President Barack Obama slipped up last week when he told reporters, "We don't have a strategy yet" to dispatch the Islamic State. These things happen. On "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., dished out a mild but fitting response to the president's remarks. "He's very cautious," she said. "Maybe in this instance too cautious."
On Wednesday in Estonia, the president tried to present a more muscular foreign policy as he stated that the administration has been "putting forward a strategy" for the Islamic State. Thing is, it's a long-term proposition.
"Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy (the Islamic State) so that it's no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States," quoth Obama.
The good news: You won't hear the president dismissing the Islamic State as a "JV" team as he did in January.
As Feinstein observed on Sunday, two days before American journalist Steven Sotloff's grisly beheading, "I think it's a major varsity team. ... I see nothing that compares with its viciousness."
To me, the president's real problem is not caution; it's concentration. While the Islamic State has been at war with Syria, Iraq and the United States, Obama has been at war with an actual JV team, Republicans in Congress.
That's the enemy who wakes up Obama at 4 a.m. Obama may have been slow to act in the Middle East, but when it comes to beating Republicans in November, you can bet Obama has had a strategy all along.
War isn't really in this administration's vocabulary. Foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes famously referred to the NATO campaign against the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as "kinetic military action."
I don't envy the president. He won the White House with the promise to end U.S. military involvement in Iraq. Now the beheading of two American journalists has inflamed the public against radical Islam, even if voters do not want to see U.S. boots on the ground. The provocations, however, will not subside. An Islamic State spokesman boasted, "We will raise the flag of Allah in the White House."
If only the Islamic State were all talk. Alas, its swift military sweep into Iraq reveals the handiwork not of terrorist hotheads but of seasoned martial tacticians.
In July, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that the Islamic State presents a "clear and imminent threat" to the United States. It doesn't matter what Obama wants; he has no choice but to go after this looming threat.
So he might as well — and I never thought I'd say this — start talking like Vice President Joe Biden, who did not mince words when he promised an ugly end for the Islamic State. Quoth the veep: "We will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice."
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