ADVANCE EDITORIAL FROM OUR FORTHCOMING SEPT. 8 ISSUESep 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?
Hosted by Michael Graham.1:05 PM, Aug 22, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with editor William Kristol on the supposed "good failure" the Obama administration is touting in their failed effort to save the late James Foley, who was brutally killed by ISIS.
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.”
Hosted by Michael Graham.5:48 PM, Jul 28, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with editor William Kristol on President Obama's track record on the rule of law, Israel, Immigration, and more.
Aug 4, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 44 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
On Tuesday, President Obama visited the Dutch embassy in Washington to pay his respects to the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, shot down over Ukraine by forces armed and backed by Vladimir Putin. Obama wrote in the embassy’s condolence book, “We will not rest until we are certain that justice is done.”
Then he rested.
Actually, that’s not fair. Obama didn’t rest. He flew off to the West Coast on a busy fundraising trip.
Jul 14, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 41 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook has previously lauded the work of the Foundation for Constitutional Government. To support the serious study of politics and political philosophy, it’s developed a series of websites devoted to important, contemporary thinkers (Walter Berns, Irving Kristol, Harvey Mansfield, James Q. Wilson, and more to come).
Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Commenting on the results of the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, NBC’s Chuck Todd remarked, “This poll is a disaster for the president.” Indeed, he continued, “essentially the public is saying, ‘Your presidency is over.’ ”
But it isn’t over. It won’t be over for two and a half years. And that’s a problem.
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.
May 26, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 35 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Two emails recently showed up, one right after the other, in my inbox. The first was a mass mailing from Ron Paul (my inbox is a big tent!). Its subject line: “The IRS asked for a fight. How about a revolution?” The second was a review by Peter Berkowitz of the recently reissued book by Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism.
May 19, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 34 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
"Nigerian girls inspire international action,” reads the headline on the front page of the May 7 Washington Post. But nowhere in the story will you learn of any action actually being taken to rescue the 276 Nigerian girls abducted over three weeks ago by the Islamic terror group Boko Haram. You find reports of “an international uproar” and “a growing outcry,” of comments by President Barack Obama and phone calls by Secretary of State John Kerry, of warnings by U.N. officials, of a letter from all 20 female U.S.
May 12, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 33 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
It's mature to be calm. Republicans are nothing if not mature. It’s chic to be cool. Republicans yearn to be chic. It’s a sign of gravitas to be collected. Republicans have gravitas. And so Republicans, from candidates to consultants to commentators, cultivate a calm, cool, and collected affect. Keep calm and carry on, they say soberly and sagely to each other.
Mar 31, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 28 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
On February 22, popular protests led to the fall of the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev. On February 27, in response to this setback, President Vladimir Putin sent forces into Crimea to seize it from Ukraine. On March 19, President Barack Obama delivered his response. He reassured Putin, “We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine.” Obama added, “What we are going to do is mobilize all of our diplomatic resources to make sure that we’ve got a strong international coalition that sends a clear message.”
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.