Sep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
"Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” President Obama told the American Legion’s annual convention in Charlotte on Tuesday, August 26. He repeated the thought in his pre-Labor Day weekend press conference on August 28. A week before, the day after the murder of James Foley, Obama had remarked, “From governments and peoples across the Middle East there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread.”
These expressions of alarm at a malignant cancer in the Middle East are an improvement over Obama’s cavalier dismissal, earlier this year, of ISIL as the junior varsity of terrorists. But salutary alarm doesn’t automatically result in sound policy. And—not to make a mountain out of a metaphor—Obama’s comparison of the Islamic State to a cancer doesn’t give one confidence that he’ll come up with a sound policy.
Here’s the problem: Cancer is a disease. The Islamic State is an enemy. There’s a difference.
Cancer develops, as it were, naturally. We counter it as best we can through human art and invention. Medicine or surgery sometimes succeeds in checking the disease and even freeing the body of it. But a terrorist movement does not develop naturally. The Islamic State was brought into existence by certain human beings acting according to a certain intention, an evil and destructive intention to be sure, but an intention nonetheless. To counter the Islamic State—to defeat it—we need to grasp and frustrate and overcome our enemies’ intention. Treating cancer is a task for surgery. Fighting the Islamic State is a task for strategy.
But, as President Obama acknowledged in his August 28 press conference, “We don’t have a strategy yet” to deal with the Islamic State. That’s kind of unfortunate. Especially because an American president who was serious about marshaling and mobilizing the elements of national power behind a strategy for victory could, we suspect, defeat the Islamic State more quickly and more easily than President Obama thinks. But President Obama doesn’t have such a war strategy because he still doesn’t want to accept that we’re at war. He believes, after all, that “the tide of war is receding.” So even when he deploys some of the mechanisms of war, he does so hesitantly, defensively, and haphazardly. To organize for war, to articulate a strategy, to commit to victory—all of this would make the Obama presidency a war presidency. But being a war president doesn’t comport with Barack Obama’s self-image. And for Barack Obama, self-image trumps reality.
Sometimes Obama acknowledges the reality that human agency is, so to speak, behind our troubles abroad. But even so, his formulation of what we should do is oddly passive. For example, after saying to the American Legion that “rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” Obama continued: “But tyrants and murderers before them should recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match for the strength and hopes of people who stand together for the security and dignity and freedom that is the birthright of every human being.” It would be nice if tyrants and murderers recognized all kinds of things. But they tend not to. And exhorting them to do so tends not to have much effect. That’s why we need to defeat tyrants and murderers. That’s why we need to achieve victory over our enemies. Yet the words “enemy” and “victory” nowhere appear in Obama’s remarks after the murder of James Foley, nor in his American Legion speech, nor in his August 28 press conference.
Neither The Weekly Standard’s imprecations nor reality’s ministrations are likely to lead Barack Obama to become the war president we deserve. But in America we’re not governed by one man alone. We have public officials who take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and who have a responsibility not just to the president but to the public. We have a Congress elected by the citizenry. We have an opposition party. We have members of Barack Obama’s own party who could discover minds of their own. And we have men and women of ambition who seek to succeed Barack Obama in the presidency.
All of them have a role to play in making the final two years of Barack Obama’s presidency better than it would otherwise be. Obama believes in leading from behind. These other American leaders can form a parade of which Barack Obama can bring up the rear. And they can lay the groundwork for the arrival of a new president who will lead from the front.
The effort to limit the damage of the Obama presidency won’t be easy. Recovery from the Obama presidency won’t be quick. But what that is worthwhile has ever been quick and easy?
Sep 1, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 47 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
On Tuesday, August 19, an American citizen, James Foley, was savagely killed. The group of jihadists known as ISIL had previously killed and brutalized tens of thousands of non-Americans. But they killed Foley because he was an American. They titled the grotesque video of this particular act of barbarism “A message to America.”
Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
It was something of a puzzle, according to the headline in the August 7 New York Times: “Islamic Militants in Iraq Are Widely Loathed, Yet Action to Curb Them Is Elusive.” On the one hand, the article pointed out, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, “is on nearly every nation’s public enemy list, as well as the United Nations’ list of terrorist organizations facing sanctions.” What’s more, ISIS’s barbarism has been publicized and its threat to others is clear.
Jun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
In the largest turnout in a congressional primary in the history of Virginia politics, the voters of the Commonwealth’s 7th Congressional District last Tuesday decisively chose not to renominate their seven-term representative, now serving as House majority leader, who had massively outspent his little-known challenger.
Jun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
“Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don’t condition that. That’s what every mom and dad who sees a son or daughter sent over into [a] war theater should expect not just from their commander in chief but the United States of America. . . . The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule.
Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
On May 23, a young man killed 6 people and wounded 13 others near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, before turning a gun on himself. But you probably knew that, because the incident was unavoidable in the news. Despite all of the national coverage, the student-government-run newspaper at UCSB, The Bottom Line, had a unique perspective on the crime and could have provided invaluable coverage. Yet they decided not to cover the story:
Mar 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 27 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Are Americans today war-weary? Sure. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been frustrating and tiring. Are Americans today unusually war-weary? No. They were wearier after the much larger and even more frustrating conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. And even though the two world wars of the last century had more satisfactory outcomes, their magnitude was such that they couldn’t help but induce a significant sense of war-weariness. And history shows that they did.
Mar 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 24 • By FRED BARNES
Texas attorney general Greg Abbott has a famous saying: “What I really do for fun is I go into the office [and] sue the Obama administration.” Abbott’s relentless struggle against an administration that routinely exceeds its authority and tramples on federalism made him the ringleader among the two dozen Republican state AGs. He’s now running for governor.
Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
On February 11, writing for the Washington Post, Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers ably summarized the latest “bad week for Obamacare.” The Congressional Budget Office concluded that Obamacare will cause “a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.” The CBO also found that Obamacare would—after all the spending and disruption and coercion—still leave about 31 million Americans uninsured a decade after implementation.
Feb 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 22 • By JAY COST
Last month, the House Republican leadership released its guiding principles on immigration reform. While mostly boilerplate, the document suggests that the House GOP envisions a bill similar to last year’s Senate compromise spearheaded by Marco Rubio: enhanced border security in exchange for legalization of the illegal immigrant population; more visas for the highly skilled and permits for temporary guest workers; and a rationalization of the immigration process.
Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Election Day is almost nine months off. But right now Republicans seem almost certain to hold the House of Representatives and are likely to take the Senate. Which raises the inevitable question: How might the GOP seize defeat from the jaws of victory?
Jan 13, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 17 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
The year 2014 marks a centennial and a bicentennial. The centennial is well known: 1914 saw the beginning of World War I, a calamity perhaps unmatched until then in the history of the West. We will be reminded many times this year in centennial commemorations of the war’s terrible destruction, but also of its devastating political and cultural effects over subsequent decades, and of its continuing deep if often indirect contribution to today’s demoralization of the West.
Jan 13, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 17 • By FRED BARNES
A White House official once noted that the problem with the national press corps is it can only keep one idea in its mind at a time. And while that’s often true, it’s not at the moment in regard to Republicans.
Today’s media line on the Republican party is it faces irreversible decline. That’s on the one hand. On the other, Republicans have a solid shot at capturing the Senate in the midterm elections in November, are all but certain to retain control of the House, and have reasonable prospects of winning the White House in 2016.
Dec 30, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 16 • By FRED BARNES
President Obama is more perceptive about the shortcomings of government than we thought. “We have these big agencies, some of which are outdated, some of which are not designed properly,” he told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Wow!
Dec 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 15 • By LEE SMITH
Two public opinion polls released last week show that the American public is skeptical of the Obama administration’s interim agreement with Iran concerning the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program. Further, the surveys show that Americans by a large majority mistrust the mullahs and, as much as they’d like a negotiated settlement, believe that it’s unlikely.