Shortly after the Iraqi city of Fallujah fell to the Islamic State (ISIS) in January 2014, President Obama was interviewed by The New Yorker. When asked about the loss of such an iconic city from the U.S. war in Iraq, Obama responded with his usual glibness: “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” Less than six-months after he made those comments, Obama’s “jayvee team” would establish an Islamic “Caliphate” spanning two countries, with an estimated 31,000 fighters from all over the world pouring into its territory for a chance to die martyrs’ deaths while fighting the western armies of “Rome.”
Yet, even as ISIS grows in size and brutality, Obama and his Administration continue to harbor a fantasy world in which, to them, these horrendous acts of terrorists are on par with those committed here in America by Christians during the Jim Crow era;and fueled today in the global jihad not by religious zeal, but by poor economic conditions and anti-immigrant racism. This sophomoric view of the world is neither funny nor tolerable; it is in fact emboldening our adversaries from Moscow to Mosul, and from Havana to Beijing, with potentially devastating harm to the interests of the United States and our allies.
With few exceptions, Obama’s predecessors in the Oval Office navigated the complex and high-stakes arena of international diplomacy based on a sober assessment of the world as it is. Now, Obama and his advisors make decisions based on the world as they dream it to be; and, if reality happens to fall outside their tightly crafted narrative, it is either marginalized or dismissed outright.
This desperate attempt to shoehorn an increasingly unstable international environment into a situation in which Obama remains the stoic “Savior,” has turned the State Department into a sideshow, with spokespersons spouting gibberish that would be comical if not for the fact that these people represent the United States to the rest of the world.
In the tense standoff between Russia and Ukraine, then-State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki (who recently was promoted to the White House staff) tweeted a picture of herself holding a piece of paper with “#UnitedForUkraine” scrawled on it. The childish “diplomatic” gesture immediately prompted headlines such as, “Russia sends troops, Obama administration sends a selfie.” More recently, as ISIS leaders publicly execute Americans, Christians, homosexuals, and others it does not consider true believers, a State Department spokesperson suggested with a straight face a “root cause” for the growth of ISIS was a “lack of opportunity for jobs.”
As the White House tried to convince Americans that ISIS sprang-up out of Mesopotamia overnight – a fantasy that fit nicely with the reality that the Administration was utterly unprepared to deal the threat for many months -- ISIS was very public about articulating its goals in the region; even publishing annual reports about its progress. In fact, it was Obama’s ill-advised and Hillary-backed intervention in Libya, sending that country tumbling into chaos, that ISIS found the foothold in the region it needed to expand.
“Obama’s intervention in Libya was an abject failure, judged even by its own standards,” writes Alan Kuperman, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. “Rather than helping the United States combat terrorism … Libya now serves as a safe haven for militias affiliated with both al Qaeda and [ISIS].”
The reason the Obama Administration so badly bungled the Libya intervention is the same reason why State Department spokespeople continue to speak of the war with ISIS in the same terms it would use to explain drug addiction or inner-city poverty: It refuses to accept the world and the actors on the international stage cannot be controlled with political messaging and spin. Therefore, rather than admitting even basic truths about the challenges it faces -- like Islamic terrorists are actually Islamic and adhere zealously to a “theology that must be understood to be combatted” -- this Administration prefers to trumpet so-called intelligence reports focused on specters and boogeymen with which it feels more comfortable, such as domestic “right-wing sovereign citizen extremist groups.”
Obama’s “Amateur Hour” foreign policy has managed to both inject America blindly into action in the name of preventing terrorism, while at the same time marginalizing other legitimate terror threats. At this juncture, halfway through Obama’s second term, and with the Congress seeming to lack the backbone to force the Administration to remove its rose-colored glasses and forsake its trademark “hashtag” diplomacy substituting for true statesmanship, we and our allies will continue to play defense while ISIS and other terror groups flourish in the vacuum left by America’s exit as a true leader on the world stage.