think Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval should hold the line on Syrian immigration pending those background checks. After all, one of the Paris bombers entered France as a refugee, and one terrorist can trigger a lot of death and destruction. Forewarned is forearmed.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a retired diplomat.